Monday, March 22, 2010

What was it like where they lived?

I had a massive writers block for this blog; I have several posts and ideas fleshed out -- like 1/3 done - but none are ready for prime-time, so I asked Hannah what questions she had. Her question is the topic - "what was it like where they lived?"

Hannah asks this for many reasons, (1) she is nosey and (2) with spring in full bloom, she is very aware of what it is like where she lives - lemonade stands are all the rage right now - we had 3 on our street alone! So, she is wondering what life was like for kids like her, many years ago.

I don't have perfect answers, but we can guess.

After the Nolans marry and have Maurice and Thomas, I find them living on East 25th Street, near Third Avenue. Given the number of people living around them and some vague understanding of that area, I think we can deduce that the Nolans lived in a tenement. As legislation to improve the quality of life in tenements did not begin to pass until 1867, it is safe to also deduce that the Nolan's apartment lacked running water, gas (for light and heat), and an indoor toliet.

According to the Tenement Museum in New York City, tenements were dark places. I imagine that life was dictated by the the cycle of the day. Perhaps the Nolan's rose with the sun and began their day and turned into bed with night fall - much as Anne and John had in Ireland when they were children. It was probably the task of the children to bring water to the apartment - several times a day, no doubt. And candlelight or gas light was likely used sparingly, to extend it as long as feasible.

In my mind, their lives were similar to the year long experience Colin Beaven and his family had, when they tried to live without having any impact on the environment. They were uncomfortable some days because New York City is hot in the summer. Getting places proved challenging and they walked a lot. Preparing meals took more energy than it does for you and me.

The Beavens also found they slept more. Friends stopped them on the street and told them they looked younger - and refreshed. Without TV and computers and cell phones, they found more time to talk to each other. They enjoyed their daughter. They listened to the City. They were a family and were happy.

My hypothesis is that the Nolan routine was comparable to the Beaven's. Daily life was harder than it is for you and I, but they likely knew no different way and therefore, accepted their tasks as the way things were. Others living around them had comparable experiences.

The Nolan children were probably very involved in helping around the house - fetching water, helping prepare dinner, and worked hard to keep the 2-3 rooms in their apartment clean. Likely, they went to bed with sun down and rose with sun up; probably 2-3 of them shared a bed.

Hannah sees her neighbors often -- on her walk to the bus, during an after school bike ride, and when retrieving mail. Many of them bought lemonade -- helping her and her friends raise nearly $10 for Haiti.

The Nolan kids probably saw their neighbors a lot - probably getting water, walking the street to buy food, and most definitely, they saw them on route to the shared outdoor toliet. EWWW!

(remember, I am answering the question of an eight year old -- had to keep my audience in mind...)

To learn more, visit the Tenement Museum (virtually or in person)
or read
How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York
by Jacob Riis


  1. Amy:

    You've really done an awesome job with these blogs. Keep up the great work on your exciting journey.

    I love you.


  2. I agree with you, Tom -- I so enjoy reading the blogs. I figure the next career change will be to Author!