I recently did tours of two tenement apartments at the NY Tenements Museum.
The tourists were mostly women, which I don’t really understand, but the tours were interesting.
Frequent polling of the group members for their “impressions of what tenements are” or ‘what we would do if we lived here and lost our job’ lent a rankling juvenile quality to the day, but I got past it.
Apparently not everyone does.
We were told one of the last questions of the day once sparked an argument so heated it shut the tour down early and forced an evacuation of the recreated 1920s apartment.
The question, asked in a living room last occupied by an immigrant family from Italy, was: “would you want the government to take care of immigrants who have lost everything?”
Well, FDR, the governor of NY at the time, enacted massive State welfare programs that did just that.*
To be sure, some of parts of this museum were horrifying to 21st century tastes (no indoor plumbing, blah, blah, blah). But Mary and I both went in expecting some kind of urban refugee camp and came out unimpressed.
And to our astonishment, most of the things that we would personally find unpleasant (common outhouse toilets, no running water), were LEGISLATED ‘improvements’ and vehemently opposed by both landlords and tenants!
Why? Rents had to go up to pay for it!
So easy for sentiment to overpower the minds of an interventionist political elite.
*and, incredibly, his photograph kept Jesus and the Virgin Mary company in the living room