On warm spring afternoons, my ideal spot isn’t a park or a brownstone stoop in the sun. It’s walking through musty old houses with a motley crew of tourists, bored children, and random history buffs. Historical house tours are a chance to travel back in time and see how people lived decades or centuries ago, guided by charming elderly volunteers or park rangers.
All of my previous house tours have been of estates in the countryside, like Theodore Roosevelt’s House in Oyster Bay and Thomas Edison’s house and factory in New Jersey, but this past Saturday, Ramsey and I went to the Merchant House Museum on East 4th Street in Manhattan. I must have walked by it dozens of times while I was working in SoHo, but never realized the building was a perfectly preserved example of 1850s life. It stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood around it, now dominated by huge billboards, street art, shopping tourists, and perfectly coiffed models in tall heels.
Every room was well preserved, but every window looked out onto a world that was completely changed. Gertrude Tredwell, the inhabitant of the house, was born and died there. She must have watched the neighborhood change completely around her during her 93 years there. Continue Reading →