I was in a hotel bar in Houston, Texas – of all places – last weekend and I started talking to the bartender. It turned out that this middle-aged gentleman, with the grey handle-bar mustache and portly physique, was born and raised in the East Village. When I told him about this class and our interest, he insisted that the best way to get a picture of Greenwich Village life in the 19th century is to go to the Merchant House Museum. I have done so, and I must pass along the recommendation. It is a fascinating place, if a bit underfunded.
Located on 29 East 4th Street, between Bowery and Lafayette, the Merchant House has stood on the same spot since its construction in 1832. According to a quote on the museum’s website: “Of the estimated 300 Federal houses in Manhattan, the best preserved is the 178-year-old Merchant’s House Museum.” I can’t speak definitively as to the validity of this claim, but I believe it is at least 90% true, and would cite the museum as one of New York City’s most overlooked historical assets.
This is also the best time of year to be introduced to the museum, as the old house is apparently quite haunted. To capitalize on the Halloween season, the museum does haunted house tours throughout October. You can find the schedule on the museum’s events page: http://www.merchantshouse.com/calendar/
I was sad that I missed the 19th century funeral reenactment, but I’m hoping I can make one of the candlelight ghost story tours.