Discovering more about Mr. Marks

“What sort of things do you like to do?”  Mrs. Van Buren asks of Esther in Intimate Apparel.
After mentioning her love for going to church, Esther describes her trips to Mr. Marks’ apartment. Her description sounds a bit odd to Mrs. Van Buren, who does not quite get Esther’s taste in “fun.” But what exactly is Esther describing?

“And on Tuesdays… I take the trolley down to Orchard Street, and I climb five flights, in darkness, to this tiny apartment. And, when I open the door my eyes are met…”

In these few short sentences, Lynn Nottage subtly gives us a few clues about where Mr. Marks is living.
If you’ve gotten the chance to take a look at the dramaturgical research on our blog about Mr. Marks, you will know that he is a Romanian Jewish immigrant and would therefore be living near others like him.

Aside from that, we know that he lives on Orchard Street, and thanks to the Tenement Museum in New York City, we actually happen to have quite a bit of information about his street!

According to the Tenement Museum: “An estimated 7000 people lived in 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935” in a tenement that was located there.

Esther talks about how dark it is in Mr. Marks’ building. Here is what the museum has to tell us about that: “In the 1860s, tenements were dark places. At 97 Orchard Street, only the parlor rooms had exterior windows. There was originally no gas light or electricity. Residents relied on kerosene or oil lamps to light the way through dark hallways and rooms.”

So when did they get light?
“Gas lighting was added to the tenement sometime between 1896 and 1905, possibly to comply with the Tenement House Act of 1901, which required a light source on every floor of the public hallway from sunset to sunrise. Tenants paid for gas individually, through a coin-operated gas meter in the kitchen of their apartments. Although Thomas Edison’s “electric illuminating system” went into operation in 1882, 97 Orchard Street wasn’t electrified until sometime after 1918. One resident remembers that electricity was added in 1924, the year he started kindergarten.”

Well, the mood lighting could explain how Mr. Marks and Esther’s chemistry…?

Click here to take a look at the great info and resources the Tenement Museum offers!

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