That Time When Pete Seeger (Briefly) Stayed on the Lower East Side

Posted on: January 29th, 2014 at 11:30 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Photo: NPR

By now you know – folk icon and activist Pete Seeger died Monday at 94.

So let’s briefly revisit the time when the legendary musician lived on the Lower East Side. Back before he was famous; back before speculators renamed the area the East Village as a cheap alternative to the more expensive Greenwich Village; back to 1938…

In April of that year, at age 18, Seeger lost his (partial) scholarship to Harvard due to poor grades. He had become immersed in politics and folk music and decided to drop out. The next stop was helping his mother move back to New York City from Sarasota, Florida. He himself would eventually wind up on the Lower East Side, though, rooming with his brothers after a brief stint cycling (and painting) across the northeast. Their apartment was located at 118 East Eleventh Street, directly across from Webster Hall.

This image has been archived or removed.

118 East 11th St., Photo: Google Maps

In the Pete Seeger biography How Can I Keep from Singing, author David King Dunaway recounts:

“College was fine for those who wanted it, but I was just not interested; I wanted to be a journalist.”

Without funds of his own, he moved into his brothers’ apartment, where he slept on a couch and washed dishes for his share of the rent…

The Seeger boys lived on the Lower East Side, at 118 East Eleventh Street, and Seeger shopped the ethnic stores and bakeries, sampling piroshki, bagels, and sour cream for the first time. He peered in at Ukrainian churches and Irish bars…

To make ends meet, he picked newspapers from the trash bins and read books at the library. He joined Youth Arts, a branch of the Young Communist League, and painted signs for marches.

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