Today it is known as Roosevelt Island. In 1828, when New York City purchased this narrow, two-mile-long island in the East River, it was called Blackwell's Island. There, over the next hundred years, the city would build a lunatic asylum, prison, hospital, workhouse, and almshouse. Stacy Horn has crafted a compelling and chilling narrative told through the stories of the poor souls sent to Blackwell's, as well as the period's city officials, reformers, and journalists (including the famous Nellie Bly).
Damnation Island re-creates what daily life was like on the island, what politics shaped it, and what constituted charity and therapy in the nineteenth century. Throughout the book, we return to the extraordinary Blackwell's missionary Reverend French, champion of the forgotten, as he ministers to these inmates, battles the bureaucratic mazes of the Corrections Department and a corrupt City Hall, testifies at salacious trials, and in his diary wonders about man's inhumanity to man.
For history fans, and for anyone interested in the ways we care for the least fortunate among us, Damnation Island is an eye-opening look at a closed and secretive world. In a tale that is exceedingly relevant today, Horn shows us how far we've come-and how much work still remains.
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About the Author
Stacy Horn is the author of five nonfiction books, including Imperfect Harmony. Horn's commentaries have been heard on NPR's All Things Considered and she is the founder of the social network Echo. She lives in New York City. Her website is stacyhorn.com.
Pam Ward has performed in dinner theater, summer stock, and Off-Broadway, as well as in commercials, radio, and film. An experienced narrator, Pam has recorded many titles for the Library of Congress Talking Books program. She is the recipient of an AudioFile Earphones Award and the prestigious Alexander Scourby Award.
Table of Contents
I The New York City Lunatic Asylum
Opened On Blackwell's Island 1839, To Accommodate New York City's Lunatic Poor 1
Reverend William Glenney French: The Blackwell's Island Episcopal Missionary from 1872 To 1895 3
Sister Mary Stanislaus: Committed to the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island August 3, 1872, Diagnosis: Monomania 20
Sister Mary Stanislaus Is Admitted into the Asylum 24
The Trial of Sister Mary 32
Suicide, Murder, and Accidental Deaths on the Rise in the Lunatic Asylum 44
Lunacy Investigation: December 1880, Metropolitan Hotel, New York City 60
Nellie Bly: Ten Days in a Mad-House, September 1887 78
II The Workhouse
A Penal Institution For People Convicted Of Minor Crimes, Opened On Blackwell's Island In 1852 91
New York City and the Unworthy Poor 93
Rev. William R. Stocking: Superintendent of the Blackwell's Island Workhouse from 1886 to 1889 108
A Workhouse Exposé and Lawrence Dunphy: Superintendent of the Blackwell's Island Workhouse from 1889 to 1896 125
III The Almshouse
Completed In 1848, To House The Poor And Disabled Of New York City 133
The Almshouse Complex, The End of the Line for Many 135
IV The Hospitals For The Poor
In Operation Beginning 1832, To Serve The Sick People Of New York City, And The Inmates Of The Penitentiary, Workhouse, And Almshouse 163
Penitentiary Hospital aka Island Hospital aka Charity Hospital aka City Hospital 165
V The Penitentiary
Completed In 1832, For People Convicted Of More Serious Crimes, And With Sentences Generally From Three To Six Months To Two Years, Although Sometimes More 187
Adelaide Irvine: Sentenced to the Penitentiary December 6, 1862 189
William H. Ramscar: The Old Gentlemen's Unsectarian Home, Sentenced to the Penitentiary December 23, 1889 203
Reverend Edward Cowley: The Shepherd's Fold, Sentenced to the Penitentiary February 20, 1880 216
VI Separating Charity From Correction
New York City Divides The Department In Two In 1895 237
The End of a Dangerous Conglomerate 239
Blackwell's Island after 1895 257
Source Notes 267
Author Interview 295