The First Review for Damnation Island!

Publisher’s Weekly has weighed in. It’s a very good start!

“Horn (Imperfect Harmony) creates a vivid and at times horrifying portrait of Blackwell’s Island (today’s Roosevelt Island) in New York City’s East River during the late 19th century. Using the institutions that populated the island as an organizing principle, Horn selects colorful stories of individuals confined in the asylum, workhouse, hospital, almshouse, and penitentiary. Episodes include the heroic muckraking efforts of journalists Nellie Bly and William P. Rogers in exposing the mistreatment of the confined; tragic tales of young prisoners, like teenaged pickpocket Adelaide Irving, imprisoned for relatively minor crimes and never able to fully recover from her time there; and truly nightmarish accounts of medical experimentation, including brain surgery administered under (ineffective) hypnosis rather than anesthesia. The anecdotal rather than linear narrative approach captures the drama of the island’s inmates, but can make understanding the chronology challenging. Horn has created a bleak but worthwhile depiction of institutional failure, with relevance for persistent debates over the treatment of the mentally ill and incarcerated.”

The beautiful ruins of the Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island. As of 1875 the Smallpox Hospital was controlled by the Board of Health, and later renamed Riverside Hospital. Riverside Hospital was moved to North Brother Island in 1885, and the former Smallpox Hospital was used as a home for the nurses from the Training School. (North Brother Island is most famous as the place where Typhoid Mary was confined.)

Smallpox Hospital, Blackwell's Island, Now Roosevelt Island

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

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