Synopses & Reviews
The gripping voices of the inhabitants of Blackwell's Island make this history come alive.
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 char- ity 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 minis- ters 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.
"A riveting character-driven dive into 19th-century New York and the extraordinary history of Blackwell's Island."
--Laurie Gwen Shapiro, author of The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica
On a two-mile stretch of land in New York's East River, a 19th-century horror story was unfolding . . .
Today we call it Roosevelt Island. Then, it was Blackwell's, site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals. Conceived as the most modern, humane incarceration facility the world ever seen, Blackwell's Island quickly became, in the words of a visiting Charles Dickens, "a lounging, listless madhouse."
In the first contemporary investigative account of Blackwell's, Stacy Horn tells this chilling narrative through the gripping voices of the island's inhabitants, as well as the period's officials, reformers, and journalists, including the celebrated Nellie Bly. Digging through city records, newspaper articles, and archival reports, Horn brings this forgotten history alive: there was terrible overcrowding; prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane; punishment was harsh and unfair; and treatment was nonexistent.
Throughout the book, we return to the extraordinary Reverend William Glenney French as he ministers to Blackwell's residents, battles the bureaucratic mazes of the Department of Correction and a corrupt City Hall, testifies at salacious trials, and in his diary wonders about man's inhumanity to man. In Damnation Island, Stacy Horn shows us how far we've come in caring for the least fortunate among us--and reminds us how much work still remains.