Damnation Island : Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York
by Horn, Stacy

"It's now known as New York City's Roosevelt Island. Originally called Blackwell's Island, it housed a lunatic asylum, prison, hospital, workhouse and almshouse in the 19th century. This book re-creates what daily life was like on the island, what politics shaped it, and what constituted therapy and charity in the nineteenth century"-

*Starred Review* The purchase of Blackwell Island by the city of New York in 1828 was an act of great optimism. Located in the East River, the long, skinny island was intended as a utopian sanctuary for public charities and correctional facilities, and great plans were made for compassionately administered institutions, including a lunatic asylum, almshouse, workhouse, low-security prison, and hospitals. Once the plans were drawn, however, penny-pinching commissioners and corrupt bureaucrats took over, erected buildings, and filled them with unfortunates. As each enclosure opened, it quickly became crowded, and inmates soon suffered from inadequate heat, light, ventilation, meals, and nursing care. Many starved, drowned in the river, died in epidemics, or were killed in their cells. Horn (Imperfect Harmony, 2013) draws on reports from the era's clergy, undercover journalists, and government reformers to tell stories of unnecessary cruelty and the public abandonment of the old, the poor, the sick, and the mentally ill in nineteenth-century America. This is an essential-and heartbreaking-book for readers seeking to better understand contemporary public policy. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Somber study of a dark, little-known episode in the history of New York, when Riker's Island wasn't the only warehouse for the condemned.It makes good sense, on reading Horn's (Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, 2013, etc.) latest, why the 2005 horror film Dark Water found so appropriate a setting on New York's Roosevelt Island. In the late 1800s, writes the author, that small chunk of land, barely 150 acres, saw four kinds of unfortunate denizens: the mad were shunted off to the island's Lunatic Asylum, the destitute to the Almshouse, the vagrant or indigent to the Workhouse, and the seriously criminal to the Penitentiary. Each offered its own version of a living hell, and despite reports by early whistleblowers, not much was done to improve the condition of the inmates. "You can have no idea…what an immense vat of misery and crime and filth much of this great city is!" exclaimed a social reformer who worked on the island, and Horn's account pain ts an exacting portrait of just how true that was—and how summary the judgments against the lower class could be. Of interest to students of Foucauldian history is the author's contrast of what was then called Blackwell's Island with facilities for the well-to-do, such as the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum near Central Park, with its well-appointed libraries, plush chairs, and expensive artwork. No such amenities were to be found on Blackwell's, which saw appalling levels of disease, starvation, child mortality, and other ills. Despite such demerits, as Horn writes, the rate of escape from the island was low and the level of recidivism, particularly among younger inmates, high: "At ten the boys are thieves," noted one official, "at fifteen the girls are all prostitutes." Horn engagingly explores a history that, perhaps surprisingly, extended into the 1960s, when the renamed island became a site for mixed-income housing. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Terms of Use   ©Copyright 2018 Follett School Solutions