Purchased by the city in 1828, the island soon harbored an almshouse, an insane asylum, a hospital, a prison and a workhouse along its narrow two-mile strip. Heating and ventilation were nonexistent, disease ran rampant. Over the next 100 years, mayhem ensued, with wrongly admitted patients, death by murder and disease, inedible food and unspeakably dirty water.
The boundaries between the four classes of people on the island (the poor, the mad, the sick and the criminal) are, in the public imagination, as blurred as ever. Blackwell Island would become another gateway leading to wide deep pits on Hart Island.
Michael T. Keene is the author of Folklore and Legends of Rochester, Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Mad~House, Question of Sanity, and now his new book,
NEW YORK CITY’S HART ISLAND: A CEMETERY OF STRANGERS
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