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The ideals for the hospital dissipated with its funding, and the place almost immediately slipped into the template of the standard institutionalization--even less so, as the guards are orderlies were supplied by the neighboring prison, meaning that it was criminals who were policing the “patients” at the hospital in a situation that went from bad to worse.
The prison and the insane asylum, needless to say, were bad places to be. A famous expose was written by Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman, 1864-1922) documenting the horrendous conditions at the hospital, written after her undercover infiltration of the place. Committed as a patient for ten days, she documented her experiences (in book form, following a series of articles that appeared in the New York World in 1887)) in Ten Days in a Mad-House1, (published with "Miscellaneous Sketches: Trying to be a Servant," and "Nellie Bly as a White Slave), causing an enormous scandal and resulting in systemic overhauls at the hospital.
Back to the holes: we can clearly see the holes in the massive cell doors; on the bottom tier, though, the cell doors a re solid, which would make the cell into the dreaded “hole”.
The hospital would receive its attentions over the decades,
as would the prison, though the prison suffered longer under the weight of functional
neglect, abuse, and inhuman demoralizations and abuse—and this deep into the 20th
century, so far so that John Garfield starred in a movie detailing the disgust
of the place (“Blackwell’s Island”) in 1939.
1. The full report is found here. The conditions were spectacularly
bad. Bly describes, for example, her
first meeting with a physician (an “insane expert”), an examination in which
she felt sure to be detected—her eyes, tongue and pulse were examined, and she
was simply sent on her way to the island.
After just ten days in the place, Bly felt sure that even if you weren’t
crazy going in, the hospital would make you crazy in short order. One detail that really stuck to me: the non-violent women prisoners were all
given white straw hats to wear when they went outside. The effect of the hats, Bly wrote, was to
make the women anonymous—she couldn’t tell one person from another because of
the headgear, further isolating already-isolated people. Bly was a fascinating person, a
proto-feminist, socially-conscious newspaper reporter who married great wealth
after she became famous. She’s up in