Just in time for Black History Month, a new mural has just been unveiled at Staten Island’s Sea View Hospital. “The Spirit of Sea View” by Yana Dimitrova, depicts the hospital’s deep history dedicated to serving the most vulnerable populations of New York, including the role of the Black Angels. The project was completed under New York City Health + Hospitals Community Murals Project in partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and is located in the E. Robitzek Building at Sea View. It consists of four panels, each highlighting significant individuals and events of Sea View’s past. In the mural, you’ll see a reference to the Delft terra cotta panels that were salvaged from the abandoned tuberculosis buildings in the hospital.
The first panel highlights Sea View’s beginnings as a part of the New York City Farm Colony. Founded in 1829 as the Richmond County Poor Farm, it welcomed the poor, mentally ill, criminals, and other outcasts of the time. In exchange for a place to stay, people were given work on the farm and in various shops that specialized in skills such as carpentry, print, and tailoring. Seaview Hospital was built as a tuberculosis sanatorium right by the Staten Island farm colony, and the two later merged in 1915, forming Seaview Farms. Combining the farm colony and the hospital enabled both institutions to maximize each others’ resources and services.
Panel ones depicts individuals involved in manual labor such as farming and construction. Photo by Michael Paras.
Remnants of the Staten Island Farm Colony, which is across the street from Sea View today
Panel two focuses on the Black Angels of Seaview Hospital who were critical in providing care for patients during the tuberculosis pandemic (the cure for tuberculosis was discovered at Sea View). Called Black Angels by their parents, around 300 of African American nurses came to Seaview from across the country between 1928 to 1960 to help patients fight tuberculosis. Although many white nurses left Seaview during the height of the pandemic, Black nurses fearlessly and heroically served patients at the risk of their own lives. Their story will also be the subject of a forthcoming book from Oprah Books by Mara Smilios, The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis.
Miss Virginia Allen, the last living Black Angel nurse
Dimitrova worked on the murals in collaboration with members of Seaview hospital, in particular, Miss Virginia Allen, the last living Black Angel today. At sixteen years old, she came to Sea View from Detroit as a nurse and helped on the frontlines of treating tuberculosis patients. Dimitrova wrote about the experience on her website, “After speaking with Miss Allen and meeting her in person, it was so beautifully clear – she is an inspiring fighter for social justice for the not only the community at the hospital but also all over New York City. I am honored to have had the privilege to meet her and speak with her in preparation of this panel.” Allen attended the mural unveiling last week.
Panel two honors the bravery of the Black Angels.
Panel three continues the narrative of Seaview’s integral role in the tuberculosis pandemic. In it, Dr. Edward H. Robitzek, who discovered a cure for tuberculosis, has provided the mediation to a patient who is celebrating her recovery. Before, the only recommendations doctors could recommend for tuberculosis patients were ample sunlight, fresh air, and a good diet. However, Dr. Robitzek’s discovery of the effectiveness of the drug isoniazid led to drastic recoveries in patients who were likely to die from the disease. Alongside the Black Angels, Dr. Robitzek is portrayed as another commendable hero of Seaview’s history.
The final panel reflects the present. Although for many years Sea View’s buildings were abandoned and forgotten, they have been revived and transformed into a rehabilitation center, nursing home, and a volunteer fire company as a part of The New York City Economic Development Corp’s efforts to create a Wellness Community. In the mural, the patient is the portrait of Miss Marquita, an actual patient of Sea View, in the greenhouse of the hospital.
The four panels reflect the rich history of a hospital that has created opportunities for the poor, served tuberculosis patients with the help of Black Angels, and helped instigate a cure for tuberculosis patients.
Next, check out the top ten secrets of Sea View hospital and groundbreaking medical discoveries made in New York City.