The second season of the Untapped New York podcast dropped today with a brand new episode featuring a reading and interview with Maria Smilios, the author of the book The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis. Her eloquently and meticulously researched narrative non-fiction book is told through first hand interviews with the Black Angel nurses of Sea View Hospital on Staten Island. In this podcast episode, Smilios brings to light this important but forgotten story in a moving, lyrical recounting of the brave journey of the Black Angels and their groundbreaking work. You will also hear an audio recording of Virginia Allen, the last surviving Black Angel who still lives at Sea View.
One of the most surprising things you might discover in this podcast episode is that this story took place on Staten Island in the height of the tuberculosis crisis before the advent of antibiotics. Black nurses from all over the country answered a desperate call for New York City, which lured nurses here with promises of good pay a career and an escape from the strictures of Jim Crow. The nurses found themselves at Sea View,, an isolated place on Staten Island that still exists today. In the process, the nurses helped discover the cure for this terrible disease. It’s a story that is not just a historical tidbit from our past, but as relevant today as ever, as tuberculosis makes a comeback.
Coincidentally, Maria and I were actually exploring Sea View practically in tandem in 2016. I was hired by Vice Canada as a location scout for a potential documentary on abandoned hospitals, which was how I first toured the hospital complex for the first time. I returned another time with one of Untapped New York’s tour partners at the time, New York City Economic Development Corporation. Stepping inside this historic hospital remains difficult today even though it is still in operation.
In recent years, there have been more efforts to honor the legacy of the Black Angels, including a new mural inside Sea View by artist Yana Dimitrova that was unveiled in October 2023, followed by Smilios’ book. Hear more in our newest Untapped New York podcast episode! Subscribe to the Untapped New York podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more. Order your copy of The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis.