On May 16th, Untapped Cities will be hosting a book party for author Stacy Horn at our office, inside the historic Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, a New York City landmark located along the Hudson River. The party will take place during the launch week of her the book Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York, the first contemporary investigative account of the history of Roosevelt Island. We’re currently devouring this book and the historical facts and tidbits recounted in the book are truly astounding. 

The book party will feature a presentation and reading of the book by Horn, followed by a Q&A with her and Justin Rivers, playwright and Untapped Cities columnist and tour guide.

The event is $15 for the public, but FREE for Untapped Cities Insiders.

Book Talk: “Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York”

After purchasing the narrow, two-mile-long island in the East River in 1828 known as Blackwell’s Island, the New York City built a lunatic asylum, prison, hospital, workhouse, and almshouse there. It was conceived as the most modern, humane correctional institution the world had ever seen, but quickly became, in the words of a visiting Charles Dickens, “a lounging, listless madhouse in all its naked ugliness and horror.” In Damnation Island, Horn has crafted a compelling and chilling narrative told through the stories of the poor souls sent to Blackwell’s, as well as the period’s city officials, reformers, and journalists (including the famous Nellie Bly).

Using research from city records, newspaper articles, and archival reports, Horn describes the appalling conditions at the island’s institutions. In addition to overcrowding, punishment was harsh and unfair, treatment was practically nonexistent, and prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane. It’s a fascinating look at the history of our country’s views on criminality and poverty (the poor were once housed with and treated similarly to criminals), the development of our medical system, and our prison system.

See our full list of Untapped Cities Insiders Tours and our upcoming Public Tours.