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Back to Black(well’s): A Book Talk

Join us on Roosevelt Island, just steps from the ruin of James Renwick’s Small Pox Hospital, as Stacy Horn, author of Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad and Criminal in 19th-Century New York, takes us into the area’s macabre past, sharing insight from her new book.

damnation island book cover

From 1839, when the New York City Lunatic Asylum opened, to 1936 when Damnation Island was finally defunct, Roosevelt Island, then known as Blackwell’s, was home to a host of infamous institutions. We’ll find out how this sliver of land in the East River was filled with prisons, asylums, hospitals and almshouses, hear accounts of those who were held there, and learn how muckrakers and reformers from Charles Dickens to Nellie Bly helped expose the “naked ugliness and horror” of those institutions, beginning a reform movement for compassionate mental health care and social welfare that continues to this day. Further light on that positive shift will be shed by historian Judith Berdy, the President of the Roosevelt Island historical society, who will share the history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, and its benevolent founder, the Reverend William Glenney French.

Co-Sponsored by the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.


Chapel of the Good Shepherd

543 Main Street, Roosevelt Island
(Take the Queens-bound F train, or the tram from East 60th Street and 2nd Avenue)



$15 FRIENDS and RIHS members, $25 non-members

  • October 30, 2019
  • 6:00 pm