Tuesday, August 11, 2009
this dull, ruinous landscape
i've been excavating my entombed interests in the paranormal and urban decay lately (which, at times, go hand-in-hand). in-so-doing, i've been skulking around the internet, looking for more information, some of which i'd forgotten, about the various institutions that once existed on roosevelt island. roosevelt island has a very dramatic history of varying states of quarantine, it having at first been known as blackwell island, inhabiting a sprawling penitentiary that inmates with mostly misdemeanor charges. a lot of the inmates, however, remained in penitentiary housing (obviously not in imprisonment) upon release due to how extremely poor most of them were. most other institutions that sprung up after the existing penitentiary were constructed completely out of prison labor (note the interesting link between punishment and existing political and economic systems, i.e. capitalism influencing penalty methods and redress rendered through commercial productivity). this includes the octagon (lunatic asylum for women) and the renwick smallpox hospital for incurables. both locations, oddly enough, were also staffed by many inmates. the octagon went under investigation a number of times in the 1800s for instances of abuse and neglect, and a large majority of its patients were women whose husbands admitted basically out of boredom. nellie bly published a very famous exposé, at the time, which later turned into a full-on book, about the excessive abuses of the hospital, after feigning mental instability and becoming admitted. the facilities had in common the overwhelming poverty of their inhabitants and the inattentive treatment received on all fronts to all housed on the island.
i've had a difficult time unearthing specific gruesome grievances in relation to any of the facilities, but knowing the state of the mental health system during the 19th century is a bit elucidating. the octagon's been restored into an excessively expensive apartment complex and many of the original buildings like the penitentiary, alms housing, etc have been destroyed. the smallpox hospital lies in ruin at the one end of the island, looming over the water in all its gutted gothic decay. i once found an image online of a flier that was posted on the fence surrounding the ruins with a mutilated and emaciated body on it as well as an ominous demand for acknowledgement of the ills done there. i haven't been able to come across that again.
when i broke into the renwick ruins twice a few years back, there was a lot of eerie residual energy, also some cold spots, and definite electronic interference. mostly i experienced a melancholic feeling, also some aggravated claustrophobia. when we were walking away from the hospital it almost felt like we were being pulled back, as if there were something stuck behind us reaching a hand out to be released, too. my cell phone, which had complete service and battery just a few feet away from the hospital kept shutting off and the battery died. my friend's battery also died and her service went out completely. once we stepped about ten feet away from the ruins, our batteries were full again and service restored. we also heard a bell ringing at one point.
aside from the possible paranormal potential of the place, it was just a riveting location to explore. seeing overturned bed springs, tables, and half-tiled walls, with very little foundation remaining on the inside aside from the overall frame... it's interesting to note what remains.