Friday, July 25, 2008

Dr. Gotham

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: In 1850, before the construction of Mr. Renwick's most excellent smallpox hospital, our Resident Physician, William Kelly, complained that smallpox victims were cared for in "a pile of poor wooden out houses on the banks of the river." The hospital was built by the convicts in the penitentiary less than a mile up on the island. The island is very narrow and the jail is very wide. If you walk north you can hardly miss it. It's the largest building on the island.

The jail was the first building built here after the city bought the island and set it aside for charitable and correctional purposes. The jail provides a steady work force that quarries local stone for many of the other buildings here including our hospital, and they're building a river wall around the island with the same local stone. Now that our hospital is finished and a certain other building in Washington, D.C., Mr. Renwick is busy on a great new cathedral for our best citizens, and it will someday be the pride of our city. It will be much bigger and more beautiful than his famous Grace Church.

Sadly, in spite of godly works, the smallpox epidemic is spreading, and we have begun taking in paying patients at the Smallpox Hospital. A few years back those paying patients would only come here to gawk at the crazy people in the asylum. It's just past the jail. The famous English writer Charles Dickens went there a few years back. He visited the almshouse and jail as well. I don't think he was very fair, but he liked the great staircase at the asylum. If you're interested in what he thought when he visited us on the island, click here.

Click here for a look into the future at some amazing moving daguerreotypes of our island made by a man named Edison in 1903. He made them from a boat heading south in the east channel of the river, and they show the whole side of Blackwell's Island.