No. 561
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
June 25, 2022

Undercover Lunatic.

May 26, 2013
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Tag: Rape

A Terrible Punishment.

8/28/2012

A Terrible Punishment.

A father revenges an outrage on his daughter by pulling the wretch asunder; near Junction City, Kansas.

8/28/2012

Copper.

8/20/2012
 "The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan MandijnWelcome to the first Link Dump of Summer 2022!Some accounts of encounters with fairies.Urban legends about being rescued by ghost dogs.Accepting that we really don't know jack about the paranormal.The missing bodies of the Waterloo dead.The UK's National Gallery is hitting the road.The law code of Alfonso X.For some reason, there are a lot of John
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Strange Company - 6/24/2022
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'SOAPY' SMITH AND TWO COLLEAGUESObject ID 2017.6.350Courtesy of Salvation Army Museum of the West(Click image to enlarge) New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?NOT EVEN CLOSE.      A B & W photograph, said to be of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, and two colleagues. Soapy is in the middle, marked with an "X." The photo was taken in Alaska,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/11/2022
You won’t notice anything unusual at first as you walk along quiet, unassuming 92nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. But in the middle of the block, amid the quaint brownstones and apartment houses on the south side, stand two startling architectural anachronisms: side by side wood-frame houses with clapboard shutters, low iron fences, and […]
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Ephemeral New York - 6/20/2022
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Who murdered John Meierhoffer of Orange, New Jersey? Was it his estranged wife Margaret, or her lover, Frank Lammens?Read the full story here: Who Shot Meierhoffer?
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Murder By Gaslight - 6/18/2022
Great news! The sale of Maplecroft is under agreement with inspections concluded and closing pending. A lovely family with children and experience with Victorian properties will make it a family home once more. A happy ending for this historic home. Congratulations to all. “Maplecroft, the historic former home of Lizzie Borden, is being purchased by artist and professor Brooke Mullins Doherty, who will be moving her home and studio from New Bedford. She and her husband Michael, a polymath, along with their three children look forward to respecting the house’s unique history while they restore Maplecroft to a single family residence.”
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/27/2022
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Dan Creedon in Training. | What Led to a Divorce.

Undercover Lunatic.

Insanity Expert

In September 1887 a young woman named Nellie Brown was declared insane and sent to the New York City lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Unbeknownst to the authorities the woman was feigning insanity; she was in fact a reporter named Nellie Bly on her first assignment for the New York World.

Nellie BlyNellie Bly

Nellie Bly had come to New York for a career in journalism. She had already made a name for herself as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch where she had worked her way up from women's stories to serious assignments such as foreign correspondent in Mexico. She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane but when she started writing serious pieces her editor suggested a snappier byline—“Nellie Bly,” from a popular song by Stephen Foster.

Finding work as a reporter in New York was not easy; the men there were not ready to see women in their newsrooms. After being rejected by every paper in town she finally convinced an editor at the New York World to give her a chance. She agreed to the plan of getting herself committed to Blackwell’s Island to experience conditions in the insane asylum first hand. The paper assured her that they would have her released after ten days.

Nellie Bly assumed the name Nellie Brown and checked into a temporary home for working woman where she convinced the other tenants that she was insane. A policeman took her Bellevue hospital where she was examined by a doctor. Nellie would later say that the doctors were easy to fool, she was more worried about the reporters who had taken an interest in the case. After being declared insane, Nellie was taken by boat to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Insane Hall

Here she would meet women who were truly insane—who would shriek in the night and hold conversations with people only they could see. Just as distressing were the women whom Nellie could tell were as sane as she was, but through unfortunate circumstances found themselves in a situation they could not escape. “The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap” she would later write, “It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out."

The conditions she experienced on Blackwell’s Island were appalling. The meals were barely edible, with rancid butter and spoiled meat. Inmates were given cold baths and made to wear garments too thin to keep out the September chill in the unheated building. There was very little entertainment beyond occasional walks outside. Most days the inmates were forced to sit quietly on wooden benches and do nothing for endless hours. Protests were met with violence by the nurses who would beat or choke unruly inmates. Even the doctors used violent methods to subdue their patients. Complaints were ignored or considered symptoms of madness.

Nellie Bly

At the end of ten days Nellie Bly was rescued by her employer. On October 7, 1887 The World published the first installment of a two part story on Nellie’s stay on Blackwell’s Island. Though bylines were rare at the time, the story included the byline “Nellie Bly.” The story was such a sensation that in the second installment, a week later, her name became part of the headline. As a result of Nellie Bly’s reporting, a grand jury was convened to investigate conditions on Blackwell’s Island and after their report an extra $1,000,000 was appropriated for the insane.

Nellie Bly’s career progressed with this type of “stunt reporting.” In 1889 she set out to best Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s fictional globetrotter, and travel around the world in fewer than eighty days. She did it in seventy-two. The trip made her famous and by the turn of the twentieth century “Nellie Bly” was a household name.

 

 

 


Sources:

  • Bly, Nellie. Ten Days in a Mad-House. New York: Ian L. Munro, 1887.
  • Kroeger, Brooke. Nellie Bly: daredevil, reporter, feminist. New York: Times Books, 1994.