island of memory

This smallpox hospital was built in 1856 on Roosevelt Island, the tiny sliver of an island in between Manhattan and Queens. In the 19th century, the island pretty much only contained hospitals, prisons, and a “lunatic asylum.” People who were frightening in some way, because of their actions or illnesses or behaviors, were sent there.

In the 21st century, the island flourishes with life: community gardens, kids playing, apartment complexes, parks, tourists, Starbucks…

It comforts me somehow that the ruins of this hospital still stand. We are so quick, as a culture, to erase history or to deny its ever present closeness. This unique site serves to ignite our wonder about and reverence for the people who experienced that frightening time.

And isn’t it ironic that a place that held so much pain is now so beautiful?