Tag Archives: Joseph Pulitzer

Nellie Bly: Undercover in New York’s Notorious Asylum for the Insane

The story of New York World reporter Nellie Bly as she poses as a mental patient to report on the abuses of Blackwell’s Island’s Lunatic Asylum.

 

PODCAST Nellie Bly was a determined and fearless journalist ahead of her time, known for the spectacular lengths she would go to get a good story. Her reputation was built on the events of late September-early October 1887 — the ten days she spent in New York’s most notorious insane asylum.

Since the 1830s Blackwell’s Island had been the destination for New York’s public institutions of an undesirable nature — hospitals for grave diseases, a penitentiary, an almshouse, even a quarantine for smallpox. There was also a mental institution — an insane or lunatic asylum — rumored to treat its patients most cruelly.

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The ambitious young reporter decided to see for herself — by acting like a woman who had lost her mind. Her ten days in this particular madhouse — the basis of her newspaper articles and a book — would expose the world to the sinister treatment of the mentally ill and the loathsome conditions of New York institutions meant to care for the most needy.

But would the process of getting this important story lead Nellie herself to go a little mad? And once she got inside the asylum, how would she get out?

ALSO: Not only is a vestige of the asylum still around today, you can live in it!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #194: NELLIE BLY: UNDERCOVER IN THE MADHOUSE

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Nellie Bly, the bold journalist with extraordinary will and panache, tackled a number of strange assignments in her life, starting with her virtuoso performance getting into the Blackwell’s Island insane asylum.

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Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum from 1853, rendered by William Wade

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

A newspaper clipping from 1865 — “Dancing by lunatics — Ball given to the patients of the Insane Asylum on Blackwell’s Island”

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Another view of Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum, pictured here in 1866 “from road to steamboat landing.”

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

On the grounds of the asylum the ‘Retreat and Yard’, where Nellie would later roam with the other patients.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

Inside of the offices of the New York World in 1882

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

Some images from the New York World and the book Ten Days In A Madhouse

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From the first article which ran on October 9, 1887

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A famous photo of Nellie Bly taken during her trip around the world.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Blackwell’s Island was later named Welfare Island (before its following name change to Roosevelt Island in the 1970s). Below you can see the Octagon at the far right of this image.

Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho, photographer, Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho, photographer, Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The remaining ruins of the mental asylum.  It was later turned into a condominium and apartment building.

ruin
Edmund Gillon photographer. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

PODCAST  A history of the comic book industry in New York City, how the energy and diversity of the city influenced the burgeoning medium in the 1930s and 40s and how New York’s history reflects out from the origins of its most popular characters.

 In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever — in blockbuster summer movies and television shows — and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.

What’s Spider-Man without a tall building from which to swing? But not only are the comics often set here; the creators were often born here too. Many of the greatest writers and artists actually came from Jewish communities in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

For many decades, nearly all of America’s comic books were produced here.  Unfortunately that meant they were in certain danger of being eliminated entirely during a 1950s witch hunt by a crusading psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital.

WITH a special chat with comics historian Peter Sanderson about the unique New York City connections of Marvel Comics’ most famous characters. Sanderson is the author of The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City and The Marvel Encyclopedia.

FEATURING: The Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Batman, Doctor Strange and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #187: Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

COMING THIS FALL:  Superheroes’ ties to New York City history will be further explored this fall in the New-York Historical Society’s Superheroes in Gotham exhibition, which opens October 9, 2015.
(Friday, October 9 is the start of ComicCon weekend).

 

A young New York boy enjoys his comic book on the Bowery. Photo taken in 1940 by Andrew Herman.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

And here’s the comic book he’s reading from March 1940, illustrated by George Papp.

Courtesy Comic Vine
Courtesy Comic Vine

 

In this 1947 photograph taken by Stanley Kubrick, a boy watches his baby sister and enjoys a Superman comic book while his mother shops inside.

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

An issue of DC Comics’ Superman from March 1947, with a cover by George Roussos and Jack Burnley

Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine
Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine

 

A girl takes a peek at some of the comic book offerings at Woolworth’s. Photograph by Stanley Kubrick taken in 1947.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

An issue of More Fun Comics from June 1947, produced by DC Comics:

more fun

 

The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published in 1842, is considered by many to be the wellspring from which the comic medium derives. You can read the entire issue over at the Darmouth College Library website.

Courtesy Dartmouth College Library
Courtesy Dartmouth College Library

 

A Yellow Kid adventure which would have sprung out from the newspaper due to its vivid colors.

Image courtesy Comix  Takoma; art by Richard Outcault
Image courtesy Comix Takoma; art by Richard Outcault

 

Both Hearst and Pulitzer ran versions of the Yellow Kid comic strip during the years that they were drumming up propaganda which lead to the Spanish-American War. The unscrupulous nature of their efforts earned them the phrase ‘yellow journalism’, inspired by their war of the popular comic strip by Richard Outcault,

Courtesy the Library of Congress
Courtesy the Library of Congress

 

A section of the colorful comics section of the New York Journal, 1898.

“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898  via New York Review of Books
“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898 via New York Review of Books

 

Little Orphan Annie became the biggest crossover star of the early comic strip era.  Long before there was a musical, Annie starred in this 1932 melodrama, one of the earliest comic-to-movie crossovers.

annie

 

New Fun Comics #1, the very first comic book to contain all new material, and not merely reprints of newspaper comic strips.

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The Batman debuted in Detective Comics in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The city features in these adventures was Gotham City, startlingly similar to the city outside the creators’ windows.

Courtesy DC Comics
Courtesy DC Comics

 

Gotham City, aka New York City, in 1939

Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation
Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

 

Vault of Horror, one of an assortment of shocking comic books produced by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The cover art is by Johnny Craig.

Courtesy EC Comics
Courtesy EC Comics

 

Bill Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, at his offices at 225 Lafayette Street.

Courtesy Tebeosfera
Courtesy Tebeosfera

 

Dr. Fredrick Wertham, the writer of Seduction of the Innocent, who lead a charge against the comic book industry.

fred

 

seduction

 

A young Stan Lee during the war as a member of the US Army’s Signal Corps. He even managed to do a bit of illustration for the cause!

stan lee

 

The Thing from the Fantastic Four with the  Yancy Street Gang, a variation on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side.

Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine
Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine

 

Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is located on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

What would Spider-Man be without New York City? The image of the Brooklyn Bridge (called the George Washington Bridge in the story) is featured in a classic tale involving the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacey, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro,

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics

 

A page from Maus by Art Spiegelman, the graphic novel that brought the medium to a new level of respectability in literary circles.

Courtesy Art Spiegelman
Courtesy Art Spiegelman

 

The comic book/graphic novel continues to evolve and reach new heights of success and respectability.  Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, published last year, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best autobiography.

 

Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury
Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury

The Avengers defended New York during an alien attack in their blockbuster film in 2012

Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel
Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel

 

All images on this website are owned by the original comic book companies which produced them.  Please see individual companies for more information.

 

RECOMMENDED READING:

If you’re into digging more into this subject, here are a few sources that I used for this podcast:

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of An American Art Form, with written contributions by Paul Buhle

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangster and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones

Comic Book Century:  The History of American Comic Books by Stephen Krensky

 

Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro

 

The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City by Peter Sanderson

 

The top image is from Godzilla #24, released by Marvel Comics in July 1979. Herb Trimpe penciler, Dan Green inker, im Novak letterer, from a story by Doug Moench, edited by Allen Milgrom and Mary Jo Duffy

 

Lots of hot air: Joseph Pulitzer’s failed balloon stunt

Collectors Item! If you lived in rural Illinois in 1887, you might have found one of these flyers on your roof or along the side of the road.

Joseph Pulitzer, that icon of late 19th century sensationalistic journalism, did everything imaginable to promote his popular newspaper the New York World. Not everything worked.

Pulitzer bought the paper in 1883 and immediately transformed the broadsheet into a juicy scandal sheet, the prop by which many of the tenants of yellow journalism were formed. The publisher had already purchased a share in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one day decided to loop the two possessions together in a wild, aerial promotion.

Jules Verne had published ‘Around the World In 80 Days’ in 1873, and Pulitzer hoped to render the excitement of that adventure novel into a promotional tool. So in 1887, he launched a hot-air balloon from St. Louis with an eventual destination of Manhattan. Each day, reporters at each paper would update captivated audiences as to the balloon’s progress using telegraphs sent along the balloon’s route.

Along that route, thousands of flyers like the one above would be thrown from the balloon to shower stunned individuals below, from Illinois and along the Rust Belt to Pennsylvania.

The voyage was vigorously hyped by Pulitzer and several name reporters wanted to ride in the balloon, including Nellie Bly, who would later get her scoop for Pulitzer exposing the sorry conditions at New York’s mental asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Pulitzer rejected her, thinking the assignment too dangerous for a woman; however, after her success at Blackwell’s, she would get a more ambitious balloon voyage, embarking on a true around-the-world voyage for Pulitzer in 1889.

The vessel was launched with great fanfare on June 17, 1887. There was even an injury (“Prof. Moore Slightly Injured by A Falling Sand-bag.”) But public interest overall was muted at best and the stunt was eventually ignored. With no audience following its foray, the balloon never even completed its journey.

Perhaps that’s for the best as the balloon had a pesky time stying aloft anyway; on its first evening, it landed with a thud in Hoffman, Illinois, and had to be re-launced.

Image above courtesy NYPL Digital Gallery

Newsies vs the World! The Newsboys Strike of 1899


Are you tough enough to mess with them?

PODCAST Extra! Extra! Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsboys! Pandemonium in the streets! One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

In this episode, we look at the development of the sensationalist New York press — the birth of yellow journalism — from its very earliest days, and how sensationalism’s two famous purveyors were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city. The conflict put a light to the child labor crisis and became a dramatic example of the need for reform.

Crazy Arborn, Kid Blink, Racetrack Higgins and Barney Peanuts invite you to the listen in to this tale of their finest moment, straight from the street corners of Gilded Age New York.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: The Newsboys Strike of 1899

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Newsboys in front of Seward Park. Caption: “Eisenberg Brothers, living at 27 Lewis Street. Benjamin, 8 years old, and John 10, selling Jewish papers [assumably the Forward] on East Broadway near Rutgers Street.” By Lewis Hine (Courtesy NYHS)

Printing House Square, in a print from 1866, and the world of newspaper publishing in the mid-19th century. This was the heart of journalism in New York, where the streets reeked of ink, reporters and editors darted back and forth from their offices, and newsboys gathered to pick up their morning bundles of hot-off-the-press editions. (NYPL)

From another angle (print is labeled from 1870s) we see the offices of the Trubune, the Times and the World. The New York World at this time was under publisher Marble Manton was disreputable and unsuccessful.

The fate of the New York World was transformed when it was purchased by innovator Joseph Pulitzer, who modernized the publication — introducing such staples of cover photographs and banner headlines — and increased its popularity through sometimes sensational articles. (NYPL)

Not to be outdone, William Randolph Hearst stepped into the publishing fray in 1896 with the New York Morning Journal, matching the World head to head in pulling out the stops to increase circulation and ad revenue.

This is Duane Street in the early 1900s. I’m including this picture because the Newsboys Lodging House, where many of the strikers resided for a nickel a night, was located at 9 Duane Street, in the shadow of the World’s distinctive tower.

Pulitzer’s World Building from Park Row, designed by George Post, was at one time the tallest building in the world. It sits near the Tribune building, at center.
Newsboys were not the ‘plucky’, can-do ambitious entrepreneurs that pop culture has made them out to be, although sometimes (like this guy) they come close.

A Lewis Hine photograph with the caption “Group of newsboys starting out at Brooklyn Bridge early Sunday morning.” The newsies got up every morning to pick up their bundle of newspapers. New York newspapers raised the price of these bundles during the Spanish-American War, when circulation increased. When the war was over, many newspapers lowered the price. All but the World and the Journal. [NYPL]

A cluster of newsboys, amongst sailors and businessmen, out at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1903. Brooklyn newsies had taken on the newspapers via a strike as far back as 1886 and joined their Manhattan counterparts in fighting back at Pulitzer and Hearst.(Courtesy Shorpy, who has a beautiful larger version)

The life of the newsie aged children prematurely. Getting up early, staying up late, most of them homeless and scrounging for nickels and dimes to survive, the 19th century newsboy got by on emulating adulthood. The boys below were photographed by Lewis Hine in St. Louis. (from Shorpy, who have a larger view)

Hine and Staten Islander Alice Austen are the two most well-known photographers of everyday life in New York and captured life on the streets in all its unglamorized tarnish. Below, Austen captures a newsie hard at work in 1906.

Although most newsies were boys, there were many newsgirls as well, such as this young lady in a fetching hat. Photo by Alice Austen. [NYPL]

Even with aid organazations like the Children’s Aid Society and lodging homes for wayward waifs, many newsboys lived their entire lives on the streets. The picture below is from 1912, by Hine. (NYPL)

Why do photographs of young kids from this era seem to resonate so strongly? You can look at these pictures and see your own children, nieces and nephews and neighbors. As children — particularly poor ones– have few of the fashionable trappings of adults of this era, we’re able to recognize common expressions. I highly recommend checking out the collections of Lewis Wickes Hine and Alice Austen at both the New York Public Library Digital Collection and the Library of Congress.

Finally, here’s a one more photograph from 1943 of a modern newsie, decades after the strike, by another great photographer Gordon Parks (yes, the director of Shaft). I like that he’s standing in front of a sign for the Journal-American, the newspaper that Hearst’s Journal morphed into.
[LOC]

And I couldn’t close without a little nod to that oft-maligned, cult classic Newsies , featuring fictional portrayals of Racetrack Higgins, David Simmons and of course Kid Blink (in a reduced role from his actual participation in the strike) (Thanks to Pengo for the link suggestion)

Finally I deeply apologize: I’m sadly aware that my impersonation of a newsboy’s dialect had a bit of an Ozark twang in it! I was never meant for the stage, I guess….