Upgraded over the past year, Lighthouse Park showed off its upgrades in a Memorial Day display. Historian Judith Berdy photographed some images and shared them with Roosevelt Islanders and others who love the park.
by David Stone
Photos: Judith Berdy, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society (RIHS)
The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse and The Girl Puzzle, A Perfect Match
This history the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, originally the Blackwells’ Island Light, is obscured. Nobody kept a reliable record, and some claims are preposterous.
One claim is that it was built to light the Octagon, then a lunatic asylum. The only trouble with that is that the Octagon is a quarter of a mile away. Most likely, it guided ships through the then-tempestuous Hell Gate where colliding tides challenged the most experienced captains.
In any case its genesis is unclear, but its restoration, begun like The Girl Puzzle under the administration of then RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal, is excellent and true to the original.
An image catches Nellie Bly, object of The Girl Puzzle, artwork by Amanda Matthews, and Roosevelt Island’s historic lighthouse, bathed in red and blue.
Who was Nellie Bly?
Nellie Bly was an investigative journalist who lived in the late 1800s. She is best known for faking her insanity to gain admission to a women’s asylum, to report on the conditions inside. Bly’s investigation led to widespread reforms in the treatment of mentally ill patients.
Bly was born Elizabeth Cochran in 1864, in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. Her father died when she was six, and her mother remarried soon after. Bly did not get along with her stepfather, and she ran away from home at the age of eighteen. She changed her name to Nellie Bly and went to work as a typesetter in a Pittsburgh newspaper office.
In 1887, Bly moved to New York City, where she found a job at the New York World. At the time, most newspapers were only interested in reporting on crime and other sensational stories, but Bly wanted to write about more serious topics. She convinced her editors to send her to Mexico to report on the country’s political situation.
Bly’s most famous investigation took place in 1887 when she feigned insanity to gain admission to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Bly spent ten days in the asylum, during which time she witnessed firsthand the horrific conditions that patients were subjected to. Her exposé led to widespread reforms of the treatment of mentally ill patients in the United States.
Bly continued to work as an investigative journalist throughout her life. In 1895, she made a record-breaking trip around the world in just 72 days. Bly died in 1922, at the age of 57.
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