Nellie Bly could have won an Academy Award for her impersonation of a lunatic. On the morning of Saturday, September 24, 1887, within twenty-four hours of checking into the Temporary Home for Females at No. 84 Second Avenue, the police were called to escort “Nellie Brown” to the Essex police station. The assistant matron of the boardinghouse told the police that “Nellie Brown” had so terrified her female boarders with her crazy rantings that they feared being murdered in her beds. Bly claimed that all the women in the house were crazy. She had forgotten who she was, she said, and lost her trunks. She acted confused, vague, but not dangerous.
The police took Bly before Judge Duffy who ordered her sent to Bellevue Hospital for examination, where Dr. William C. Braisted, head of the insane pavilion there, said Bly was “undoubtedly insane.” (1) There she passed two freezing cold nights, remembering that “all night long we were kept awake by the talk of the nurses and their heavy walking through the uncarpeted halls.” Nellie, being Nellie, complained to the nurses and the doctors about the lack of heat in the institution and the poor conditions. She was told that she could expect no kindness in the place as it was a charitable institution!
The stay at Bellevue was temporary though. The next day – Monday – a boat was expected. It would take Nellie Bly away permanently to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum for Women.
Just think. The speed of the thing was dizzying. On Thursday Nellie Bly had been sitting in the offices of the New York World contemplating the assignment of posing as an insane woman to gain admittance into an institution. It seemed an impossible hurdle – to be declared insane and committed for life to an insane asylum. Yet it was a mere three days later and Nellie Bly – a completely normal person – was being committed for life to an insane asylum – on the notorious Blackwell’s Island. How many other unfortunates had also suffered this fate?
(1) Kroeger, Brooke. Nelly Bly. (New York: Random House, 1994)
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