Thu, 30 May 2013
Bellevue Hospital, you might have heard, once had a very notorious psychiatric ward. But those horror stories have only distracted from the rather breathtaking -- and heart-breaking -- history of this historic institution, a lifeline not only for the sick, but for the poor, the incarcerated, the abandoned -- even the dead!
The hospital traces its origins to a six-bed almshouse that once sat near the location of New York City Hall today. Despite its humble and (to the modern eye) confusing original purposes, the almshouse was miles better than the barbaric medical procedures of early New York, courtesy the ominous sounding 'barber-surgeons'.
A series of yellow fever epidemics moved care for the sick to a former mansion called Belle Vue near Murray Hill -- and, in fact, with a strong connection to Murray himself! Soon the institution fulfilled a variety of roles and in rather ghastly conditions, from 'pest house' to execution ground, from a Pathological Museum to New York's first city morgue.
A great many medical advances came from Bellevue, not least of which the origins of the modern ambulance. But some of that progress has been obscured by the reputation of the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital which opened in 1931 and 'hosted' a variety of famous people with disturbing issues.
And in the 1980s, Bellevue would take on another grim role -- during the most distressing years of the AIDS crisis.