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Putting things in perspective.

Leaving the aforementioned street fair, still gazing around the streets of NYC with an air of grief and bitterness and sadness, lolitasir, tootlelulu and I trecked eastward to take the Roosevelt Island tramway over to an amazing installation of art, The Encampment.

There were many things about this display that I could talk about. It was my first time on the tram, and I enjoyed the amazing views of the city that it offered. The placement was on the southern tip of the island, a parcel of land left unoccupied for 50 years. It was the former home of many frightening institutions, including an insane asylum, a penitentiary, a smallpox hospital, and baby wards, one of which housed abandoned babies with a chilling 96% mortality rate.

These are the institutions that were made famous by Nellie Bly, who voluntarily spent 10 days in the insane asylum as an undercover reporter posing as a patient, and then reported the horrible atrocities that she observed and experienced. Beatings, drownings, imprisonment, misdiagnoses - just horrible, horrible things.

The art encampment comprised of 100 tents, each with one artists interpretation of someone or something that had occurred on those grounds. Our forays from tent to tent started out light footed, eager to explore the art within. Soon, I almost began to dread the coming of each tent, as it would no doubt bring another heavy handed fist onto my emotions. These were hard to view, hard to experience. The amazing tent about the abandoned babies and their needless deaths - made even more poignant through the artist walking along the encampment, singing a lullaby to a baby doll cradled in her arms, to then make her way to the tent and abandon the baby into a basket in front that said "Please take care of my child."

The shadow trumpets played in the distance. Two players cloaked in black, standing in shadows, each on the opposite side of the field. One would play a slow tune, almost funeral-like, to then fade out, as the other player made a tune in response. Back and forth, back and forth, I stood trembling, tears running down my face, listening intently. I grasped for a cigarette, needing something to do with my hands as I withheld my sobbing.

Stories of the murders that took place within, famous people who were also imprisoned there (May West, for example, who inspired no less than 5 tents), stories of the unnamed women who never made it out alive. One tent was about a German woman, taken against her will to the asylum, didn't know how to speak English and was never provided an interpreter. Her cries were depicted on sheets of paper with German writing, translating to "Why am I here? Please let me go!" According to the story on the tent, she was never released.

So much pain and suffering on those grounds. lolitasir spoke about her amazement that this land had just been sitting there for 50 years, abandoned and unused. I argued in my head - because the ground is haunted, because horrible things happened here, because we are ashamed.

I walked in pained due to my own loss. I walked out feeling the loss for everyone.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
redhead_sue
Oct. 8th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a really powerful experience.

Thanks for letting me know about Open House New York. I looked into it, but a little too late for the things that most interested me. (Although The Encampment definitely caught my eye.) I'm definitely going to look for it next year.
lolitasir
Oct. 8th, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
Oops! Was I supposed to cheer you up?
tootlelulu
Oct. 8th, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
You wrote that up so beautifully..
I think the ground is haunted there. It felt like a cemetary.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )