Design selected for Nellie Bly monument on Roosevelt Island

Famed muckraker Nellie Bly committed herself to an women’s insane asylum on what is now Roosevelt Island to report on abuse of the mentally ill. ( Photo via Wikicommons)

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation has selected a design for the forthcoming $500,000 monument to journalist Nellie Bly in the island’s Lighthouse Park. 

“The committee, made up of RIOC employees and community leaders, unanimously selected this bold installation that will not only represent Nellie Bly’s time here, but her impact on the world,” said Susan Rosenthal, President and CEO of RIOC.

RIOC selected a design by Amanda Matthews, owner and operator of Lexington, Kentucky-based design and build firm Prometheus Art, whose work focuses on representing women who have been “left out of the credits of history.” The artist also designed the bronze statue of fellow muckraker Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first black woman accredited to cover the White House, which stands at 6-feet-tall outside the Newseum in Washington D.C.

Bly, born Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, is known for committing herself to a women’s insane asylum on Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island) to report on the rumored abuse and neglect of mentally ill patients 132 years ago. The investigative reporter subsequently published an exposé about the cruelty she experienced firsthand called “Ten Days in a Madhouse.”

“Some of them did have mental disabilities, but some of them didn’t,” said Matthews. “Many of them were just immigrants who didn’t speak English. 

The installation entitled, “The Girl Puzzle,” in honor of the piece that launched Bly’s journalism career, will feature a walkway where viewers will find four 7-foot-tall female faces cast in bronze. The faces will portray different ages and ethnicities and the fifth face at the end of the walkway will be Bly’s. Each face will be broken into pieces, which depending on the viewers, will align to create a whole image. Viewers will be able to see images of the city skyline, the faces of the women along with their own in the reflection of three polished spheres in the middle of the walkway, allowing them to become a part of the piece. 

“The inspiration is to represent the women that Nellie Bly represented, but also to show that her work isn’t finished,” said Matthews. “We still have to give a voice and a face to those who don’t have one.” 

Construction on the monument is scheduled to be completed by summer of 2020. RIOC has yet to release to renderings of the monument.