HOSPITAL OF THE DAMNED

by Kevin Walsh

In the center of Staten Island there is a place of odd, derelict beauty and Stygian, impenetrable ruin. It is located in the Seaview Hospital complex on Brielle Avenue, Willowbrook, Staten Island, where the once-gorgeous Women’s Ward Pavilion has been allowed to disintegrate and crumble for the past 35 years.

In 2000 I was asked to accompany an ‘infiltration’ of the Women’s Ward Pavilion of the Seaview Hospital by Julia of darkpassage.com, and saw not only the ravages of 25 years of total neglect, but artifacts of a past age. Enter with us if you dare…

 

The battlements of the abandoned portion of Seaview Hospital beckon the explorers upon arriving at the Brielle Avenue site.

 

The Seaview Hospital complex was designed by Raymond Almilrall and built between 1905 and 1938. Many of the buildings are in the Spanish Mission style. It was, at one time, the largest tuberculosis hospital at a time when fresh air was considered the most effective treatment of “the white plague.” The first drug trials leading to a cure for ‘consumption’ were made at Seaview Hospital.

 

Let’s walk the corridor to see who…or what…is here to greet us.

 

Well, Ed Koch is here. But who’s that with him?

We’re in the Nurses’ Recreation Room, by the way, by the inscription on the door.

 

Look, it’s an old Steinway. Tell you what…I’ll play…

 

And you ghosts can dance!

Speaking of playing, Forgotten Fan Peter Sefton reports:

One of the Seaview ghosts is Charlie Christian, the great pioneering jazz electric guitarist. I remember reading years ago that he went to Seaview to mend after being forced to drop out of Benny Goodman’s quartet by bouts of coughing. Then a friend smuggled 2 wanton women and a fistful of marijuana cigarettes in to cheer him up. A few days later, on March 2, 1942, he was dead at age 25.

 

And when we’re done fooling around, how about a sandwich and a brew.

Continuing along the corridors of this section of Seaview Hospital, we found several toys, magazines left there, untouched, apparently, since 1974, and piles of wrecked furniture and interestingly, discarded medical records and X-Rays. We also stumbled on a corridor leading to an active wing of the hospital.

Rather than be arrested or admitted, we decided to leave Seaview Hospital to its dust, X-Rays and ghosts and enter our true quarry, the Women’s Ward pavilion.

 

From the Preservation League Of Staten Island:

Architect Raymond F. Almirall of New York City designed the buildings and the terra cotta ornament. The ceramic work was produced in Delft, Holland by the Joost Thooft & Labouchere Company. This company has been in continuous operation since the 1750s. The design is a brilliantly colored series of ceramic murals and reliefs with gold square tiles, garlands, crests and seashells. Almost life-size figures of children, nurses and physicians are repeated on each building. There are four distinct groups of figures along with a series of iconographic shields.

It’s hard to accurately describe the ruin and abandonment we found upon entering one of the four pavilions left standing. Broken glass everywhere, the accumulated rust of 25 years, and bannisters so far gone they crumbled to the touch. Fortunately, the staircases were made of concrete and so afforded a relatively safe entry to upper floors. But some of the wooden floors were nearly collapsing and an inalert infiltrator may find him/herself falling through. This did not happen to us today.

 

You are met by a wheelchair of, I’d guess, 1930s-1950s vintage, with the odd rusted boxspring and dislodged toilet bowl strewn around for additional decor. Dust and dirt coated the floor to a depth of about two inches.

 

While Dark PassengersJulia and Cruz descended to the Stygian basement of the Women’s Ward Pavilion, your webmaster struck off on his own and ventured upstairs to the Fourth Floor, where my quarry was the supposedly gorgeous terra cotta murals were still supposed to cast their benevolent eyes on the surrounding Staten Island countryside. But several tolls would have to be paid before such a view was to be vouchsafed to us.

Above, the main corridor of the pavilion.

 

Entities much more hostile than we benevolent explorers had preceded us. Danger is your constant companion when traveling through these realms.

 

Is that a skull’s visage peering at us with unblinking eyes from the Lovecraftian pavilion seen through the center window? It’s wise to not take too close a look at what you find here.

 

During the night, legions of bats and even more unwholesome denizens launch themselves from these parapets. During the day, the windows serve as the lookout toward Latourette Park and Richmondtown.

 

There used to be nutritious meals prepared here, but these days the pantry produces asbestosis, mesothelioma and tetanus. If you’re not careful.

 

Tripping the detritus of decades can be just a bit hazardous. We found that the floorboards under the dust in the center of the picture seemed to be collapsing, and the next trip there could have been our final one.

 

From the Preservation Society of Staten Island:

Architect Raymond F. Almirall of NYC designed the buildings and the terra cotta ornament. This ceramic work was produced in Delft, Holland by the Joost Thooft & Labouchere Company. They have been in continuous operation since the 1750s. The design is a brilliantly colored series of ceramic murals and reliefs with gold square tiles, garlands, crests and seashells.

Almost life-size figures of children, nurses and physicians are repeated on each building. There are four distinct groups of figures along with a series of iconographic shields.

(I recognized shields corresponding to the USA, Holland and possibly Japan)

Also from the Preservation Society:

The ceramic ornament is protected by the eave overhang in all locations, and follows the perimeter (roughly 400 feet) on each building. At one end, an open 12 ft. sleeping porch extends on each side, connected to a projecting octagonal bay. These porches were enclosed with windows and roofed over in the 1930s. The murals located in the areas of these porches were obscured from view, except from the interior.

Pieces have cracked from water entry and freezing, and where concrete reinforcing has rusted, pieces have broken loose. Accessible locations on the “porch” south-half of each building make the frieze work subject to vandalism.

During the 1970s the price of copper rose dramatically. Construction tradesmen and demolition people salvaged copper everywhere including the flashing, downspouts, soffits, and enclosures of the solarium porches on these four buildings. As a result, water enters at the roof perimeter, floods down walls, and has caused deterioration to the roof and the building interiors. The terra cotta friezework on the sleeping porches has suffered from this condition.

Though the artwork was conceived in the most beneficial manner possible in the early 1900s, some of the images seem bizarre to us now. Starting at left, a doctor leads a blindfolded young patient; a nonchalant doctor assists a distraught girl; a nurse accompanies a knickered young man with his arm in a sling; and another nurse carries a baby.

Many of these terra cotta designs were cut in half when the hospital put in enclosed porches in the 1930s.

 

Forgotten Fans and Dark Passengers Julia and Cruz pose at a terracotta mural. Photography here was not easy. Cruz stood in a rusty locker and Julia hunched over rather than be konked in the head by another locker.

Anyone exploring this ruin should take EXTREME caution. Broken glass and 25 years of rust are everywhere. Obtain a tetanus shot before planning any infiltration here because you don’t want to trip, fall, cut yourself and be subject to infection.

I don’t know how much asbestos is in the air here.Assume there is some.

You are also on private property. Cooperate with hospital security guards if you are seen.

3/10/2000

 

 

51 comments

Jennifer July 9, 2012 - 2:00 pm

Wow! It reminds me of this game: http://www.thedarkmeadowgame.com/gallery/

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Fran Jener April 9, 2013 - 11:56 pm

I just looked over your article on Seaview. I was wondering if you know what happened to the Discarded Medical Records and X-Rays you saw on the floor of the corridor. Do you think maybe someone may have got them to give to a historical society? My aunt’s brother was there in 1940. Does anyone know the history of this place-when it closed, what happened to the patients, etc.

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R. Bailey November 30, 2015 - 5:40 am

They found a cure for Tuberculosis at Seaview Hospital. Do a Goggle Search asking How did Seaview Hospital find the cure for Tuberculosis and a lot will come up. The last patient was discharged in 1961. So that was the end of the need for the hospital.

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Eugene Mandel July 15, 2013 - 2:29 am

Shortly after my graduation in 1947 from NYU College of Dentistry, I was one of two dental interns for about 6 months in 1948 at Seaview Hospital. Here are a few of the things I remember clearly about this experience.
It was a very big facility both physically and in the number of patients- the largest TB hospital in the U.S. Most of the patients were African-Americans. The location seemed very remote; to get there from Manhattan involved a ride on the Staten Island Ferry followed by one or two bus rides. There were several visiting physicians there from abroad; I became friendly with an ENT specialist from Czechoslovakia and a chest surgeon from Israel. The risk of contracting TB was real, so that I had to wear gloves and a mask when treating patients. While I was there, the chief surgical resident contracted TB. As a dental internship, it left much to be desired, as the attending dental staff was almost non-existent. One learned from his own experience. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience for a new dental graduate.

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Anita Tyrrell August 10, 2013 - 9:12 pm

My grandfather, who immigrated from Greece at age 15, died here at age 28 in 1915. My mother, Octavia, was only 18 months old and her older sister, Eleanora was not quite 4. My grandmother was
a widow at age 25 with 2 young children. I am glad that the hospital, though decaying, still stands. It is a sad remembrance of what was, but will never be again, thanks to medical advances. He died of Tuberculosis, curable now.

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Staten Island Greenbelt Trails | Hiker Ph.D. May 18, 2014 - 3:16 pm

[…] found a hole in the fence and took a few photographs around the exterior. Adventurous types enjoy exploring the area more thoroughly, but I was here to hike and I didn’t particularly feel like accidentally […]

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Staten Island Greenbelt Trails | Hiker Ph.D. May 19, 2014 - 2:53 pm

[…] I found a hole in the fence and took a few photographs around the exterior. Adventurous types enjoy exploring the area more thoroughly, but I was here to hike and I didn’t particularly feel like accidentally […]

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Rock September 26, 2014 - 7:27 pm

When Izoniazid was discovered at Seaview, patients were dancing in the corridors after a few weeks of treatment. All patients went home when declared to be negative. Current TB patients are usually treated at home with Izoniazid.
I worked in Seaview as a nurse around 1940-53 when Izoniazid was dicovered.

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Wendy Wallace December 3, 2015 - 9:26 pm

I am desperatly trying to find information about Walter Ahern, long lost relative who worked there as an HH? Not sure what that means. Any help or pics would be greatly appreciated.

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Linda Aspinall Nebel September 19, 2017 - 8:20 pm

Hi. I am also trying to track down someone who worked there. Did you have any luck. My uncle was Charlie Aspinall

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LB February 4, 2018 - 3:36 pm

Hi Rock – Any chance you remember a 55 year-old Swedish immigrant who passed away there on March 15th, 1950 by the name of Birger Benson? He worked in the construction industry in Manhattan, and from what I can tell was on his own.

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Rock July 18, 2018 - 12:22 pm

I do not recognize that name. We had eight pavilion buildings, each with five (5) floors, and two-story “shacks”. I worked in building # 3, and sometimes in the “shacks”. And with a capacity of two thousand patients, it’s virtually impossible to know the names of all the patients who passed through Seaview. Wish I could have been more helpful.

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Catherine September 13, 2019 - 12:16 am

Birger Benson’s naturalization petition is on ancestry.com. He tried to anglicize his name after he got here. Petition gives his former name: ALBREKTSSON.

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Rock August 13, 2018 - 4:16 pm

Correct dates were 1950-1953.

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Rock September 10, 2018 - 11:46 am

Correction; 1950-1953

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Amy Nutt December 1, 2018 - 10:34 am

HI, I’m a journalist from The Washington Post now writing a book about the history of mental health treatment in America. (I was also born in Staten Island.) I would love to talk to you about your observations/experiences with the discovery of the anti-depressant effect of hydrazine derivative iproniazid in 1952.
Thank you.
(908) 334-1069

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Rock J Spinelli December 21, 2018 - 1:03 pm

I understand that neither one is being used, both were very dangerous. We used Isoniazid as a cure for tuberculosis.
Rock

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Rock September 19, 2019 - 11:40 am

Correction: 1950-1955.

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diane scillia December 14, 2014 - 9:59 am

I was a patient at Seaview Hospital from 1949 to 1952. The nursing staff (biracial after 1947) and housekeeping staff (alsmots all African-Americans) were very good to the small patients (of mixed ethnicities); so were the doctors (mostly white). My parents got to see me once a week — they had to come from Brooklyn by ferry and bus. Most of the patients in my ward were Puerto Rican so those of us who wanted to make friends with our nearest neighbors learned Spanish or English (or Spanglish) as soon as possible. The real trauma was when one of the patients was really sick. Most of us were ill, but responding to treatments. Those who were really sick were not responding. Epidemics of “typical childhood diseases” were a constant worry and my own release from Seaview in 1952 was delayed because of a chickenpox outbreak. By going home in December, I missed the big measles outbreak. The photos here look familiar — I may have been in some of those rooms (not the nurses recreation room or the kitchen) and I vaguely remember being out in the garden with pumpkins growing there. It must have been in Fall 1952. In spite of this history, my health has been very good over the span since 1952. Just the usual illnesses.

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jennifer June 30, 2015 - 12:30 pm

I will be writing an essay for college on the tuberculosis hospital I would love to have an interview if you are interested.
Thank you
jennifer91xx@gmail.com

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Rock September 15, 2015 - 5:35 pm

I can help you with your essay about Seaview Sanatarium. I worked at Seaview when it was a TB hospital, as a Registered Nurse.
Rock

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Wendy Wallace December 3, 2015 - 9:30 pm

Rock, Do you remember a woman named Helen Nesel who had her son Walter there in 1932 and died there in 1942. The father of Walter was Walter Ahern and we are trying to find any information you may be able to give us. I know it is unlikely but you never know. 😉 Thank you

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Rock March 11, 2016 - 1:49 pm

I do not remember anyone with the name of Helen Nesel. I worked there around 19501953, when I was in my early twenties. Wish I could have been more helpful.
Try contacting Health & Hospitals Administration located at 125 Worth Street, Manhattan. They should be able to tell you something about what happened to the records of the TB sanatarian.
Rock

Greer V Cooper February 15, 2018 - 12:33 am

Dear Rocky,
My Father, John Henry Brown was a patient at Seaview in 1952. He was 28 years old and was there when I was born in June of that year. My Brother, who was 4 years old was sent to a Preventorium, a common practice of the day. It was not a pleasant experience. Do you have any idea where the Preventorium may have been located? Also, do you happen to know how I can locate any Seaview Hospital tecords from that time period?

Rock July 19, 2018 - 7:39 am

Preventoria were everywhere, and in every state to protect young children during the white plague. Some local preventoria are as follows:
Farmingdale, NJ, Nanuet, NY, Otisville, NY Seaview, NY, Lakewood, NJ, Rockland Co, NY, just to name a few. Hope this helps.

Rock

June November 28, 2018 - 3:29 pm

would you have known a patient bythe name of Tommy McLoughlin?

Emilio Torres March 6, 2017 - 4:21 pm

It’s been some time since you posted about writing an essay. Perhaps it’s too late now, but I was a patient in the children’s hospital for 22 months starting in 1941. If I can be any assistance to your essay contact me at etorres7@verizon.net. Or if you simply want info, contact me. I can give you my phone number.
Emilio Torres

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Maria Smilios April 17, 2017 - 9:18 pm

HI Diane–

I’m writing a book about Sea View and the nurses that worked there. If you worked there or were a patient, I would love to talk with you. Please contact me through my website: https://www.seaviewtbstories.com/

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Linda Aspinall Nebel September 19, 2017 - 8:21 pm

Hi. Do you remember a man by the name of Charlie Aspinall. An orderly. He was my uncle. His mother Bridget Aspinall was a patient.

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Rock September 23, 2017 - 5:34 pm

No Charlie, but there was a nurse named Aspinall jn the 1950s.

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Sandy White January 8, 2015 - 12:06 am

There was a document on Staten Island Institute. The was so dirty and you could smell death. where did all the doctors and nurses go. There were 7 children dead and buried some where along the hospital. Why wasn’t it torn down as soon as the children started to disappear. To me even though all that was there had some kind of mental problems, or they just didn’t like the looks of them. The pictures that I saw, surly the parents of these children saw this. It was not a nice place. My heart breaks for them, and if only I could see how and why they stayed there

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Rock August 28, 2017 - 6:14 pm

You may be thinking of Willowbrook State School, which was closed down because of Heraldo Rivera’s intervention. Seaview Hospital was a tunerculosis sanatorium from 1913-1960.

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Esther Williams January 18, 2015 - 1:27 pm

I was born in Seaview Hospital in 1940. My mother was sent there while she was pregnant with me. She died of TB when i was 5 years old.
No one in my family older than 40 including my father ever told me why I have places in the back of my head and the right side of my neck line scar tissue. Fortunately my hair grew after two years and could not be seen. Only by hairdresser or of course anyone doing my hair. My daughter has been questioning me again and again what was done. I can’t answer. Was others given exploratory operations?
Well was it documented? if so what happened to the info?

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Rock September 15, 2015 - 5:37 pm

The only operations at Seaview when I worked there were operations for the chest.

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susan a verne September 4, 2015 - 2:24 am

Recently learned that my grandfather died at Seaview Hospital in 1942 of TB .his father died whe he was 2 ,father being 30 died in NY of TB as well. I have seen and read up on this historical site,Were the bodies creamated or buried and if so where r the graves located ? I myself do not test positive but recently told it was not a pos, reaction more like an allergy reaction to the test sol.

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Rock September 15, 2015 - 5:39 pm

There were no bodies cremated or buried on Seaview property. If the family couldn’t afford burial, they were taken to Potters Field, Wards Island.

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Douglas July 24, 2017 - 2:45 pm

No they were transferred underground in the tunnels to the other side of what is now known as Brielle Ave to the Cremation center. The bodies were cremated there. They were not transported away from the grounds as if you remember there was no cure so they had to burn them. That building was torn down in the late part of the 1990’s. I explored the underground tunnels as well as all of the buildings they all connected via the tunnels. The last time I was in those tunnels was about the year 2001-2002 I did work in the buildings being used as a nursing home. I was working on a job there for about 1 year. I only wish that I had the cameras they have today. I would have recorded every inch of that place.ion As bad of condition that they are in they hold a lot of interesting history

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Catherine September 13, 2019 - 6:19 pm

This is interesting information, your point about cremating bodies of people who died of TB because there was no cure. My grandmother’s family lived in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. My grandmother was the youngest in a large family. Her big sister Ella got married – Ella might have been 10 years older than my grandmother, maybe more – and Ella and her husband volunteered to work in a TB hospital. Ella and her husband thereafter contracted TB. I assumed that before they were diagnosed, they brought the TB home. Everyone in the family got TB. Ella died, then her parents, then one sibling after another. My grandmother survived; at the age of 13, she was an orphan, and went to work as a servant in the home of a very nice family. When my grandmother got older, she had a chest X ray. It showed lesions on her lungs that revealed she had, in fact, caught TB, and had scars from the TB, but she was apparently asymptomatic because, said the doctor, she was strong enough to fight it.

I was wondering if this was the hospital – Seaview – where Ella and her husband worked before they caught TB and circulated it around the whole family.

I have tried to create my grandmother’s family tree. She passed away in 1963. Her husband’s side of the family has been easy to find. Travel and passport records. Census addresses. Birth and Death certificates. Marriages. I have found a few Census records that might be this part of the family, but there seems to be no record of anybody’s death. If they all died of TB, as we were told, in an epidemic affirmed by my grandmother’s doctor, maybe the bodies were cremated — not buried in the family cemetery — by the TB sanitorium staff. That would explain a lot. I wonder how you locate those.

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Douglas July 24, 2017 - 2:52 pm

Also why is there no mention of the farms on the site that they used to grown there own food. To this day if you walk along Rockland Ave there are even some walnut trees and fruit trees that are still alive and still growing fruit to this day. Nobody can walk there as it is a heavy traveled road with no walkways. But if you do get stuck at the traffic light at Brielle and Rockland take a look at the trees you will see them. Look closely as most are covered with heavy brush now..

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Rock September 5, 2017 - 10:00 am

The farms were in Farm Colony, the west side of Brielle Avenue. Farm Colony was a place for poor or homeless people, some of whom were able to do chores, and others were not able to do any work, instead needed someone to help them.

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Pam Baker March 27, 2018 - 9:48 am

Rock, Is there anyplace that archived the staff or student nurse classes there? My great aunt and another relative graduated there around 1930. Do you know who I can contact to find out that information?
Thank you very much,
Pam Baker
motherearthpam@yahoo.com

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Rock July 18, 2018 - 12:30 pm

You would have to contact the individual hospitals where they trained. Wagner College, Harlem Hospital, Lincoln Hospital, Metropolitan Hospital, etc. all rotated usually three (3) months at SeaviewHospital.
If they took courses at Seaview, the only place that might keep records would be at Health & Hospitals Corporation, 125 Worth Street, NYC.
Wish it could have been more positive.

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Darlene Hurtig July 31, 2018 - 9:29 am

Rock,
Is there a chance medical records on patients from Sea View Hospital between 1900 and 1912 are in storage? I am looking to find a great aunt whom we believe was a patient at the Sea View for TB. Thank you

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Rock August 2, 2018 - 6:27 pm

I doubt that records go back that far. You can inquire at Health & Hospitals Corp. 125 Worth Street, NYC., They were headquarters for all hospitals belonging to the City of New York.

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Rock August 8, 2018 - 12:25 pm

This is a more detailed address where questions can be answered regarding hospitals belonging to the City of New York:
NYC Health & Hospitals Corporation
125 Worth Street
New York, NY
10013
(212) 788-3321

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Jimmy December 24, 2018 - 11:35 am

Just moved into the “Brielle” apts. Loved the info I found here. Have been fascinated by the decaying surrounding buildings. So intrigued. What is the beautiful building at the entrance to the apartment complex?

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Rock J Spinelli December 26, 2018 - 4:01 pm

Which ones? The restored Nurses’ Residence? Or the two (2) new five-story buildings? I will be looking into Senior housing in the Spring.
Rock

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Cecilia Riley February 20, 2019 - 10:34 pm

Hi Rock,
I learned that I was born at Seaview Hospital in 1942, when I finally got my birth certificate at 22 years old. I was finally able to see that it was TB hospital through the internet. My father who is now deceased, refused to give me any information about my mother except a photograph of her. I could find no record of her death in the Manhatten Bureau of Statistics. If she died at Seaview Hospital, do you know where would her death certificate be located? Should I contact the NY Health & Hospitals at the Worth Street address? I have been trying to get some kind of maternal history to pass on to my children and grandchildren before I pass away. Thank you for any help.

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Rock March 27, 2019 - 2:58 pm

It’s been so many years since Seaview was closed. The only thing I can recommend is to contact NYC Health & Hospital, and see what they can come up with.

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Rock April 9, 2019 - 6:26 pm

Cecelia,
Anyone who was born or died in New York will have a record of that at the NYC Dept of Health in Manhattan. A $15.00 fee is required for a copy.

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Carrie Deitzel October 27, 2019 - 12:28 am

My grandmother died in 1913, the same year my mother was born. We were told she died of TB three months after my mother’s birth.
My mother, in her 70s and ill, became distraught that she could find no record of her birth. While we suspect my grandmother may have died in childbirth, there was also the family’s belief that my aunt, who had a spinal deformity, had “contracted TB from her I’ll mother” and the disease “settled in her spine” which lends credence to the TB story. (Family photos suggest my aunt had scoliosis which may have been unknown in the early 1900s) Perhaps, my mother was born and her mother died in a TB treatment center. I will contact NYC Health & Hospital Corporation and also NYC Dept of Health, but if anyone looking for really old records gets any good leads, please feel free to contact me at 222edwina@gmail.com

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