taking flight

A Peek at the Nellie Bly Memorial Set for Roosevelt Island

Renderings from artist Amanda Matthews' Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island.
Renderings from artist Amanda Matthews’ Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island. Illustration: Amanda Matthews

The memorial dedicated to Nellie Bly — and the women whose “sacred stories” she told — is taking shape.

A new statue installation honoring the 19th century muckraking New York journalist will be unveiled on Roosevelt Island this year near the site of the infamous Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum where Bly did her most famous reporting.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which announced the project over the summer, hired Kentucky-based sculptor Amanda Matthews to complete the work. She’s already begun fabricating the multi-figure piece to honor not just Bly, but also the women featured in her reporting.

“In my research of her, the things that kept coming up over and over and over again were that she gave a voice and a face to women who had no visibility or prominence in society,” Matthews said.

Faces of History

The memorial, titled “The Girl Puzzle” after an 1885 Bly letter of the same name, will feature five seven-foot-tall sculptures — of Bly and four female faces representing girls and women in her work.

The images will be aligned near large, mirrored spheres representing “the amplification of Bly’s voice over time,” Matthews said.

“As you enter the space … you will see each of the faces,” Matthews said. “And then you will see the surrounding land, you’ll see yourself. So, hopefully, you will understand that this is a sacred place with sacred stories — and you can see yourself as part of the story.”

Artist Amanda Matthews' Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island, is called "The Girl Puzzle" in honor of a famous letter written by the journalist.
Artist Amanda Matthews’ Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island, is called “The Girl Puzzle” in honor of a famous letter written by the journalist. Photo: Amanda Matthews

The memorial will be built along a 60-foot walkway leading toward the lighthouse on the north end of Roosevelt Island. Residents got a preview of the design at a recent town hall presentation by Matthews.

The site is just a short walk away from what is left of Blackwell’s Asylum, which was partially demolished in the mid-20th century and is now a luxury residential complex called The Octagon.

Bly got her start in New York by getting herself committed to the asylum, where she observed abusive treatment of patients. Her 1887 expose, “Ten Days in a Madhouse,” published as a series in the New York World newspaper, spurred outrage and reform.

‘Ahead of Her Time’

Bly went on to a long and storied career, which included many investigations, writings on women’s rights and a highly publicized trip around the world in 72 days — an unheard-of stunt for a young woman at the time.

Susan Rosenthal, president and CEO of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, described Bly as “a woman ahead of her time.”

Artist Amanda Matthews' Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island, will represent faces of women the journalist wrote about.
Artist Amanda Matthews’ Nellie Bly memorial, set to open later this year on Roosevelt Island, will represent faces of women the journalist wrote about. Photo: Amanda Matthews

“This elegant, yet powerful installation will serve as a reminder to residents and visitors alike of her advocacy for the rights of women and of other marginalized communities everywhere,” Rosenthal said.

Matthews hoped to begin construction this summer at the memorial site, with an aim to open sometime in late 2020.

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