Speckled Monsters

“Come along now Bertie,” ‘Lisbeth lilted, hoping to mask the inconsolable grief and horror that gripped her heart, “your princess chariot awaits!”

“Smallpox,” the doctor had whispered after examining the child earlier that day. “We must transport her to the island straight away.”

“Where are we going, mama?” Bertie asked as she lay in her mother’s embrace.

“To a beautiful castle my darling girl, where you can rest and get well.”

But Bertie, as her mother feared, would succumb days later, a prisoner of the castle, its moated barrier meant to contain speckled monsters like her behind its crenelated parapets.


A 100-word historic dramatization for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields Friday Fictioneers Flash Fiction Challenge. It is inspired by the above photo by Roger Bulltot.

When I researched the photo, I discovered that this place is the modern-day view of the ruined remains of the Smallpox Hospital in New York City. Located on the southernmost tip of Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Blackwell Island, and surrounded on all sides by the East River, it was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr.

Renwick is famous for designing other notable gothic structures, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Stereoscopic photograph of the original Smallpox Hospital building

From 1856 until 1875, the small 100-bed facility served as the city’s small pox asylum treating about 7,000 patients a year. After some additions to the structure, it became a nurse’s school before being abandoned altogether in the 1950’s.

In 1972 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1980 it was added to the New York State Register of Historic Places. Read more about the Smallpox Hospital HERE.

“Speckled Monster” is a nickname coined in England and attributed to the formal name of the Smallpox virus, Variola, which is derived from the Latin word varius, meaning “spotted”.

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