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Title: City Photographs

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Velsor Brush]

Date: March 16, 1862

Whitman Archive ID: per.00246

Source: New York Leader 16 March 1862: 3. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Whitman's name does not appear in the byline for this piece. However, the article is signed "Velsor Brush," which is a known Whitman pseudonym. Charles I. Glicksberg first identified Whitman as the author of the "City Photographs" series in Walt Whitman and the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933), 15–23. Scholars have continued to support Glicksberg's claim. The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Liz McClurg, Janel Cayer, Sarah Walker, and Kevin McMullen

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[Written for the Leader.]







Here is a great Hospital, almost a century old, and within whose walls, during that time, some hundred and twenty or thirty thousand men, women and children, either out of our own city or concentred here from other parts, have been ministered unto. What retrospective ghosts of New York, and many a distant land, are at once called up!

There they are, many pining and wasting week after week with painful and incurable diseases—burning fevers, racking rheumatism, erysipelas, palsy, consumption, pneumonia, and all the long list; many brought in from sudden accidents, resulting in amputation, often followed by death.

Then come up, too, all the tragic and thrilling associations, full of the romance of reality that is ten-fold deeper than anything born of the litterateurs. For, indeed, there exists to-day hardly a family in New York, high or low, and certainly no immigrant family, but has had some acquaintance or relative, at one period or another, within those old stone walls, back there behind the trees.

Then this Hospital has quite a venerable name among the medical profession and surgeons of the city, and so, stretching over the world, with its long-stringed staff of doctors, professional consultors, etc., including, directly or indirectly, I hear, every physician and surgeon of any note ever resident on Manhattan island. An immense catalogue of members, many precious to the curative science—some venerable ones, with their portraits hanging about on the walls of the parlors or halls (Drs. Mott, Samuel L. Mitchell, David Hosack, Wright Post, F. U. Johnston, Cheeseman and others).

So out of such a long prepared opportunity, dear reader, why should not you and I derive the themes—and, perhaps, most serviceable and edifying ones—for a half-hour's sketch, just for a change?


Through an open space on the west side of the street, very plainly, between its short avenue of elm trees, as in passing you glance aside from the splendid hubbub of Broadway, you see the Hospital walls of dark gray stone, grim as some old castle. Along the street in front, roll and tumble in full tide the ceaseless currents of people. How silent and aloof the building stands away back there! Each glimpse, each sound about it is significant. Hear the clang of the iron gates, as some serious-faced visitor emerges from the depressing influences inside to the busy life of the world-famed street. See, up toward the porter's lodge, stands a wearied woman, rocking in her arms a fretful child. She has been waiting there more than an hour in the wet and cold, till the official "3 o'clock P. M." arrives. It seems as if no one with a man's heart but would have used the discretion to admit that poor woman; but the scalleywag whom the establishment has for a porter shows a metallic and flunkey face that never answered to warm heart's impulse.

The little two story building to the left is the place for preparations in morbid and healthy anatomy by the curator, Dr. J. J. Hull.2 In the second story is the Museum, valuable to students and amateurs. By-and-by there will be something more to say of Dr. H. and his Hospital Museum.

Here, near at hand, you see the grounds and buildings to better advantage. There is sufficient space and outside ventilation. The situation is high, and overlooks the North River. There is the Main Building, as it is called, the Old Hospital, whose facade you catch from Broadway; and besides, the two large edifices called the North and South Buildings.


Ascending the stone steps, and opening the stout doors in the main building, there you are in the hall, or ante-room—an open space like—out of which a large door opens at once to the large carpeted apartment, with its huge round table, where the official business of the institution is transacted by the twenty-six Governors of the Hospital at their stated monthly meetings. This Governors' Room is full of portraits (with others in the ante-room) of well known physicians and surgeons—some of them dead (I have already mentioned some) and some still living—their names, and most of their faces, familiar to all New York medical students.3 Such old bygone veterans are here as Dr. Richard S. Kissam, who served as Surgeon for the Hospital for thirty years, and died in harness in 1822;4 Dr. Wm. Hammersley, who served an equally long time;5 Dr. J. Kearney Rodgers, who served twenty-nine years, and died in 1851;6 with Doctors Alexander H. Stevens,7 Thomas Cock,8 Joseph M. Smith, Alfred C. Post,9 R. K. Hoffman, Gurdon Buck,10 John Watson11 and John H. Griscom,12 all memorable in their art.13

Still other reminiscences are called up by the Governors' Room itself, with its official looking table and arm-chairs. The familiar forms of Matthew Clarkson and George Newbold, the first of whom was President of the Hospital for the twenty-three years preceding 1822, and the latter occupied the same office for a still longer period of time, and down to within a year or two since; with the presence of Peter A. Jay, Andrew Elliott, Robert Bowne, Isaac Carow, John Adams (Treasurer for the thirty-six years preceding 1854), and of Robert J. Murray (Secretary for over thirty-two years), and of George T. Trimble, the present President of the Institution—all seem easily invoked, and to come noiselessly and take seats around the table here. Another venerable form also comes, that of Gulian C. Verplanck.


Before touring it through the establishment, as our sketch now intends to do, mention must be made of Robert Roberts, clerk of the Hospital, to be seen through the door-sash, there in the office in front, just off from the hall. Clerk Roberts (so I hear) is full of anecdotes and venerable local yarns, which he will tell, when off duty, if rightly approached—with a sort of Elia-like humor of his own to give zest to them.14

Opposite to him, as he sits over his big ledgers and account books, is Alfred Carhart, the Assistant Superintendent, deeply intent on certain figures and checks that have to do with tea, butter, beef, flour, sugar, etc.

James Darrach, the Superintendent, is busy in the office. Dr. McGee is looking over a record, and Apothecary Johnson is just going out.


Of course the main interest of a Hospital culminates in the sick wards. On the first floor of the main building, besides the apartments mentioned, with others for the resident family in charge, are two large women's wards. In these are also several little sick children. The men's wards are up-stairs.

Up-stairs also, in a convenient situation, is the office of House Surgeon, Dr. Roosa, a gentleman who will not only please you, if you be a judge of character, at a first impression, but with his hearty tone and professional excellence, will confirm the impression deeper the longer he is known.15 In the same office is Dr. Alfred North.

A description of the adjoining ward will indicate many points of resemblance general to them all throughout each of the buildings. It is called Ward No. 3. It is pleasantly situated on the second floor, at the north end or wing of the edifice. It is a large apartment, very clean of course, white-washed, with high-ceilings, well-lighted, perhaps a hundred feet long and twenty-five wide. Gratings here and there along the wall, near the floor, let in the warm, pure air; and other gratings near the top, let out the bad air, and keep up a good ventilation. The temperature is regulated by a thermometer and can be raised or lowered at pleasure. There seems to be no chance for draughts of cold, or any sudden changes.

Along each side of this apartment are ranged the beds, single iron cots, with their heads to the wall, and an ample space down the middle of the room between the two rows. There are twenty-four beds in the ward. On the wall at the head of every occupied bed hangs a little card-rack, upon which is inscribed the name of the patient, his disease, and the kind of diet prescribed for him. Here is one for example:

"Charles Green—fracture of leg. Beefsteak."

This young man, while working as a driver on Broadway, on the Fourth avenue line of stages, was run over, and his leg broken in one place and badly mashed in another. He has been lying helpless there in the cot for the last five weeks, with his leg in a "box." Nor can any outsider realize how tedious and lonesome this simple lying still business is, until he has tried it. Charley, however, has an occasional visitor to cheer him up. That gentleman at present by his beside is Mr. Townsend, the well-esteemed superintendent of the Fourth avenue stages, who has come to see that his disabled employee is well taken care of, and does not want for anything.

In the next cot is Frank Osborne, a young fireman, belonging to No. 2 steamer; he was knocked down while running to a fire, and had his collar bone and several ribs broken.

As we walk slowly along the room, we meet all surgical cases—this being one of the wards devoted exclusively to them. Here lies a poor fellow who had his hand nipped in a steam engine, and two fingers so lacerated that they have been taken off by the surgeon. And here a foundry workman, who was struck on the head accidentally by a hammer. All the other previous cases specifically mentioned will recover; but the last one is hopeless, and must end in death.

But off there in the corner is the very fact of death, almost on the instant. Poor James Watson! three weeks ago a picture of athletic manly health, size and good looks—and but twenty-six or seven years old. Thrown from a railroad car at Jersey City, he received a frightful wound and fracture of the bones of the ankle. Upon being brought to the Hospital, after consultation, it was decided by the surgeons that his chances of recovery were better without amputating the foot. I saw him sink day after day for a fortnight; at last, Hospital fever set in. He has now been in a dying condition for thirty or forty hours, and can last only a little longer. Two or three friends are around him, but he is unconscious of their presence and of his own sufferings. In the course of an hour or two more, that fluttering, labored breath, will cease altogether, and his body will be borne down stairs to the dead house, and, under the direction of his friends, prepared for burial.


What a volume of meaning, what a tragic poem there is in every one of those sick wards! Yes, in every individual cot, with its little card-rack nailed at the head.

After I have passed through them of late, especially in the South Building, which is now filled with soldiers, I have many hours afterwards, in far different scenes, had the pale faces, the look of death, the appealing eyes, come curiously, of a sudden, plainly before me. The worser cases lying quite helpless in their cots—others, just able to get up, sitting weak and dispirited in their chairs—I have seen them thus, even through all the gayety of the street or a jovial supper-party.

But my sketch must close for this week, or rather, be suspended, to give in another article, in the next number, some remaining items of the personal and historical collect of this interesting old institution.



1. Broadway Hospital, also known as New York Hospital, was the first major hospital in New York City. Prior to his more famous visits to the Civil War hospitals in Washington, Whitman visited the Broadway Hospital for several years beginning in the 1850s, developing close personal friendships with many of the sick and wounded and with the physicians. [back]

2. J. J. Hull was the curator of the Pathological Museum attached to New York Hospital, which interested Whitman for its specimens of disease and exhibits on the human body. [back]

3. For more on these portraits and doctors, see Whitman's "City Photographs—No. III" (March 29, 1862). [back]

4. Richard S. Kissam was one of a line of doctors in the Kissam family. An ancestor was one of the first doctors to receive a degree in medicine in the American colonies. Richard S. Kissam's son, Richard Kissam, Jr., was also a Brooklyn doctor. [back]

5. William Hammersley was one of the earliest physicians and professors at the medical school at King's College, New York. Records show him teaching there in 1800, and possibly earlier. [back]

6. John Kearney Rodgers was a student of Wright Post,a doctor in New York in the early nineteenth century, famous for his pioneering work in surgery. Rodgers co-founded the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in 1820. [back]

7. Alexander H. Stevens, the son of a Boston Tea Party participant, served as a professor of surgery at a number of New York institutions starting in 1814. In 1841 he was appointed President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. [back]

8. Thomas Cock was appointed an attending physician at New York Hospital in 1819. He was one of the founders of the New York Academy of Medicine and served as its president in 1852. [back]

9. Alfred Post, the nephew of another famous Brooklyn doctor, Wright Post, helped found the medical department at the University of the City of New York. He served as President of the New York Academy of Medicine and President of the New York Medical Missionary Association during his lifetime. [back]

10. Gurdon Buck was appointed an attending surgeon at New York Hospital in 1837 and later served as attending surgeon at the New York Eye Infirmary. [back]

11. John Watson served as President of the New York Academy of Medicine in the 1860s. [back]

12. John H. Griscom, who married one of the daughters of the painter Rembrandt Peale, also served briefly as a professor in Washington and New York and as City Inspector of New York City. [back]

13. Significant information is not currently available on the other doctors mentioned. [back]

14. "Elia" was the alias of English essayist Charles Lamb (1775–1834). His Essays of Elia was published in 1823. [back]

15. Daniel B. St. John Roosa was a young doctor when Whitman met him, and he went on to serve as a surgeon in the Union Army. In 1883 he founded the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital. Roosa published a long reminiscence of Whitman in Richard Henry Stoddard's "The World of Letters," in the New York Mail and Express (June 20, 1893), recalling his friendship with Whitman in the late 1850s and describing Whitman's interactions with omnibus drivers, his visits with injured drivers in the Broadway Hospital, and his visits with physicians at Pfaff's beer hall. [back]

16. "Velsor Brush" was Whitman's pseudonym for a series of articles entitled "City Photographs," which he published in the New York Leader. The name was a combination of his mother's maiden name (Louisa Van Velsor) and grandmother's maiden name (Hannah Brush). For a discussion of the possible artistic implications of the name Brush, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 25–26. [back]


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