Ten Days in a Madhouse (1887)
Ian L. Munro, Pub.
This landmark of investigative journalism begins when ace-reporter Nellie Bly accepts a challenge from her editor to have herself committed to New York City's notorious asylum for the insane on Blackwell Island. This was the unfortunate destination for many men and women in the city who, understandably distraught at living in utter destitution, were brought before the court and sent to Bellvue for a psychiatric examination. From there, it was but a short boat ride to Blackwell's Island where many, without money or relations to save them, would spend the rest of their lives.
After ten days in the "madhouse," Bly finds there really is no story there at all--at least in terms of neglect or maltreatment. Admitting she has been bested, she reveals her true identity to the asylum staff during one of the hospital's regular outdoor picnics. The head psychiatrist then has a surprise for Nellie. The entire staff, doctors and nurses, knew from the very start that Nellie wasn't actually "insane" (given the rigor of the hospital's "intake" procedures), but had been humoring her curious as to why she had come to Blackwell. After much laughter by all at this mutual masquerade, Bly goes on to defeat the asylum director in an apple-bobbing contest.
Over the following year, Bly wrote a number of humorous portraits of the many insane yet lovable companions she encountered during her time at the asylum. Ten Days in a Madhouse thus remains famous today for introducing the convention of the happy human interest story that typically closes a news magazine or broadcast.