The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, And the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer
Ms. Hen decided to read this because she thought it would be appropriate for the Halloween season. It’s not a scary book about ghosts and magic, but rather a scary book about a boy who lived a long time ago in nineteenth century Boston, who tortured and then murdered other children.
Ms. Hen thinks this book is graphic, and may not be suitable for children or adults who get disturbed by descriptions of gross things. Ms. Hen is not squeamish about things when she reads them, but only when she sees them in real life. This is the reason she could never be a nurse, because the thought of sticking a catheter into someone or wiping someone’s bottom is something she couldn’t bear to do.
Ms. Hen enjoys reading about upsetting things. She also likes the descriptions of Boston in the nineteenth century. She knows a lot of the places and landmarks in this book, and she learned things she didn’t know before, such as Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill is where the brothels used to be located. She has been to that street, and she can’t ever imagine it being dangerous. It’s a lovely quiet street in an upscale neighborhood.
This is a true story of a serial killer, Jesse Pomeroy who killed two children in South Boston in the 1870s. He got caught, but he denied ever killing the children. His mother didn’t believe he did the crimes. Intertwined with Jesse’s history are parts about the Great Boston Fire of 1872, and Herman Melville’s life. The book talks a lot about madness and how it was perceived in that day. Jesse was thought of as mad. Herman Melville’s novel BILLY BUDD is supposedly based on Jesse’s story.
One thing that Ms. Hen thinks is fascinating was the idea that the so-called “dime novels” that Jesse read caused him to commit his crimes. (They were small books about violence and other macabre subjects.) People say that these days, not about novels, but about movies and video games and pornography. The literati in the nineteenth century thought that the dime novels were ruining quality literature, and people, especially young boys, were drawn to them for the quick thrills they gave.
A publisher, James Thomas Fields, wanted to find out if the dime novels did cause Jesse to become a murderer. He visited Jesse in the Charles Street Jail, and he talked with him. Fields came to the conclusion, which is still true today, that reading cheap novels does not make a person commit crimes. If the inclination is there, the person will become evil, and reading dime novels simply makes the person more attuned to the dark side of nature.
Ms. Hen had a couple of moments while reading this novel. She was riding the subway, and she read the opening to one of the chapters about the prison in Charlestown, and the golden light that shines on it, and suddenly, she was in the exact place the prison was located, where now stands Bunker Hill Community College, and the golden light of the afternoon was shining. She also decided to visit the Liberty Hotel, which is the former Charles Street jail, and took some pictures. A family walked through the lobby, the parents drinking flutes of champagne, and the father saying to a little boy of about five, “These rooms used to be jail cells,” laughing. Ms. Hen doesn’t think the men who were jailed there would think it was funny. She wonders if the ghosts of the inmates haunt the hotel, with all the laughing that goes on about it now, it was a terrible place to be for over one hundred years.
Ms. Hen does not read a lot of nonfiction because sometimes it can seem a little too lecture-like for her. But she liked this book because it was about a piece of her city's history. She likes the parts about madness and murder, and also learning how people and their attitudes have changed.
|Ms. Hen didn't come to The Liberty Hotel, but her alter-ego went there during her lunch break. She works next door.|