It's your worst nightmare. You are old and feeble and incapable of taking care of yourself. Your grandchildren, not wanting to be burdened by you because they are caring for their parents, shovel you off to the lifetime supervision and care of a well-reputed woman who has had nursing training and who, in good Christian fashion, has elected to benefit the community by her kindly care of its elderly, kind of like a Mother Theresa figure but without the sanction of the Catholic church or any church for that matter. Think of it! $1000.00 contracted for your room, board, medical care, clothing and burial expenses. Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it, if it's 1910? Not wanting to be a burden to your loved ones, you'd jump at such a chance, wouldn't you?
Well, many elderly did jump at the chance, and ended up at the bottom of the cliff, with the sweet, bible thumping matron, Amy Archer pitching them over the side to their deaths. Actually, there was no long and terrifying whipping of arms and legs to futilely keep oneself from plummeting through space: no broken bones, broken limbs, broken necks, nothing obvious. Just arsenic. And considering that arsenic was used in conjunction with other substances as an embalming fluid (it keeps your atrophying tissues and organs looking blood red, bright and recently alive) Hugh Alcorn, Connecticut's prosecuting attorney was "given a run for his money" in order to prove that the few exhumed corpses autopsied were not injected with arsenic by the undertaker, but that Amy poisoned her beloved clients.
In an ancient story of greed and "love of money being the root of all evil," this serial murderer places a new twisted spin on providing an upscale nursing home plan. It's an irony that Amy Archer Gilligan's having initiated one of the first elderly care residences in Connecticut's history, should have made the residence into a charnel house. Is it so unusual that Amy may have reasoned her "inmates" were on their way out anyway, and she would be able to assist them, the town and herself by hyper-accelerating their journey toward heaven? After all, what is old age but a death spiral. The end game of every nursing home today is grave; what's the difference "how" old people "get out of town?" Would you question it if some viejos keeled over or committed suicide? (They're always depressed about their oldness.) Would you even notice that you haven't seen them in days? In fact do you associate with any elderly (80s) if they are not relatives with money? It took a neurotic woman under Amy's care to complain; and Amy dealt with her easily by committing her to an insane asylum because the woman was difficult to deal with and "had a big mouth." One way or the other elderly are easy to dispatch.
It is the arrogance and sheer stupidity of "younger" immortals to disregard "the ancient." This cultural phenomenon encourages fine souls like Amy (always genteelly walking the town with Bible under her arm) leaping at the profitable opportunity to stand in the abyss between youth and age, ready to shore up the society's youthful folkways by providing a solution to los viejos' problems: poisoning with arsenic which unfortunately is a very painful and terrible way to make an end. Too bad Amy didn't use Cleopatra's techniques, much more humane: painless. But then asp venom is hard to come by, whereas arsenic, easily sold over the counter, was a universal poison for killing rats and other creatures.
The events of Amy Archer's two commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself; Love God with all your strength, mind and heart) breaking crime spree (She was a religious woman, after all.) took place between 1908 and 1916. She murdered most probably 64 people (Phelps, 247) with one or two exceptions, over the age of 55, though she was convicted of murdering far fewer because the cases would have been too far reaching to prove. She ended up happily or unhappily in an insane asylum (waiting to be hanged...sentence commuted by the governor a friend of her defense lawyer) not far from the place where she had had the "big mouth" committed. She was 87. Some say the culture rewarded her for her efforts. It's an interesting thought in our current time when overmedicating the elderly, a legalized form of "poisoning" (medication especially can tax the kidneys and livers of the elderly) is standard practice in nursing home care/assisted living centers, to keep los viejos "under wraps."
I am a baby boomer. As I "prophetically" look into the future of the elderly in America (whose ranks I will join in the next decades) I am forewarned by this account of Amy Archer and her "sound" medical practices, a sort of final solution for the aged. She got away with serial murdering and lived a long life, with room, board and activities that the state paid for. Do I dare make a brief comparison to undercover Nazis who escaped justice dispatching the old and the young in Hitler's killing factories? The old: useless mouths to feed; feel free to steal their property and money after their deaths.
Being one who has to make decisions about where I will spend the end of my life (if I get to my 80s-90s) Phelps' The Devil's Rooming House sends chills down my spine and gives me pause about nursing homes and assisted living centers. Do we really know what goes on in those places? I know they are supposed to be regulated by law. So are the food and drug industries. And we've seen how the overworked and underpaid staff has handled that situation. Let's just say a lot slips through the cracks until someone ends up dead, battling Mad Cow, joining a class action against a Big Pharma company or full of E. coli. The question I am considering is will the opportunities for abuse and violence in these places increase as the value of the dollar shrinks and our population ages? Time will tell. Meanwhile I'll read up on Cleopatra.