The Elusive Wylie Sanitarium

The life of James Hammond has slowly revealed its secrets, but few details have been more elusive than those surrounding his stay at the Wylie Sanitarium in 1907.

In court records, numerous lawyers, alienists, and doctors referred to it as “Mrs. Wylie’s Sanitarium” at 246 West 76th St, but looking at city directories it was difficult to nail down exactly who that was.

In 1907 New York City, there were just two well known doctors with the name Wylie: Walker “Gill” Wylie, a gynecologist, and his brother Robert Hawthorn Wylie, a noted surgeon.

The most likely of the two was Gill Wylie, thanks to his work at Bellevue Hospital, particularly in the Lunacy Pavillion where he learned about the treatment of mental illness. In 1882 he was hired as a visiting gynecologist and would hold that position for the next twenty-five years, until 1907.

Wylie’s prominent reputation as a doctor and surgeon resulted in his services being retained by the wealthiest families of New York. Such as treating typhus in Adeline Townsend, wife of the millionaire R. H. L. Townsend at their Madison Avenue mansion after returning from a trip to Mexico.

Wylie is in the center foreground with the mustache.

It is likely that, given Gill’s the connection to Bellevue and his connections to high society, that it was was his wife Henrietta Frances “Fanny” Wylie, who was chosen to see to the day to day care of patients at the Sanitarium.

Henrietta Frances “Fanny” Wylie

In 1907 it was extremely rare for a woman to be listed as a medical professional, let alone the proprietor of a sanitarium. Thankfully we can connect the dots through the journal of William Cobbett Skinner, who operated a silk mill in the town of Holyoke, Massachusetts.

On the 11th of February, 1888 Mr. Skinner wrote in his diary about his Aunt Ruth. “Father arrived home from N. Y. at about 8:45  says the Dr.  (Wylie) does not think he can help Aunt Ruth but she is going to remain in N.Y. for about a week at the Sanitarium 

Then on the 15th he makes the connection to Hammond’s story when he writes: “I went to see Aunt Ruth found her nicely situated at Dr. Wylie’s Sanitarium 215 W. 43rd St.

Confirmation that there was an asylum run by a Dr. Wylie at 246 West 76th St, but is it the same Wylie? Again, Mr. Skinner’s journal solves the riddle. On February 7th 1888 he wrote:

Rec’d letter from Father saying he was going to bring Aunt Ruth to the city Tomorrow Thursday Dr. (40 W. 40th St)

Thanks to the magic of the internet we can see in the 1886 NYC Medical Directory that there are indeed a physician named Wylie at 40 W. 40th St: Robert H. and W. Gill.

Mystery solved, for now, but questions remain such as what was type of care was provided, who were the other patients, and what was Dr. and Mrs. Wylie’s roles? Did she merely run it for her husband? Every string of information brings us closer to answering those questions.

The building at 246 West 76th no longer exists, it was sold on September 26, 1908, less than one year after James was released.

Again, thanks to the internet we can see that in the 1910 New York City Medical Directory, Dr. Wylie was still practicing but has potentially moved his sanitarium to 215 W. 45th St – one-half block from Times Square.

Gill and Fanny would continue to live in their mansion at 28 West 40th st until their deaths, Gil in 1923, and Fanny in 1941 at the age of 87.