Spoilers and graphic images below...
If you haven't watched The Knick on Cinemax, stop reading and start binging. (Then come back and read...)
The Knick stars Clive Owen as Dr. John Thackery at the Knickerbocker hospital in 1900 New York City, and it's good TV. He is based on the Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon William Halsted, who was by all accounts a genius, but also addicted to cocaine with a bizarre personal life.
There are so many writing elements that make The Knick worth watching: characters with depth, good dialogue, a plot that moves and draws you in. And there are so many production elements that make it good: cameras that let in a lot of light so the set can have less lighting, making it feel more natural, and the extreme lengths the crew went to to make the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn look like 1900 New York.
What I like the best is how historical the show is. I spent one day last fall locked in the Chesney Medical Archives of Johns Hopkins staring at early photographs of the hospital and reading descriptions of the patient rooms and surgical amphitheaters. I came home that night and watched an episode of The Knick and my jaw dropped. The photographs came to life in amazing detail.
From the Johns Hopkins Medical Archives. L: Nurse administering silver nitrate to a baby's eyes while a nursing student looks on c. 1902;
R: The surgical amphitheater c. 1903.
It all made sense when I found out that the show's historical consultant is Dr. Stanley Burns, owner of the Burns Archive. He owns more than 1 million photographs, most of which are medical. Many of these are interiors of hospitals, allowing the show to re-create the open wards down to the exactness of where patient charts hung and what the light fixtures looked like. They also showcase some of the diseases and conditions that Victorian doctors were intrigued by.
Two Victorian doctors, George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, compiled a tome of Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, first published in 1896. Their book has account after account of bizarre and rare disorders, diseases, treatments, and conditions, and at least three of these appear in the first season of The Knick.
To get in the spirit of The Knick and Halloween, check out all the weird pictures and descriptions in the digital copy of the whole book from the Haiti Trust here.
Come in, the stacks are open.
Away from prying eyes, damaging light, and pilfering hands, the most special collections are kept in closed stacks. You need an appointment to view the objects, letters, and books that open a door to the past.