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Moreover, the record concerning what happened to Elsie and the accompanying description of the photographs was incredibly disturbing. It was incredibly “lucky” that Elsie’s record was one of the few that survived. Just reading about what those photographs contained caused my stomach to curl. I cannot stand seeing human beings unnaturally disfigured or drastically injured. What makes the situation even more monstrous is that the pictures taken showed Elsie screaming, probably begging for the doctors to stop. The autopsy report was incredibly saddening to read because of the way it depicted Elsie’s many afflictions and ailments, both mental and physical. I hated reading about the terrible living conditions that the inhabitants of Crownsville were forced to endure, but at the same time I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page. The worst part about the photo was reading how Elsie’s previously beautiful face was pictured “crying…misshapen and barely recognizable, her nostrils inflamed and ringed with mucus” (Skloot 199). It was also terrible to imagine the misery that came with Elsie’s “diagnosis of idiocy” and being “directly connected with syphilis” as well as “self-induced vomiting by thrusting fingers down her throat for six months prior to death” (Skloot 199). One thought that kept jumping into my mind was: “If I am this disturbed by just reading about this, how terrible was it to see it for yourself and know that this is your flesh and blood?”
All in all, the plethora of surprises and disturbing vivid imagery were an incredible part of this book. While almost entirely unpleasant to read, they contributed greatly to the readers’ understanding of the situation. Reading the descriptive passages painted a picture in my mind that made me feel as if I was there with Rebecca and Deborah, hunting for the secrets of the past. This entire true story could actually be accurately described as one big, beautiful, and disturbing surprise. I did not expect to enjoy this book. But I was pleasantly surprised.
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