An Asian/Pacific/American Institute installation re-created the offices of the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor.
From 1910 to 1939, Long Island’s Cold Spring Harbor was home to the Eugenics Record Office, or ERO, a center for genetic research aimed at preserving an American hereditary ideal by ridding the nation of the “unfit” and “degenerate.”
At its height in the 1920s, eugenics was far from a fringe movement: Research at the ERO was supported by the Rockefeller family and the Carnegie Institution, and the office’s director testified before Congress— leading to the exclusionary Immigration Act of 1924 as well as laws in many states mandating sterilization of people of “inferior” races and those with disabilities.
With The Haunted Files, a chilling installation on view at NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute through March 15, professor John Kuo Wei Tchen and graduate students Noah Fuller and Mark Tseng Putterman have re-created the ERO as it looked and sounded in 1924, complete with creaking doors and reproductions of patient files, which visitors are encouraged to peruse. A public exhibition of eugenics materials, The Normal, is on 24-hour display at the NYU’s Kimmel Windows through January 4.
In this video, Fuller and Putterman discuss how the perversion of Progressive Era ideals led to the pursuit of “race betterment” and calls for elimination of the disabled and “criminally insane”—and reflect on how the legacy of the American eugenics movement continues to haunt us today.
Read more at Haunted Files online.