Ghosts of the Orphanage: A Story of Mysterious Deaths, a Conspiracy of Silence, and a Search for Justice

PublicAffairs: Perseus. Mar. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9781541758513. $30. CRIME
The history of orphanages in the 19th and 20th centuries is secretive, dark, and vast. This thorough account focuses on St. Joseph’s in Vermont, but it also looks at orphanages around the world. Residents of these orphanages recount the physical and sexual abuse they received at the hands of the nuns and clergymen who ran the organizations. They also recall stories of the possible murder of several children in these orphanages. Decades of cover-ups, however, kept these allegations quietly under wraps. In the ’90s, victims began to come together to share their stories in an effort to get justice. Kenneally (The Invisible History of the Human Race), who spent 10 years investigating the case to get at the truth, provides firsthand accounts, transcripts of court depositions, and many other official records to detail the children’s trauma, which is clearly not used for shock value. Kenneally handles each person’s story with great care and ensures that this time, the people who were failed by the system are heard.
VERDICT An important look into the dark past of orphanages globally. It’s also a deep dive into the ways these horrific stories were kept out of the public eye for so long.
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