A History of Sanibel Island: Background information when reading Blue Asylum

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Blue Asylum

A Novel

by Kathy Hepinstall

Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall X
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2012, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2013, 288 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Mark James

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
A History of Sanibel Island

Print Review

In Kathy Hepinstall's Civil War-era novel, Blue Asylum, Iris Dunleavy is sent to live in the Sanibel Asylum for Lunatics on Sanibel Island, Florida for the "act of defying [her] husband." Though the area is now considered a mecca for lovers of sea shells (SanibelHistory.org estimates that the resident population of about 6000 swells by 20,000 - 30,000 people per week during peak shelling season), it wasn't always such a relaxed place.

It is said that Sanibel Island formed about six thousand years ago. According to the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, the process was the result of sediment rising from the sea "after being shaped by centuries of storm activity."

map of Calusa territory Dating back 2,500 years, the main inhabitats of the island were the Calusa Indians who "skillfully transformed the waterways around the island into abundant riches of food and tools. Whelks, conchs, clams, oysters, and other seafood were used for food, and their empty shells were crafted into tools. The Calusa proved to be skilled builders and craftsmen, perching their huts high atop shell mounds to provide protection from storm tides. Some of their shell mounds, which were also used for ceremonial, ritual and burial sites, remain intact today."

Explorer Juan Ponce de León later "discovered" Sanibel Island (which he purportedly named "Santa Isybella" after the Queen) in the early 1500s, and he and his posse warred with the Calusas for years. Incidentally, Ponce de León was shot with an arrow during these battles and later died in Cuba from the wound. The Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce states that, "the Spanish were unsuccessful in establishing any kind of permanent settlement. However, their infiltration introduced European disease and slavery to Sanibel, and overcome by yellow fever, tuberculosis, and measles, the Calusa population all but became extinct by the late 1700s."

It's unlikely that a treatment facility such as that in Blue Asylum would have existed in the mid-1800s. At that time, the island was inhabited by pirates and was part of what was known as "The Buccaneer Coast." According to www.sanibeladvisor.com, around 1833 the Florida Land Company "began marketing Sanybel, a planned community, as a place that would 'become the garden of Florida'... During the Civil War federal prisoners were held in a prison on the Dry Tortugas, yellow fever became rampant and the only treatment was castor oil. Sanibel became the place to grow castor beans..."

Sanibel Lighthouse However, as the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce states, it wasn't until after Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state in 1845 and after the Civil War ended that "increased military activity was able to secure the area and deem the island safe for settlers. In 1870, the U.S. Government ruled that Sanibel would become a lighthouse reservation and, on August 20, 1884, the Sanibel Lighthouse was first lit, and remains a working lighthouse to this day... In 1892, with a population nearing 100, Sanibel built its first schoolhouse, which visitors can now see displayed at the Sanibel Historical Village."

Fans of Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford crime novels will likely be familiar with Sanibel Island as it is a main setting for many of the novels. In fact, ardent fans of the series visiting Sanibel might want to drop in for a drink at Doc Ford's Sanibel Rum Bar & Grill which is owned by the author.

Article by Mark James

This article was originally published in May 2012, and has been updated for the April 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Wolf Season
    by Helen Benedict
    Rin Drummond's nicknames include "Pit Bull" and "Dragon." She's a tough-as-nails Iraq War ...
  • Book Jacket: La Belle Sauvage
    La Belle Sauvage
    by Philip Pullman
    Voted 2017 Best Young Adult Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect ...
  • Book Jacket: Leonardo da Vinci
    Leonardo da Vinci
    by Walter Isaacson
    The name Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most recognized in all of Western history, and his ...
  • Book Jacket: The Immortalists
    The Immortalists
    by Chloe Benjamin
    On a summer day in 1969 in New York City, the Gold children agree to seek out a mysterious ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Dry by Jane Harper

Winner of the 2017 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Days When Birds Come Back
    by Deborah Reed

    A graceful testament to endurance, rebuilding, and the possibilities of coming home.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Mothers of Sparta

Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir

A dazzling literary memoir with shades of Mary Karr, Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson.

Enter

Word Play

Sorry, we do not currently have an active wordplay!

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.