Thursday, April 26, 2007

NORTH BROTHER ISLAND

Photographs by: Rachelle Fernandez

North Brother Island, a 13 acre piece of history laying just southwest of Hunts Point in the East River, is a remnant of a long-forgotten era in New York. The clocks on North Brother stopped around 1962 when the city pulled the plug on Riverside Hospital, the main attraction on the island and a storied institution that opened in 1886 to treat and isolate victims and carriers of contagious illnesses. The island gained notoriety in the early 1900's as the involuntary home of "Typhoid" Mary Mallon, a carrier of typhus who was allegedly responsible for 3 deaths and 47 illnesses from 1907-1915.

But the 20th century seems to have bypassed North Brother's gaslight-lined streets, brownstone hospital buildings, crumbling doctors' houses, and sandy beaches littered with cookware and heavy glass tonic bottles. The island is a great repository for artifacts from 19th century New York, seemingly undisturbed by humans or the passing of time on the mainland just a canoe ride away.

The island does seem like a convincing movie set for a gothic horror story. And a good case could probably be made for calling in a paranormal specialist to investigate all the troubled souls that may still linger in and around the island. First and foremost would be Ms. Mallon, an accomplished cook who was quarantined in an isolation cottage on the island in 1907, after apparently causing outbreaks of typhus on Long island and in New York City. Mary was released by New York's Health Commissioner in 1910 after signing and affidavit stating that she would never again work in the food service industry. In 1915, after an investigation into an outbreak of typhus at a Manhattan hospital, health officials determined that Mary was once again working as a cook, although under an assumed name . She was send back to her cottage on the island, this time for good.

Mary never understood that she was probably a carrier of a possible deadly disease. Instead, she felt she was a victim of persecution at the hands of officials who could neither prove that she was the source of these outbreaks nor explain to her why she felt so healthy and why she seemed free of any of the typical symptoms of typhus. In 1938 she died on the island at the age of 69 due to complications from a stoke she had suffered six years earlier.

Also lending a tragic cast to the island's history was the General Slocum disaster, which took place on June 15th, 1904 and took the lives of 1141 people, most of them German immigrants from the Lower East Side on their way to a Sunday picnic on Long Island. Legend has it that the overcrowded steamer was set ablaze by a careless sailor who flicked a lit cigarette into a closet full of cotton rags. The boat ran aground on North Brother and patients as well as doctors rushed out of the hospital to try and save the hundreds of passengers who had jumped from the burning ship. Only 407 people, including a 1 year old baby, survived.

But on a recent visit to the island, no spirits or apparitions were in evidence. In fact, the most ghostly thing to pass before this visitor's eyes was a Bronx phone book from the year 1954, still open on the bench where its last user must have sat. And any ghosts remaining on the island would no doubt be driven out by the hard-to-believe racket of hundreds--no, make thousands--of the loudest birds imaginable. A bird-watcher could bring a boombox to the island in peak season and probably go unnoticed. North Brother birds are in many cases rare, in some cases even threatened species, and in most cases hard to find anywhere else in New York City. But in all cases, they are loud mouths.




















































30 comments:

Ryan said...

Hello.

I am interested to know how you physically got to NBI. By canoe?

I have been planning a trip to go there for a while, and I am interested in details about the currents in the East River and whatnot. Please e-mail me at ryan@pissedandpetty.com. Also you can read my story about NBI here: http://pissedandpetty.wordpress.com/2006/11/13/adventure-north-brother-island/

Thanks, and great pictures!

defense said...

Also interested to know how you got to the island. I go to Rikers regularly for work, have long been interested in going to North Brother.

happening habitat said...

Hello we are A.C.T.I.O.N (Activists Coming To Our Inform Neighborhood) at The Point CDC and together with NYC Audubon we are working on a project to preserve and restore North Brother Island. We enjoyed looking at your blog hopefully you'll take the time to look at ours and support our blog. Our blog link is http://www.happeninghabitat.typepad.com/ or you can contact us at our gmail address happeninghabitat@gmail.com Thank you for your time.

groomer said...

I love looking at NYC on Google maps..bird's eye view. I saw this island and ever since have been fascinated!! I live in Colorado and have never seen NYC or even any thing close to it. All those old buildings are so full of character and no doubt, ghosts. Thank you for the info and pictures.

Russ Josephs said...

Hey, how do you get to the island? Gonna go in a couple weeks, anyone care to come?

betsy said...

Coming back from Long Island, I got caught in the swirling currents off Brother in June of 2000. As our 34' Phantom Offshore (up from Sarasota, FL for a race up the Hudson) whirled around, an odd hailstorm blew up with a blast of rain. This, on a sunny day. As we battled the Hell Gate current, I noticed the amazing collection of Victorian era building on Brother. They seemed both beautiful and haunted. No one knew what they were, and the weather was too strange to stop to look. But thanks to a documentary on the General Slocum, I know now what I was looking at. Great website. Thanks so much for the photos.

rocketscience said...

Hello to all! I'm so excited to
come here and visit this creepy,amazing place of terror. I am coming to NY in 3 days. You can rest a sure by boat, yot, plaine canoe I'm there it's calling me... Please do call me if you want to explore this island of weird conversations.By all means don't hesitate, MY number is
516-749-2788 - lONG iSLAND

Ryan Michael Hurley said...

HELLO!

After seeing a photo of Riverside Hospital at a the Museum of the City of New York exhibit on the parks of NYC, I was immediately obsessed with getting to the Island.

Yesterday, several months after first learning of its existence, I took a trip to East 141st Street in the0 Bronx and took my first look at the island in person. It is not far from the Bronx shoreline, but the water looks treacherous. The tide moves quickly and the oil ships don't seem to want to stop running.

I have made it a personal life goal to lead a small expedition to the island. If it weren't for the oil ships I might consider paddling a kayak or canoe, but I feel just slightly uncomfortable leading friends and fellow amateur explorers into a potentially dangerous situation. Seriously, who wants to drown in the East River?

So if anybody knows how to get to the island and if any able-bodied and able-minded person really wants to go to the island sooner than later please, do not hesitate to contact me to arrange a strategy meeting.

Including myself, there are four willing parties strong in body and spirit on my end. I would like to meet more.

Again, do not hesitate to contact me.

I thank you very much, in advance, for your help!

Ryan

aileen maria said...

Wow, i would love to go here too but it seems really difficult and none of my friends have canoes nor would they accompany me there.

Jenny said...

hey... i was curious from reading your article... how exactly did you manage to get on North Brother Island? i am very much interested in the island, its history, bird life, etc. any information you have on the subject will be much appreciated
-you can email me

jennybrutal@gmail.com

D H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D H said...

I want to go too! I love haunted, mysterious, forgotten parts of NYC!! Please contact me if you are planning an expedition - deelicious@gmail.com. Thanks!

.... said...

So i need to go here and check it out if any knows how to get there or would be down to try and make an adventure out of thi email me at sweetavenuee@gmail.com

Kerry said...

I'm also dying to go. Please let me know how you got there! If you went via canoe, could you let me know your launching point?

kerry.wessell@gmail.com

Kerry said...

I'm dying to get here too! Please let me know how you got there. If you went via canoe, then what was your launching point?

kerry.wessell@gmail.com

rfmcc said...

Just a warning, NBI and SBI are both patrolled by the authorities from Rykers Island Prison which lies east of the Brothers. Also both are loaded with poison ivy which as gone wild over 45 years of non-cultivation of the grounds. It seems that many birds are immune to the poison ivy and use the berries and leaves for forage, thus spreading it rampantly throughout the island.

GabrielAudubon said...

As you might notice from the sign you stopped to take a picture of, and the bird eggs you found, this island and several others around NYC are protected bird nesting areas, home to the largest colonies of herons and egrets in the Northeast. These colonial nesters are uncommon and very sensitive to disturbance, so please respect the signs and their intent and do not disturb the island and its avian inhabitants during the breeding season. If people must trespass on the island (and I admit, it's fascinating and tempting), please do so between September and March.

Bruce E. said...

hi there,,

could you please point me out to how to get to/from the island please? I'm very obsessed with visiting it. IT reminds me of a dream I once had

bruce.e.k@gmail.com

thank you for your tme

Jenny BRUTAL said...

honestly, after revisiting this post i see many people who are fully willing to figure a way onto the island. when the warmer months happen to find us again i would enjoy us all getting together to figure this out...

jennybrutal@gmail.com

Kerry said...

Jenny, that'd be incredible and awesome. Can't wait ti hear about updates.

Dracy said...

Was wondering if anyone else noticed the face in photo 29 I used a magnifying glass to make sure I saw what i thought I did and it clearly looks like a male face above the door.

big smitty said...

@ Dracy.... You mean in the wood above the door right???? Looks like a male with dark hair n you can see HIS right ear as well. Looks way to obvious that its a guy (100% photoshop material) but what does anyone else think?????

Johnny said...

There is a face in shot 29. In 31 I see multiple faces in the windows on the first and second floors...

Alexis Corazza said...

How did you get access to the island/ a permit to enter the premises?

Craig S. said...

A couple of friends and I took his boat to the island sometime in the late seventies. It was clearly marked no trespassing but we took a chance. It was as cool as the pictures look. We stayed there about 3 or 4 hours checking out the place, very undisturbed. It was a very exciting experience. Very surreal. We were glad to get off the island without getting caught. I don't know how it is now but back then we clearly shouldn't have been there, but sometimes you just have to take a chance.

punknsds said...

As a small child, I lived on North Brother Island in Johnson Hall while my father was attending Columbia University after WWII. Photos I have of them there look so happy. There is a book, hopefully still in print, entitled "Happy new year, Herbie by Evan Hunter (He also used the pen name Ed McBain). The short story in the book by that same title describes family life on North Brother Island during that time. It's delightful.

Capucine IMAR said...

Hi there,

I was wondering if you'd like to share some tips to go to NBI?

thx

cap

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