Posted by: Viktor Mar | 2013 September 22

An Abandoned Island in The Middle of NYC

#10 The Mysterious North Brother Island

Ghosts? Zombies.. Brad Pitt? This forgotten isle in the East River between Bronx and Rikers Island, NYC would make for a perfect film backdrop! Recognizable are its abandoned buildings from the late 19th century including the remains of Riverside Hospital, which quarantined those suffering from infectious diseases. The site also held experimental drug treatments and was a detention home for wayward youth.


#9 The ‘Life After People’ TV series

North Brother Island was featured in a TV fiction series on the History Channel. Scientist, structural engineers, and other experts speculated what would happen should humans instantly disappear? The Riverside Hospital made a good example for the deterioration of the built environment without humans.


#8 The Auditorium Theatre

Photographer Ian Ference captures the remains of an auditorium in the School & Services building. The theatre supplied seats with a small stage for incarcerated students. North Brother Island was rather self-sufficient, and although it required food and water to be ferried in, it provided its own steam, electricity, and an eventual telephone and fire alarm system.


#7 Post-WWII

To remedy a housing shortage after the war, the island housed veterans and their families. The quarantined hospital had stopped functioning before the government allocated surrounding homes for vets attending local colleges on the GI Bill. After the nationwide housing shortage ended in 1952, the vets left the island mainly because the ferry service was “inefficient and expensive”.


#6 The Drug Rehabilitation Center

The final phase of the hospital’s facilities was its conversion into a juvenile rehabilitation center. Young drug addicts were forced to undergo withdrawal symptoms without medications or assistance. They were locked in a room alone for days with a bare mattress and a mess bucket until withdrawals were complete.


#5 Typhoid Mary

North Brother Island’s Riverside Hospital housed the infamous ‘Typhoid’ Mary Mallon, who was sent against her will in 1915 for 3 decades until her death. She’s believed to have infected 51 people, three of whom died, while she was employed as a cook. Mallon was the first "healthy typhoid carrier" to be identified by medical science.


#4 The Hidden Mystery

New York has forgotten North Brother Island for over 50 years, but millions see it from their windows or their commutes to and from NYC. Today the island is a protected bird sanctuary, while situated in Hell Gate, a treacherous stretch of the East River. Its history remains a mystery to most New Yorkers, while being located "closer to the Empire State Building than most of Brooklyn."


#3 "Black Hole of Calcutta”

In the beginning it was difficult finding physicians willing to work in Riverside Hospital and sometimes it went entirely without a legit doctor. Winters were dreadful due the rationing of its coal powered heat, also bad weather prevented the ferry from bringing in food and water, causing shortages. Conditions improved after the first 16 years, although the fear of the island by ill indigents and immigrants remained.


#2 Original Artifacts

In 1963, the hospital ended its 11-year experimental drug program with juvenile offenders. Although no one has lived on the 13-acre isle since, it remains quarantined to visitors. Sometimes looters sneak in avoiding detection from patrolling armed coastguards and like with this original wall mural, some of the buildings have been vandalized beyond its natural erosion and disrepair.


#1 Deafly Silent

The experimental drug treatment for young addicts started in the 1950s and the idea was to remove kids from the criminal jail systems. After landing on the island and the initial “cold-turkey” drug withdrawals, they lived within a strict school system located in a new pavilion originally constructed in 1943 to host tuberculosis patients. The halls that were once filled with 100 boys and 50 girls at a time are today eerily silent.



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