In New York City there’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss things when you’re walking about cursing off the cab driver who almost hit you while also trying to speed walk as fast as possible without actually looking like you’re speed walking. As a proud New Yorker I can attest to this and while our great city has many secrets we know of it’s easy to overlook those that are hiding in plain sight.
Case in point- North Brother Island.
North Brother Island is half of a pair of small islands located between the Bronx and Rikers Island. The island was uninhabited till the late 1800’s when Riverside Hospital was founded on there as a center for isolating and treating smallpox patients. Eventually the focus spread to other quarantinable diseases, which makes sense since it’s an island. Typhoid Mary was the institute’s most famous patient and she spent two decades in quarantine there until her death in 1938. Following World War II the island shortly became home to veterans, but that ceased abruptly when the post-war housing shortage ended. The island became active again in the 1950’s, but this time to treat teenage drug addicts. The hospital closed in the 1960’s due to staff corruption and poor recovery rates and since then the island has been abandoned and subsequently turned into a bird sanctuary.
While the island is normally off-limits to the public the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, without the approval of Ron Swanson, allowed photographer and former architect, Christopher Payne, to visit the island. Over a span of five years he regularly visited the island and was gifted the rare feeling of isolation in the heart of an urban jungle. He documented his trips in his book North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City and accompanied his writing with eerie and revealing pictures of the decaying structures abandoned on the island.