The Ghosts of NYC's North Brother Island

Between Manhattan, the South Bronx, and Riker's Island sits an abandoned island with a tragic history.

Between the shorelines of Manhattan, the South Bronx, and Riker's Island floats an abandoned island with a tragic history.

In order to reach North Brother Island, you have to go by boat. And in order to charter a boat there, you have to gain the city's permission—and reportedly the journey to the island is rife with police, watching Riker's Island and checking to make sure no one makes it to North Brother Island without a permit.

So if you're entertaining any fantasies of midnight trysts to the island, don't: A member of the Parks Department has to be with you at all times during your journey there.

That might be for good reason. Judging by its history, North Brother Island is almost certainly cursed.


Though technically property of Manhattan since the 1600s, the island was used by humans as a landfill until the 1900s. The first manmade structure on the island was the Riverside Hospital, established in 1885. It was a quarantine hospital, dedicated to holding people with infectious diseases.

Soon, the island became a locus of quarantine hospitals; another one dedicated to tuberculosis patients was opened up in 1843. (That building remains one of the few mostly intact ruins on the island).

Hospital patientsNYC Municipal Archives

That tuberculosis hospital housed one particularly famous inhabitant, Typhoid Mary—who today we might refer to as a "super-spreader," because she infected over 47 people with TB even though she showed no symptoms herself. She spent years quarantined in the woods and continuously insisted that she was being held against her will. Eventually she became a nurse in the hospital on the island, where she remained until she died.

North Brother IslandABC News

Most patients were forced to go to the island against their will, and since no telephone service is available, many of the hospital's patients were never heard from again. Apparently conditions were horrible, with some patients living in tents when the hospital overflowed. Food shortages in winter and a lack of heat led to high death rates.

Tragedy has defined the island's history. In fact, it was the site of the worst disaster in NYC before 9/11. In 1905, the General Slocum steamship caught fire and over one thousand people lost their lives in the blaze. You can still see a memorial fountain for the dead in Tompkins Square Park.

Slocum Memorial FountainAtlas Obscura

In the 1940s, the island's hospital was transformed into a place where war veterans and their families could live, but most didn't remain there for long, choosing to live in the city instead. In its last decade it was used as a treatment center for heroin addicts; but after staff corruption, a lack of funds, and negative patient reviews continued to plague the center's reputation, it closed for good in 1963. The island was left to disrepair. Some disturbing graffiti from this time remains.

Patient sketch on North Brother IslandAbandoned NYC

Today, the island's manmade creations remain in a state of decay while nature flourishes, turning the island into a wild forest. It's now a bird sanctuary and home to a large colony of Black-Crowned Night Herons, among other majestic winged creatures. 50 years after its last human stronghold was abandoned, nature has almost totally taken over. Vines cover every ruin and Japanese kudzu grows over acres of land. Trees can be seen growing out of pavements, and former streets have become beaches as sea walls have dissolved against the force of hurricanes and time.

Black-Crowned Night Heron Woodswalksandwildlife.comBlack-Crowned Night Heron

Not many people can say they've been to the island, but urban explorer Christopher Payne can count himself among one of the lucky few. The photographer said he visited the island around two dozen times between 2008 and 2013.

"What I find special about North Brother Island is the splendid sense of isolation you feel when you penetrate the perimeter vegetation and arrive in a peaceful, canopied forest. The juxtaposition of decaying buildings with the lush landscape makes for a sublime experience, and it's easy to forget that you're in the middle of New York City," he said. "More than anything else, in a city of millions, here is one small corner where there is no one."

North Brother IslandTravel Stalker

There is something apocalyptic about the island, so overcome with natural life after so much human death. As one Radiolab producer once said, "North Brother Island is what will happen to the whole of our civilization when humanity is dead." In light of evidence that most of our coastal cities will likely be abandoned by humans due to flooding from climate change, we may see more North Brother Island-like ruins cropping up. Perhaps North Brother isn't so much a relic of the past as a foreboding yet strangely comforting image of the future. It's living proof that in spite of all our human tragedies, life goes on.

North Brother Island North Brother IslandJesse Boulay

North Brother Island

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North Brother Island North Brother

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Finally, we are done with 2020! Between all the highs and lows, it felt like 5 years packed into one, so I'm excited to start fresh in 2021. I'm taking my New Year's resolutions to the next level: cook more, read more, and get back to things I truly love like arts & crafts and morning runs (okay, most likely walks).

Honestly, I could go on forever about the new year, new me thing but actually getting started is my biggest hurdle. I realized that my motivation comes from my mood which directly relates to my environment … and for the past year, my house has been my habitat. So, it's not looking too great after all the wear and tear. The dirt and the mess have accumulated right under my nose.

It's not that I'm bad at it, I just feel so overwhelmed. When my house is clean, I feel much more in control and motivated, and right now it's far from it. When I was venting about my cleaning woes the other day, my friend recommended Handy.

Handy allows you to book local professional cleaners and sign up for monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly plans. Plus, you can schedule appointments at a time that works for you with availability 7 days a week from 7am-11pm. So to get me in the right headspace to tackle my goals, I'm going to be signing up for Handy. I'm looking forward to letting the experts take over.

Although having people in your home may sound a bit strange right now, Handy has rolled out the Handy Safety Standard to help promote the health and safety of the customers and professionals who use their platform. Some of these measures include requiring Pros to wear face coverings during bookings and mandatory daily in-app check-ups to verify they are in good health before claiming a booking. They even have a section on their site dedicated to keeping customers and professionals updated on the latest CDC health and safety guidance.

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Nothing makes cooking more enjoyable than a sparkling kitchen. I'm inspired by a clean space and all the new recipes I'll be whipping up in 2021 already have me drooling.

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This perfect low-key vacation is not your average camping experience.


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Booking & Price

Book through the Getaway site. Cabins fit 1 - 4 guests and cost as low as $129 a night.


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Given the nature of the pandemic, it can be tough to find the best ways to spend the usual festivities that New Year's Eve brings.

Luckily, if you're comfortable enough to step outside for the occasion, there are great places still open and worth visiting. Although you should always keep COVID-19 safety precautions in mind, here are three of the most stunning places to spend Near Year's Eve in the U.S.

New York City (New York)

No guide to stunning places to spend New Year's Eve in the U.S. would be complete without the presence of New York City, New York. The Times Square ball drop is a must-see annual event, though this year it will be a bit different due to the pandemic. Thankfully, the city will still be throwing an event for all to enjoy that will keep social distancing in mind and focus on bringing people together virtually.

While there might be live events for some to enjoy, none have been officially announced just yet. Even if you're enjoying the festivities virtually, there are few better places to spend this special occasion than at the tip of the NYC skyline.

New York City New Years Eve New York City New Years EveForbes

Lake Travis (Texas)

Lake Travis is a brilliant body of water in Texas that provides a versatile collection of ways to enjoy its beauty. If you'd prefer to keep your party secluded due to the pandemic, you can enjoy the evening on a boat in the waters of this lake, which is home to the famous "Devil's Cove" party destination.

If you're comfortable spending the evening in a venue that practices COVID-19 safety precautions, consider relaxing on one of the three decks on display at The Oasis. Even if you don't stick around to ring in the New Year, viewing the sunset from The Oasis is an incredible experience in itself.

Lake Travs Lake

Cape Cod (Massachusetts)

If you're looking for a quainter way to ring in the new year, consider visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Aside from the cool weather and stunning scenery, when spending New Year's Eve in Cape Cod you can visit places such as the Belfry Inn & Bistro. This lovely location has a focus on good dining, stylish and comfortable living, and COVID-19 safety, all of which they put on display via their website.

If you'd prefer not to spend too much time in a restaurant or bar, you can indulge in the incredible appearance of areas like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. Simply wandering around the area and taking in the scenery before enjoying an intimate evening inside makes for an unforgettable adventure.

Cape Cod New Years Eve Cape Cod New Years

Due to the ever-changing nature of certain venues during the pandemic, be sure to regularly check-up on any venues you wish to visit. That way, you can remain in the loop on their availability, activities, and safety precautions upon arrival.