Remains of Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, via Wiki Commons
Thanks to the underground world of urban explorers, there aren’t many parts of New York City that the public hasn’t seen. One such explorer, photographer Christopher Payne, took special interest in North Brother Island, the 20-acre piece of land in the East River between the Bronx and Rikers Island that was once home to a quarantine hospital and the residence of Typhoid Mary.
The island of building ruins and birds is not open to the public, but between 2008 and 2013 Payne was granted exclusive visitation access. He’ll share his photos and findings in an upcoming event at the Museum of the City of New York called “The Last Unknown Place in New York City: A Conversation About North Brother Island.”
The smallpox hospital on North Brother Island (L) and “the coffin corner” (R), taken in 1890 by Jacob Riis, via MCNY
Though Christopher Payne visited the island legally, plenty of urban explorers took illegal trips to North Brother Island, fascinated by its lush greenery juxtaposed with crumbling buildings and migrating birds. As Gothamist reported in October, City Council Member Mark Levine hopes to open the island to the public. After his first visit to the island, which he feels is important to the history of how New York deals with epidemics, he said: “These ruins of the former hospital that have been overrun by nature. The experience of being completely isolated in this forest with these half decayed beautiful buildings as you faintly hear in the background the sounds of the city—honks from the Bronx, loudspeakers from Rikers…”
North Brother Island via MCNY
Payne is using his photos in a new book that shares its title with the event. He’ll discuss the history of North Brother Island with Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione. The event will take place on Thursday, March 26 at 6:30 pm at the Museum of the City of New York. You can purchase tickets here.
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