There’s a reason people from all over the world flock to New York City: the people, the careers, and the general “buzz” of the streets make it a place like no other. But the city of lights hides a bit of darkness, too.

Towards the north end of the city, nestled in a river inlet, is an island. Those brave enough to go there describe the trip as less of an adventure and more like seeing an eerie snapshot of a shadowy past. When you see these eerie photos of it, you’ll understand why — and shiver in your seat!

When you think of New York City, you think of buildings disappearing into the sky, city streets filled with diversity, and lights twinkling at all hours of the night. It’s the city where dreams are made — it’s magical. 

Little do residents and tourists know, there’s something dark lurking off the shores of Manhattan. It lies in the East River, a waterway that used to be teeming with maritime trade as the city’s main sea-lane and port.

Nowadays, the 16-mile-long river is far less traveled, and what remains are the ghosts of a once lively waterway. At the northern inlet, you’ll find the mysterious place.

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There, an island that’s been abandoned for more than five decades looms. Nature has been slowly eating away at the structures that used to house thousands of people every year.

The mysterious island is called North Brother Island, and in 1885, Riverside Hospital used the island to quarantine and treat patients who contracted smallpox. There was only one way off the island.

As long as you were contagious, you were forced to stay at the hospital. If you weren’t cured, you would spend the rest of your life there — and all of eternity, too. Patients’ remains were required to be buried there.

Now, the place is vacant but for its ghosts. Vines extend up the sides of the buildings and consume the brick structures that are spread out for more than 20 acres. Windows are shattered, both by vines and unwanted visitors sneaking onto the island. 


 The only way to visit the island is to get explicit permission from the Parks Department. They’ll usually only grant permission to people conducting research, and then getting there is a project in itself…

Carl Glassman / Tribeca Trib

There are no docks or ports left on the island, so it’s a challenge. You’d have to take a small motorboat or rowboat and essentially beach yourself just to step foot on its shores. But that hasn’t stopped intrepid explorers from visiting over the years.

Richard Nickel Jr.

Due to the remote and inaccessible nature of the island, there isn’t a great deal of vandalism, but people have made their marks known under the cover of night, making the most of the place’s eerie reputation. 

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There you can find, for instance, this ominous writing, which reads: “Help me. I’m being held here against my will.” It’s unclear whether this is just a piece of vandalism or a cry for help from a time when the island was inhabited.

Richard Nickel Jr.

Countless dark stories plague the island, and with each story and each illegal visit to the place, the stories continue to multiply — and every single one will keep you up at night. Take this tragic accident…

On June 15, 1904, PS Slocum, a sidewheel passenger ship, was hosting a boat ride for the St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. What was supposed to be a fun and relaxing day, as they sailed from New York City to the North Shore of Long Island, turned into a nightmare.

A fire broke out on the ship. It spread quickly throughout the boat. Instead of turning back to port, Captain William Henry Van Schaick headed towards North Brother Island instead.

 Many passengers couldn’t swim to escape as the fire that engulfed the boat — it was either drown or burn. Only 321 passengers from the 1,358 on board survived. In the aftermath, hundreds of bodies washed up on the shores of North Brother Island.

Need another island legend? Since North Brother Island was working so well to contain the smallpox outbreaks, they expanded the quarantine quarters to other diseases as well — like typhoid…

Mary Mallon, A.K.A. Typhoid Mary was a cook in New York City and an asymptomatic carrier of the disease, meaning that Mary carried the disease inside her but it never infected her.

Typhoid fever is contracted by the ingestion of contaminated food or water, and the disease seemed to follow Mary throughout her cooking jobs over the years. A researcher became suspicious and launched an investigation.

It was believed that she infected over 50 different people, three of whom died. She was forcibly taken to North Brother Island where she lived in isolation for three years. She was later released with one simple rule: no cooking! 

But Mary didn’t listen. She changed her name and continued working as a cook. Outbreaks occurred, but she just moved on to the next job. She was able to keep it up for five years until she was finally caught and forced to return to North Brother Island. 

She spent the next 23 years of her life on that island. She refused to let them take out her gallbladder, which is where the disease lived because she didn’t think she was a carrier of the disease. She became famous as a prisoner, but she was reckless and a threat to the city.

In 1932, she had a stroke that left her completely paralyzed. She spent the next six years lying in bed until she contracted pneumonia. She was too weak to fight it and perished in 1938.

After the hospital closed its doors, the facilities were used as an infamous and cruel drug rehabilitation center. Drug addicts were locked in cells with just a mattress and a waste bucket. Some survived, others didn’t. 

Richard Nickel Jr.

Eventually, the rehab center also shuttered its doors, and the island was abandoned in 1963. Everything was left in place, but all of the buildings and other items left behind have since been reclaimed by nature.

 Visitors have reported hearing strange sounds, seeing malfunctioning electronics, and feeling sensations of being touched during their urban explorations. Others recall feeling an overwhelming sense of misery as they roamed through the wasteland.

What the future holds for North Brother Island is still unknown, but for now, it will continue to erode and crumble to the ground, leaving nothing but secrets and ghosts, real and imagined, in its wake.