North Brother Island is a 13-acre spit of land in the East River, between the Bronx and Riker’s Island. Unlike bigger Roosevelt Island nearby, it’s never been developed.
But it has been inhabited by people—sick people. Acquired by the city in 1885, officials built Riverside Hospital (at right) there, a place to quarantine New Yorkers who suffered from potentially deadly and easily communicable diseases such as typhus and smallpox. It also housed drug addicts until the 1960s.
North Brother’s most famous resident? Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. The Irish immigrant cook, a carrier of typhus, was committed there in 1908 and died 30 years later.
The island has another connection to a tragic New York event: the General Slocum disaster. After this steamship caught fire near the island in 1904, hundreds of passengers—mostly German immigrant women and children enjoying an annual church boat trip—jumped into the East River to escape the flames.
The General Slocum finally beached on North Brother, and many passenger bodies washed up on its shore. All told, an estimated 1,021 people perished—the greatest loss of life in New York City until the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Today North Brother is inhabited mainly by birds; it’s a protected bird sanctuary. The latest episode of the web-only PBS show The City Concealed can take you there.
Tags: General Slocum, General Slocum disaster, Hell Gate, Mary Mallon, North Brother Island, quarantine island, Rikers Island, Riverside Hospital, Roosevelt Island, September 11 Terrorist Attacks, South Brother Island, Typhoid Mary