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 © Hugh Siegel (
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created on 30-08-2009
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For the second time, I had the opportunity to make a clandestine trip to North Brother Island.   This remarkable little island in the East River is home to an abandoned hospital that was built there in the 1850s to quarantine smallpox patients.  Later, people with other contagious diseases were confined there as well.  One of the most infamous residents of this leper colony was Typhoid Mary, who was there for some 20 years before dying in the 1938.  Soon after, with the invention of penicillin, the hospital was closed.

Today, the island is a window into a lost era.  Overgrown with vegetation the buildings have fallen into decay.  The wards still contain plumbing and autopsy tables.   The walls are covered with images and notes created by the patients.  A library room, now inaccessible due to the crumbling staircases, is littered with old books.

Outside the curbs of the streets are still identifiable under the dense brush.  Fire hydrants and light posts stand as skeleton reminders that this was once a completely self-contained city within a city -- surrounded on all sides, just a few hundred meters away, by the reeling metropolis.

The island was also famous for the wreck of the General Slocum, a steamship that caught fire in 1904, killing 1000 people.  I believe it remains the worst peacetime maritime disaster in American history.

Today, the island is off limits to the public.  This is mainly because it has become of one of the principal nesting colonies of Black-crowned Night Herons.  But also because it is a dangerous place.  The buildings are decrpit and one could easily become injured.

I visited the island with a guide who must remain anonymous.  We went there in a kayak, paddling through the rather fetid and turbulent waters of the East River.  Our trip this time was somewhat rushed and I couldn't photograph all the building interiors as I'd hoped.  That will have to wait for another day.



This is a marvelous project. Excellent photographs in terms of composition, use of available light and black and white tonality.  More importantly, the sense of history is palpable, and so is your spirit of adventure.

I couldn't help but thinking, what a great place to put a nude model in some of your indoor shots here, perhaps blurred in the background....