Wednesday, May 28, 2014

by Elizabeth Ludwig

I stumbled across an interesting article the other day—about a place that should be familiar considering the amount of research I’ve conducted on New York City—but wasn’t. It’s a 20 acre strip of land called North Brother Island. The island, and its twin South Brother Island, is situated in New York City’s East river, between the Bronx and Rikers Island.

North Brother Island was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there. The hospital was founded in the 1850’s to treat and isolate victims of smallpox. It later expanded to other diseases requiring quarantine.

Among its most famous inhabitants? Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary—the woman believed to have been responsible for 51 original typhoid infections and three deaths.

Mary spent nearly three decades of her life on the island. In 1884, she immigrated to America from Ireland, where she worked as a cook from 1900 to 1907. At that point, she was identified as a possible carrier of the typhoid virus by a man named George Soper.

Dr. Soper was an engineer in the US Arm Sanitary Corps known
for his work with typhoid. When a family in Long Island was diagnosed with typhoid, he was called upon to investigate. After ruling out all other possibilities of transmission in the household, Dr. Soper became suspicious of the cook, Mary Mallon. His investigation uncovered a trail of typhoid epidemics, all of which occurred in the households where she was employed.

Mary Mallon aka "Typhoid Mary"
In 1907, Mary was forcibly incarcerated on North Brother Island and remained there until 1910. During that time, she fought for her freedom by claiming persecution from the authorities. She was finally set free with the condition that she quit working as a cook. Instead, she changed her name and secured a new position, a crime which led to her return to the island in 1915, where she remained until her death in 1938.

After the second World War, the hospital on North Brother Island served veterans and heroin addicts. The building eventually closed for good in 1963.

North Brother Island is currently uninhabited and has been designated as a bird sanctuary.

To learn more visit:

1 comment :

  1. I read an urban fantasy recently that partially took place on that abandoned island. Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston. That's when I first learned a bit about it.


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