NORTH BROTHER ISLAND

June 13, 2018 at 5:15 am

It’s a part of New York we have all seen, but few have ever been allowed to enter… until tonight. Photographer, Christopher Payne, has got your ticket to North Brother Island.

Aired December 18, 2017 and June 12, 2018.

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>>> FINALLY TONIGHT IF YOU THINK
EVERY SQUARE INCHES OF NEW YORK
IS OCCUPIED.
WELL WE HAVE NEWS FOR YOU.
THERE IS AN UNINHABITED ISLAND
IN THE EAST RIVER.
PHOTOGRAPHER CHRISTOPHER PAYNE
GOT PERMISSION FROM THE NEW YORK
PARKS DEPARTMENT TO MAKE
REPEATED TRIPS TO NORTH BROTHER
ISLAND STARTING IN 2008.
IT BECAME PAYNE'S FOOK OF POST
OFFICE PHOTOGRAPHS THE NORTH
BROTHER ISLAND, THE LAST UNKNOWN
PLACE IN NEW YORK CITY.
>> THERE IS REALLY NOTHING LIKE
NORTH BROTHER ISLAND IN NEW YORK
CITY.
IT'S A SECRET HIDING IN PLAIN
SIGHT.
IT'S AN UNINHABITED ISLAND IN
RUINS IN NEW YORK CITY.
THE LAST THING YOU WOULD EXPECT
TO SEE.
NORTH BROTHER ISLAND HAS NOT
BEEN INHABITED SINCE 1963.
FOR OVER 50 YEARS.
THERE ARE 25 OR 26 STRUCTURES IN
VARIOUS SKATES OF DECAY.
FOR SUCH OF THE YEAR THE ISLAND
IS KPETLY OVERGROWN BY
VEGETATION.
IN 2008 I SUBMITTED A PROPOSAL
THAT I WOULD DOCUMENT ALL OF THE
BUILDINGS, CREATE KIND OF AN
ARCHIVAL RECORD.
IN RETURN FOR THE BODYs WORK I
WAS ALLOWED FREE ACCESS.
WHEN YOU FIRST STEP ON THE
ISLAND YOU REALIZE THAT YOU ARE
COMPLETELY ALONE.
IT'S ACTUALLY VERY
TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE
BECAUSE ONE MINUTE YOU'RE IN A
CITY, AMONGST PEOPLE.
YOU HEAR THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
OF THE CITY.
THAEN YOU GET ON A BET.
AND JUST BEING ON THE WATERS, IN
A SMALL ROW BOAT IS A VERY
TRANSFORMATIVE MEDITATIVE
EXPERIENCE.
-ON SEE THE ISLAND GETTING
CLOSER AND CLOSER.
AND IT BECOMES LESS AND LESS OF
A MIRAGE AND BECOMES MORE REAL.
AND SUDDENLY YOU'RE ON IT.
AND YOU'RE SURROUNDED BY ALL OF
THESE ABANDONED BUILDINGS.
AND YOU WALK A FEW FEET AND YOU
COME INSIDE A FOREST OF TREES, A
WONDERFUL CANOPY OF TREES.
AND YOU SEE THE ANCIENTABLINGS
KINDS KIND OF FALLING IN.
THE LANDSCAPE IS GROWN UP AND
LUSH AND OVERGROWN LIKE A
JUPGLE.
YOU BEGIN TO WONDER WHAT THIS
PLACE WAS LIKE.
FROM THE 1880s IN THE 1960s,
1963, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE CALLED
THIS PLACE HOME.
AND IT WENT THROUGH MANY USES.
IT WAS USED PRIMARILY AS A
QUARANTINE HOSPITAL FROM THE
1870s, 1880s UP TO WORLD WAR II.
AND THEN AFTER THAT IT BECAME
THIS THIS HOUSING FOR G.I.s AND
FAMILIES.
AND FROM THE 1950s TO '63 IT WAS
A DRUG TREATMENT CENTER FOR
JUVENILE DELINQUENTS.
WHEN THEY WALKED AWAY FROM IT
THEY TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS SHUT
OFF THE POWER.
PROBABLY THINKING THEY WOULD USE
IT AGAIN LIKE SO MANY OTHER
TIMES.
IN MY RESEARCH I FOUND ALL OF
THE HISTORIC PHOTOS.
AND THEY SHOWED A TIDY CAMPUS
WITH SIDEWALKS AND MANICURED
LAWNS.
OVER TIME I FOUND THESE PLACES
AND BEGAN TO NOTICE THE STREET
LAMPS AND THE FIRE HYDRANTS
POKING UP THROUGH THE IVY.
AND IF YOU DUG AROUND WITH YOUR
FOOT AND YOU COULD PEEL AWAY
THAT IVY AND DIRT AND RIGHT
BENEATH YOUR FEET WAS A ROAD.
THIS WHOLE FOREST IT WAS SO
ENCHANTING WAS BUILT ON A FEW
INCHES OF DIRT.
IT'S NOT PLACE WHERE YOU WANT TO
RUN AROUND AND TAKE A MILLION
SNAP SHOTS.
IT'S A PLACE YOU WALK AROUND AND
RETURN TO OVER MANY SEASONS.
I WOULD SEE SOMETHING OVER ONE
SEASON AND THINK ABOUT IT THE
NEXT YEAR.
AND RETURN AND TAKE THAT SHOT.
AND A LOT OF THE WORK GOES ON IN
YOUR HEAD MONTHS BEFORE YOU EVEN
TAKE THAT SHEET OF FILM.
IT IS AS IT IS AND I HOPE IT
REMAINS THAT.
IT'S NICE TO KNOW?
A CITY WHERE EVERYTHING IS
ALWAYS CHANGING, NORTH BROTHER
ISLAND IS MOVING ALONG AT ITS
OWN NATURAL PACE AND REVERTING
TO SORT OF WHAT IT ONCE WAS.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, and Judy and Josh Weston.

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