TOUR NORTH BROTHER ISLAND

Tonight, we tour a 20-acre island near Manhattan that sits completely abandoned and closed off to visitors, without an official escort.

Aired on October 21, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> FINALLY TONIGHT, IF YOU THINK EVERY SQUARE INCH OF NEW YORK IS OCCUPIED, WELL, WE'VE GOT SOME 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.

THE STORY BECAME PAYNE'S BOOK OF PHOTOGRAPHS, '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 OF RUINS IN NEW YORK CITY, THE LAST THING THAT 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 STATES OF DECAY.

AND FOR MUCH OF THE YEAR, THE ISLAND IS COMPLETELY OVERGROWN BY VEGETATION.

IN 2008, I SUBMITTED A PROPOSAL.

I WOULD DOCUMENT ALL OF THE BUILDINGS, CREATE KIND OF AN ARCHIVAL RECORD.

AND IN RETURN FOR THIS BODY OF WORK, I WAS ALLOWED FREE ACCESS.

WHEN YOU FIRST STEP ON THE ISLAND, YOU REALIZE THAT YOU ARE COMPLETELY ALONE.

IT'S ACTUALLY A VERY TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE, BECAUSE ONE MINUTE YOU'RE IN THE CITY.

YOU'RE AMONGST PEOPLE.

YOU HEAR THE SIGHTS AND THE SOUNDS OF THE CITY.

AND THEN YOU GET ON A BOAT.

AND JUST BEING ON THE WATER, BEING IN A SMALL ROWBOAT IS A VERY TRANSFORMATIVE MEDITATIVE EXPERIENCE.

AND YOU SEE THIS ISLAND GETTING CLOSER AND CLOSER.

AND IT BECOMES LESS AND LESS OF A MIRAGE, AND IT BECOMES TO BECOME 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 THESE ANCIENT BUILDINGS KIND OF FALLING IN ON EACH OTHER.

THIS LANDSCAPE HAS GROWN UP, AND IT'S LUSH AND IT'S GROVER GROWN AND IT'S LIKE A JUNGLE.

AND YOU BEGIN TO WONDER ABOUT WHAT THIS PLACE WAS LIKE.

FROM THE 1980s UNTIL 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 HOUSING FOR GIs AND THEIR FAMILIES.

AND THEN FROM THE 1950s TO 1963, IT WAS A DRUG TREATMENT CENTER FOR JUVENILE DELINQUENTS.

WHEN THEY WALKED AWAY I FROM IT, THEY LITERALLY TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS, SHUT OFF THE POWER, PROBABLY THINKING THEY WOULD USE IT AGAIN LIKE THEY HAD SO MANY OTHER TIMES.

IN MY RESEARCH, I FOUND ALL OF THESE HISTORIC PHOTOS, AND THEY SHOWED A TIDY CAMPUS WITH SIDEWALKS AND MANICURED LAWNS.

SO OVER TIME, I BEGAN TO FIND THESE PLACES.

YOU BEGIN TO NOTICE THE STREET LAMPS AND THE FIRE HYDRANTS POKING UP THROUGH THE IVY.

AND IF YOU KIND OF DUG AROUND WITH YOUR FOOT AND YOU COULD PEEL AWAY THAT IVY AND THAT DIRT, AND RIGHT BENEATH YOUR FEET WAS A ROAD.

THIS WHOLE FOREST THAT WAS SO ENCHANTING WAS ACTUALLY BUILT ON JUST A FEW INCHES OF DIRT.

IT'S NOT A PLACE WHERE YOU WANT TO RUN AROUND AND TAKE A MILLION SNAPSHOTS.

IT'S THE KIND OF PLACE THAT YOU WALK AROUND AND THINK AND RETURN TO OVER MANY SEASONS.

I WOULD SEE SOMETHING ONE SEASON AND THINK ABOUT IT FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR AND RETURN THE NEXT SEASON TO TAKE THAT SHOT.

AND SO 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 WILL REMAIN THAT AND IT'S JUST NICE TO KNOW THAT IN A CITY WHERE EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS CHANGING, NORTH BROTHER ISLAND IS KIND OF MOVING ALONG AT ITS OWN PACE, ITS OWN NATURAL PACE AND REVERTING TO WHAT IT SORT OF ONCE WAS.

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, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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