How does an island in New York City’s East River go from being notoriously feared to being completely forgotten? That's what photographer Christopher Payne tries to understand in his new photo book about North Brother Island.
Abandoned since 1963, North Brother Island is a ruin and a wildlife sanctuary (it is the protected nesting ground of the Black-crowned Night Heron), closed to the public and virtually invisible to it. But one cannot mistake its abandoned state as a sign of its irrelevance to the city's history and culture. It used to be home to the Riverside Hospital between the 1880s and 1930s. While in operation, the hospital served hundreds of patients who suffered from extremely communicable diseases, including smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever and even leprosy. It was also where “Typhoid Mary” was quarantined, and where she eventually died.
Payne was granted permission by New York City's Parks & Recreation Department to photograph the island over a period of years. The results are both beautiful and startling. On North Brother Island, devoid of human habitation for fifty years, buildings great and small are being consumed by the unchecked growth of vegetation. In just a few decades, a forest has sprung up where once there were the streets and manicured lawns of a hospital campus. You can purchase your own copy of North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City.