Hello! Did you miss me? This has been a very busy October for me and shows no sign of letting up soon. So I’ve decided in honor of the season, to repost a Halloween story from a few years back. This story was inspired by a trip we made to Roosevelt Island in October 2015.
Over 13,000 men, women and children died between 1856 and 1875 at this place now known as Renwick Ruin. For a vast majority of the dead, this would be their only home in America, having been quarantined there for small pox just after their arrival in New York City. What a welcome.
View from Roosevelt Island, which has been known through the years as Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island.
The island Renwick Ruin sits upon once belonged to the Blackwells, a prominent NYC family in the 1800s. Apparently they fell on hard times and had to sell the land to the state which then proceeded to build, in this order, a prison, a lunatic asylum and Renwick Small Pox Hospital. They built the hospital using convicts and lunatics for manual labor and, legend has it, later employed these same convicts and lunatics to watch after the small pox patients. In 1875 it became a “maternity and charity training” hospital and the island became known as Welfare Island. Click here for more information about this ghostly island.
Renwick Small Pox Hospital, named for the architect, James Renwick.
Today a four acre memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits just beyond Renwick Ruin which seems oddly appropriate. He was probably the one president who would have understood their suffering.
Four Freedoms Park – memorial to FDR from the air. You can see Renwick Ruin on the far lower left.
Although the Ruin and nearby lunatic asylum (the Octagon) are said to be amongst the most haunted places in the world, many young professionals are anxious to make the island their home.
Heading towards Roosevelt island on the gondola from Lexington Street. Not a bad commute!
Can you imagine taking a group of overly imaginative Brownies to an abandoned asylum for a weekend retreat? Especially in late October? Well, in my younger and dumber days, that’s exactly what I did. Below is my story.
Another shot of Renwick Ruin.
One dark and stormy night long ago I was behind the wheel of my husband’s brand new Saab turbo with three giddy girls fidgeting in the back and one in the front when the song “Sympathy for the Devil” came on the radio. Quickly I turned the damn thing off.
“Quiet girls! I’ve got to concentrate. Christy, is that your mom’s car? ” All I could see ahead were brake lights through a fogged up window. Unfortunately we’d gotten a late start which, considering none of us had been to this particular girl scout retreat, was an bad plan indeed. We only had the sketchiest of directions. (Folks, this was in the olden days before GPS and cell phones.)
Last known picture of Brownie Troop 93!
The plan had been to leave right after school when it was still light but one little girl had piano lessons and another forgot crucial-to-her-survival allergy medicine and since both were the daughters of women who signed up to chaperone, the Brownie Leader and I (her assistant) were forced to grin and bear it. As you all probably know, getting parents to sign up for a weekend camping trip with their girls requires an act of God. Especially for us. Our campouts were known disasters.
Episode Two, Two by Two
Episode Three, Day is Done, Gone the Sun (and the power)
Episode Four, Make New Friends
Many thanks to the Boweryboyshistory.com for their fascinating behind the scenes stories about NYC and its environs.