A pile of rubble lies next to the collapsed north wing of the former Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island. (Photo: Judith Berdy/Roosevelt Island Historical Society)
Roosevelt Island is a narrow island in the East River of New York City. The island, now filled with towering high rise housing complexes, was once largely secluded from the rest of the city. Originally called Blackwell island, the island belonged to the Blackwell family for most of the 18th century and part of the 19th until it was bought by the state of New York as a location for charitable and corrective hospitals.
It was built in 1825. The second institution established on the island was The New York Lunatic Asylum that was used from 1837-1894 whose buildings included the Octagon which still stands today. Over 1700 patients were housed in this asylum, twice the suggested occupancy, and these patients were supervised by convicts from the neighboring prison. Charles Dickens was one of the more famous people to have visited this asylum and he described it as horrible and “very painful.” A famous reporter, Nellie Bly, disguised herself as an inpatient and spent time in the asylum as well and she described the asylum a “human rat trap.”
The island was also the site of a Smallpox Hospital, which housed small pox patients from 1856 until 1886. The intense suffering that went on in this building added to it’s ruined state have built numerous rumors about it’s ghostly activity. The ruined hospital is now known as the Renwick Ruin and is brightly lit at night giving it a ghostly glow that only adds to stories.
Used to go to school on this island, we took walks over to the hospital all the time. Though none of us ever saw anything, I can definitely say u…felt something, pretty creepy