Air-Tramming it to Roosevelt Island

One place in my two years I hadn’t explored yet in the city was Roosevelt Island. I’ve made the stop on the subway a couple of times, but I’ve never actually gotten off to see what the small island of two miles of land housed. That is.. until this weekend! It’s kind of funny because although previously I had never been to the island, I actually see it each day on my walks with Scoots. You see, the island is located in the East River and the park I walk Scooter in runs directly parallel to it. Most notably, there is a lighthouse on the tip that I’ve always wanted to see up close, so that is exactly what I decided to spend my Saturday doing!

Something that is cool about transportation to the island is that you have another option other than the subway, an air tram! Better yet, you can use your metrocard! Now, I’m not deathly afraid of heights, but there is definitely a part of me that it freaks out just a little, but it wasn’t going to stop me!

I was going up!

and up I went!

Woh, I made it!

The air tram ride is pretty short (only about 5 minutes) but it’s just enough time to catch some sweet views and snap a few photos until you are on the other side. It’s a super smooth ride too so you don’t get a rocking sensation that makes you feel less secure. 

Once on the other side I headed north along the river toward the lighthouse I always see! The island has an interesting and slightly dark history that dates back to the early 1600’s. From the 1600’s through the late 1700’s the island went through a series of defeats and ownerships, starting with the Dutch through the English. In 1828 the city of New York then purchased the island for $32,000 (equal to $677,236). Not a bad deal considering you can get a 1 bedroom in the city for that today! 

By the 1830’s New York City opened a penitentiary, The New York City Lunatic Asylum, and a workhouse that held other prisoners. By the 1850’s they also opened a Smallpox hospital. These remained the main functioning establishments on the island until the late 1890’s into the 1930’s when the patients and convicts were transferred to new establishments on Riker’s Island. The last major era of history for the island ranged from 1921 into 1973 when the island was renamed “Welfare Island” prior to being renamed to its current state.

Today, the island houses several luxury condo and apartment buildings, as well as two major rehabilitation long term care hospitals and a small sampling of stores and restaurants. Most New Yorkers know the island best because they’ve either gone there to play sports on the number of fields or because of the summer performances and concerts that take place there each year.

After a couple mile walk, I found my lighthouse! It’s not too big, but still cool all the same. After seeing the lighthouse I headed back towards the tram and by the old Small Pox hospital. I didn’t look up any information about the island previous to going there other than brief details on some of the places that were there, but I will tell you one thing. I found the island kind of eerie. I wasn’t sure if I felt that way because I was by myself and there weren’t that many people around (well, compared to Manhattan), but as I was walking back to the tram I can’t help but say I was slightly creeped out. The island is very peaceful, but there is something unsettling about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Now that I’ve read a little more about some of its dark past, I’ve started to understand why my gut feeling was leaning that direction. I’m a pretty superstitious person in general, but it is interesting how my body seemed to catch onto the area before I really knew much about it. 

When I was doing a little research on the old Small Pox hospital, I found several articles naming it the most haunted area in New York City and several visitors have reported ghost sightings or strange occurrences. Creeeppppyyyy! I’m not one to go out of my way to try and scare myself, no thank you haunted houses or scary movies, but if you are into that sort of thing, it sounds like this is a good place to visit. 

Here’s a shot at the Octagon which is one of the main landmarks of the island. I didn’t know when I took this picture, but it was the entrance of the asylum. It was restored in 2006 and today it houses apartments and is also another spot with frequent ghost sightings. Both wings of the original asylum burnt down in a fire, but were rebuilt to mirror the originals. I’m all for the history of New York and I’m sure something bad has happened in the building I live in over the last hundred years or so, but moving into an apartment that used to be an asylum?! Count me out! Not only just any asylum either, one that got shutdown after an expose was written by Nellie Bly in the 1880’s calling it a “nightmarish place” and referring to it as a “human rattrap”. Yeah, no thanks. The marketing team must have thought they were smart too because there are no references of the building being an asylum on their history page.. I guess some people are into that kind of thing anyways though?

After a few hours, I was ready to head back to Manhattan. Back to the air tram!