by Danielle Robles
I didn't even know it was there. I mean, I knew, I had heard of it, but I had no idea what it meant. As I took the tram across the river, I thought, "things are about to get very interesting." They didn't. That's not to say that Roosevelt Island isn't a lovely place. It is! But coming from Manhattan it felt like thousands of miles away. Bustling streets were replaced with sprawling patches of grass and the people walked s l o w l y. Signs for fall festivals adorned the lamp posts and Starbucks seemed like the poppin place to be. I get it. If you want to live near the city, but not necessarily wake up to the smell of fresh urine or people yelling outside every morning, move to Roosevelt Island. It's suburban life tied up in a bland little bow. But if you're like any of the millions of people that live for subway performances and late night dollar slices, this little island just isn't going to cut it.
My taste of the island may have been uneventful, but its history is pretty damn fascinating. From the looks of it, one would never know that this sleepy residential community was once was the location for prisons, poor houses, and hospitals?! Apparently at the southern tip of the island lies the site of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, Renwick Ruin, what’s left of an 1854 smallpox hospital (spooky!), and Strecker Laboratory. The Octagon Tower was once part of a lunatic asylum chronicled by Nellie Bly in her expose, “Ten Days in a Madhouse.” According to the novelist, the asylum was referred to as a “human rat-trap” boasting staff that often “choked, beat and harassed patients.” The asylum moved to Ward’s Island shortly after but the original octagon still stands as a classy apartment complex near a beautiful community garden. You can bet your bottom dollar that shit is totally haunted.
I must sheepishly admit that I never made it that far south on the island, as I was with a group and time had run out, so perhaps my take might have been different. What I observed was a quiet village, that felt more like Michigan than Manhattan, where everybody knows your name. A few things I know for sure: 1) Roosevelt Island is a quaint place filled with bicycles, snoozy condos, and chain restaurants (is that true, or did I just totally make that up?), and 2) when I go back I fully intend on investigating the old grounds because we know FOR SURE ridic ghost stories await.