Thursday, September 01, 2011
I have always had a fascination with and love of islands. At one time, I pursued that interest much more actively. My fascination was fulfilled with many trips to the West Indies, Fire Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Monhegan Island (Maine), as well as with readings on islands around the world.
My favorite armchair travel book is Fatu Hiva. The author, Thor Heyerdahl, was a Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer. In Fatu Hiva, Heyerdahl chronicles his hunt for paradise in the Marquesa Islands in the
South Pacific. With his wife Liv in 1937, they embarked on one of the earliest back-to-nature experiments. However, tropical diseases and difficulties with natives led to a short stay of only one and a half years and an embittered view of the entire effort.
Now, my island intrigue and explorations are closer to home: Manhattan and the many relatively unknown small islands in the waters surrounding New York City. On September 15, 2010, I wrote of U Thant Island, a small outcropping in the East River.
Recently, on an excursion to Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier on South Beach in Staten Island, I spotted two islands which were unfamiliar to me. Two local fishermen told me they were Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. The names were not familiar to me either, so they were ripe fodder for photos and investigation.
In the early 1800s, Staten Island had been the dumping ground for people with deadly contagious diseases - cholera, yellow fever, typhus, and smallpox. The New York Quarantine Hospital, built in 1801, was burned to the ground in 1858 by angry mobs. Two islands were constructed in the Orchard Shoals of New York Harbor. The man-made islands, Hoffman and Swinburne, were used as quarantines until 1929.
At the start of World War II, the United States government used both islands for various military purposes - the Quonset huts built during this period still stand on Swinburne Island. Various proposals have been made over the years for use of the exiled islands. The islands are currently managed by the National Park Service as part of the Staten Island Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Both islands are still off-limits to the general public to protect the islands' avian habitat. Perhaps they would be a nice place to settle for awhile.
Although they are not idyllic or tropical, as Heyerdahl learned quite painfully, paradise is where your heart is, not in Fatu Hiva :)
Related Posts: Secede, Manhattan Island, ReWarded, City Island, Ellis Island, Governor's Island, The Shore, Statue of Liberty