Mary "Typhoid" Mallon is infamous in New York as the Irish immigrant who spread typhoid in affluent houses across the city. Is she one of the ghosts on North Brother Island?
Outside access to North Brother Island on New York City's East River, where Mary Mallon lived and ultimately died, is now rare and is only considered under specific conditions.
According to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, "The primary tenant on the island was the City-owned and operated Riverside Hospital, including the Tuberculosis Sanatorium and pavilions for designated illnesses, laboratories, as well as homes and dormitory facilities for doctors, nurses, and other staff members.
"Mary Mallon, a patient known as 'Typhoid Mary,' lived and died in these facilities on North Brother Island.
"All 25 buildings are in various states of extreme dilapidation and pose a considerable threat to the island’s visitors."
Who was Typhoid Mary?
Born Mary Mallon in Co Tyrone in Ireland, she emigrated to the US at 15 years old and became the first US resident identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with deadly typhoid fever.
Mary worked as a cook for the affluent. She was symptomless and unaware of her disease and, as a result, she infected 53 people, three of whom died, through her cooking. She was arrested and quarantined for the remainder of her life, and died in isolation but not before becoming a minor celebrity of sorts.
Back in 2014, then New York City Council member Mark Levine told Gothamist: “We need to find a way to get people on the island in a safe manner." However, years later, access still remains limited for a number of reasons.
The abandoned island has been virtually untouched in a half a century and is believed to be haunted by some. There was a morgue on the island for the many patients who didn’t survive, including Typhoid Mary herself.
While the modern experience on the island is beautiful to some, like Levine, many others would consider it quite eerie.
“To visit there was an experience unlike any other that I’ve had,” he said, adding that it was visually spellbinding.
* Originally published in 2014, updated in Sept 2022.
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