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Take This Unique Cruise Along The East River To Experience The Forgotten History Of NYC’s Abandoned Islands

Classic Harbor Line's Urban Naturalist Tour offers a unique three-hour cruise on abandoned islands along the East River in New York City. The tour, operated every Sunday through July, begins at Belmont Island.

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A unique new cruise is offering an in-depth glimpse into a nearly forgotten aspect of New York City: the abandoned islands along the East River. These islands were once home to baseball legends, maritime disasters, wildlife sanctuaries, and deadly diseases, are now the focus of Classic Harbor Line’s Urban Naturalist Tour. This tour, piloting a 1920s-style yacht, operates every Sunday through July.

The three-hour cruise journey begins at the tiny Belmont Island and sails past Roosevelt and Randall’s Islands, both still inhabited. Then the cruise heads to Mill Rock at the mouth of the Harlem River. It then navigates through Hell Gate to North and South Brother Islands, which have been shorebird sanctuaries for nearly two decades but hold a rich and eclectic history.

The ticket costs $124 and includes a glass of champagne and a sandwich, enhancing the luxurious feel of this historical and natural adventure.

The cruise shares tales of the islands' past inhabitants, including known personalities like Typhoid Mary and former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert. The tales are narrated by naturalist Gabriel Willow.

Ruppert, who purchased the Yankees in 1915, built Yankee Stadium, and brought Babe Ruth to the team, owned a summer home on South Brother Island. Legend has it that Ruth would practice his batting there, and pick-up games were common in the neighboring yard.

In 1909, Ruppert’s mansion burned down, leaving the island mostly deserted until a gravel company bought it in 1975 for just $10.

New York City eventually acquired South Brother Island in 2007 for approximately $2 million, transforming it into the bird sanctuary it remains today. Before Ruppert bought it, the island reportedly served as a base for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

One of the most tragic events in the island's history happened in 1904 when the ferry PS General Slocum caught fire and ran aground on the island, resulting in the deaths of 1,021 passengers. This disaster, the deadliest on U.S. soil until 9/11, claimed the lives of mostly women and children who either burned on the collapsing decks or drowned in the river.

North Brother Island, located across the water, houses the remains of a hospital once used to quarantine patients with diseases like typhus, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Typhoid Mary, a cook who unintentionally spread typhus due to her immunity to the disease, was quarantined there twice and spent 26 years in isolation before dying.

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