Queens sure has some scary neighbors. Now, it’s time to meet them — and not just the living ones.

Boroughs of the Dead, a tour company that specializes in haunted areas, is ready to offer Island of Lost Souls: A History of Madness and Medicine on Roosevelt Island on Sept. 9, Sept. 23, Oct. 14, and Oct. 22. Tickets for these scary, two-hour strolls are $25 in advance, check for times.

Roosevelt Island, which lies between Manhattan and Western Queens, is a pleasant, tight-knit residential community with a top-notch specialty hospital, a cool tram, and a great Saturday farmers market these days. But in the 19th century, officials filled the narrow, two-mile-long spit with eerie, neo-Gothic institutions for convicts, people with contagious diseases, and the insane. As it was surrounded by the East River and its treacherous, swirling waters, it seemed the perfect place to hide “undesirables.”

Those days are long past, but some vestiges of Roosevelt Island’s institutional history still remain, and they are currently open to the public for the first time in decades. Tour participants will learn about a smallpox hospital, the country’s first laboratory for pathological and bacteriological research, and the New York City Lunatic Asylum, which was built in 1841. In 1887, journalist Nellie Bly pretended to be insane and spent 10 days as a patient in the sanctuary. She then described it as a “human rat trap… easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out” in the New York World newspaper.

One of NYC’s oldest farmhouses, which was created in 1796 and is still standing, is also on the itinerary. Plus, strollers will find out what happened to the bodies of the approximately 450 smallpox victims who died there annually from 1856 to 1875. And in true Boroughs of the Dead style, the tour guide will share macabre stories of ghosts and evil spirits on the way.

Meet at the first entrance gate to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which lies at the island’s southern tip. Look for the group next to the restrooms and water break area. The tour will end near The Octagon at the north end.

Editor’s note: Boroughs of the Dead will offer two walking tours of haunted Astoria on Oct. 13 and Oct. 28 as well.

Image: Boroughs of the Dead


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