By Jacob A. Riis
|Landing Stage and Hospital at North Brother Island|
Along way up the East river, erroneously so called, since it is not a river at all, beyond the sunken meadow where the burning Seawanhaka was beached with her cargo of perishing human freight, three islands block the channel that winds past the forts to the Sound. Two are barren wastes of bayweed and sand. The third juts into the channel with grass-grown bluff. Great boulders, washed by every tide, lie at its base. Upon its brow stands a lighthouse with a big fog bell in its white tower against a background of green trees. The fishing boats that dot the channel keep to the windward of the island. Passengers on the decks of the big outgoing Sound steamers watch the sunset glow in the myriad windows of a group of red brick buildings on its shore, wondering what they may be, while the city's spires fade away in the distance. Presently three shrill blasts are sounded from a steamer's whistle, and at the signal, as the boat shoots behind the point, a knot of men carrying a stretcher between them are seen making their way down to the landing.
The men are orderlies from the smallpox hospital. The three blasts were sounded by the Health department's steamer coming up from the city, to tell them what it had on board. It is the official language of North Brother Island, varied to suit the particular pestilence of the trip. Two long blasts would have spelled scarlet fever; four, measles. The signal most dreaded - the long and short limp that stands for typhus fever - has been the one most frequently heard this year, and since the near shore first gave back its echoes a little graveyard that was not there before, has grown in a quiet corner of the island. For this is New York's pesthouse, better known, happily, to our day and our city by a better name: the Riverside hospital.