Atlas Obscura's Islands of the Undesirables, Part 5: Rikers Island

Image 1
An Aerial of Rikers Island
Photo: dsearls

In a series titled Islands of the Undesirables on collaborative historical website Atlas Obscura, historian and journalist Bess Lovejoy highlights five of the New York islands where we have stored our sick, criminals and unwanted residents.

In the final installment of the series, part 5 covers the infamous Rikers Island.

Starting in 1893, the city began dumping street sweepings, horse manure, household garbage and ashes on the island, at least until the vile odor that drifted to Queens and the South Bronx drew protests. Three years later, the city contracted with a sanitation company to send the most offensive garbage to a reduction plant on Barren Island, and Rikers temporarily received the less-smelly stuff. But by the 1920s, the island was again a dumping ground for every kind of refuse, often smoking beneath a blanket of ashes. In 1926, the New York Times reported that the place “looked like a volcano preparing for an eruption.”

The full article is a fascinating short read on the history of Rikers Island and it’s “undesirables.”

Rikers Island

Matt Coneybeare

Matt Coneybeare

Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

Matt enjoys exploring the City's food scene with his Wife and the outdoors with their three dogs. He is an avid marathon runner, and spends most of his time working from a treadmill desk at home.

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