Moses Gates

August 3, 2008

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Early Sunday morning I took the boat out to North Brother Island,

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with Lan Tuazon, Adam Payne, and Moses Gates.

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Moses is an Urban Planer, a New York City Tour Guide and an accomplished guerrilla urbanist.

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One of his lifelong missions is to visit every census track in New York City.

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North Brother used to be part of the census, when it housed quarantine hospitals and rehabilitation facilities up through the 1960’s.

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Now it is an abandoned and overgrown island -unreachable except by thousands of nesting birds,

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and a few determined boaters.

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The sun was just coming up as we paddled across the East River.

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As we aproached the island, the seagulls started freaking out.

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We pulled the boat up into the grass,

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walked around to the old ferry terminal,

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and found the main road into the island.

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When the island was in use, the grounds were well maintained,

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but in the forty years that it stood vacant, weeds have overtaken the architecture,

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making a forest out of every street,

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and each courtyard is a jungle.

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We made our way into the center of the island,

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and began to explore the buildings.

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In some ways it seems impossible that this place has been abandoned for forty years.

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It’s like they just stood up and left the post.

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But large stalactites are forming on the ceilings,

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and Adam found a phone book where all the numbers are 5 digits long.

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We signed this chalkboard a few years ago.

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One of the buildings houses an old theater.

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“This is a great place for a horror movie.”¬ said Adam.

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“I’m the hot guy who dies first.” said Moses.

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“I don’t want to be the guy who figures it all out and then dies.”¬ said Adam.

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He totally would be that guy though.

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“I’m the friend¬ who turns out actually to be the killer.” I said.

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Lan stayed out of the conversation.

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It’s because she would be the main character.

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From the roof of the theater we could see out to Rikers Island.

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And down the other side, a canopy of overgrowth.

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Adam, Moses, and Lan went on to explore the largest building that housed a hospital.

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I sat back on the pier to make some drawings of the city while the sun came up.

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Lan found the tree that we planted here 2 years ago.

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Then she found a sunny spot to nap.

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Moses found a whole library of books from the Queens Library. (This one was donated to the library by someone with my same last name- possibly a relative!)

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“We should return this book to the Queens Library,” Moses said, “40 years overdue.”

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Adam found bird skulls,

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blueprints,

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and papers that must have dated back to the 1950s, when the island housed a treatment center¬ young drug offenders.

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We packed up and headed back to the boat,

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through a dense tangle of vines.

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We were trying to stay away from the shore,

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because boat traffic had picked up and we weren’t really supposed to be on the island.

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We decided to head back the way we came and sneak back through the old ferry terminal on the Bronx side.

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We came in the dark this morning, but now our trespassing will be more visible.

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But Adam, Moses, and Lan hauled the boat up and got it through the fence quickly and without incident. What a good crew!

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On the way back, Moses suggested his favorite post-exploration spot; the Neptune Diner in Astoria,

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and we ate breakfast under the watchful eye of King Neptune.

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North Brother Island Light House 1950

-Marie Lorenz

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