Governors Island: Manhattan's Ghost Town


September 21, 2011 -

Governors Island is a 172-acre ghost town on the southern shore of Manhattan. Covered in ruins, the island houses an impressive collection of abandoned structures, with empty apartment towers, homes, schools, churches, swimming pools and playgrounds. Half of the approximately 100 buildings on the island are in some state of decay, including a supermarket, auto body repair shop, movie theater and hospital. Many of the other buildings are controlled ruins, minimally cleaned up to allow limited public access. Walking through this deserted landscape is a surreal experience, especially when considering its close proximity to the bustling financial center of lower Manhattan.

After serving as a base for military operations for over 200 years, Governors Island was abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1996. The federal government sold most of the island to New York City for $1 in 2003. Today, Governors Island has come to resemble San Francisco's Alcatraz Island and Japan's Gunkanjima Island, with evocative off-limits ruins dominating the landscape while smaller sections are slowly reclaimed and opened to the public. Artists have been brought in to help colonize the wilderness, creating a variety of installations inside otherwise empty spaces. Often, they are appropriately post-apocalyptic - embalmed wildlife, metal skeletons, animal bones, zombie films. Despite these creative uses, many of the island's structures are slated for demolition, to make way for a public park. Some have been purposefully set ablaze by the fire department to "test new techniques."

These photographs were take between 2005 and 2011, after the island was opened to the public. They offer an update to a photo series from 2003-2004 titled "Governors Island: Photographs by Lisa Kereszi and Andrew Moore," a project commissioned by the Public Art Fund to document the deserted island before it was open to the public. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited Governors Island since it has been made accessible, but the ruins still remain.

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For more photo essays from partially abandoned New York City islands, please visit The Encampment on Roosevelt Island (2007) and Ellis Island: South Side (2007).


Living Room (2005)



Rope Swing (2005)



Bulldozer Playground (2009)



Game Time (2009)



Bones (2009)



Fenced Off Homes (2009)



Fire Practice Tower (2011)



Coast Guard Bedroom (2011)



Empty Kitchen (2010)



Raccoon Island (2010)



Abandoned Classrooms (2008)



Blackboard (2008)



Dropped Ceiling (2008)



Hospital Kitchen (2011)



Box Office (2009)



Theater Lobby (2009)



Empty Theater (2009)



Church Interior (2009)



Hospital Lounge (2011)



Hospital Admissions (2011)



Staircase (2011)



Abandoned Hospital (2011)



Water's Edge (2010)

11 comments:

  1. great series, I particularly love that church interior shot. Here's my flickr album of Gov Island from 2010.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/yojimbot/sets/72157624713218559/

    Cheers!

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  2. Ok, so yeah...I kind of read up on the history of this island because of a recent visit for a concert. I don't want to come off as a creepo, but Governor's Island gave me the chills while I was on it, I guess from looking @ the vacant buildings. This is most definitely one island that I would not like to be on alone, after dark. I just get a strange vibe from it, idk, but thanks for the photos and story.

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    1. Its sad how the buildings where just left there, they could have been used in so many ways. The Island is a close 2nd to my top favorite places I lived which was San Pedro Navy Housing. They left San Pedro Navy Housing to rot also, so many battered women and homeless such a waste. Now there is plans to sell off the Naval Housing to a developer to tear it down and re-developed the area. There are a lot of people who feel as I do just sad. My Treasure Island and the distant land of Camelot lying in ruins.

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  3. If you had ever lived on the Island, the photos would bring back many memories, and as for being alone on it, day or night, if there are any ghosts, they would all be friendly, because some of the greatest people on earth lived on that island, worked there, raised families there, and formed a wonderful community. The church is St. Cornelius Chapel, which belonged to Trinity Church on Wall St. Governors Island was a little slice of heaven.

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    1. OMG..I lived on Governor's Island when I was a child. My father was in the Coast Guard and I can tell you, this island was so much fun. It had pretty much everything that you would need or want right there. I agree with the other person, if any ghosts there, they are friendly. The pictures did bring back so many memories! I have often thought about returning for a tour.

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  4. I was lucky enough to get to live on Governors Island when it was a wonderful Coast Guard base! My family and I lived there for 12 memory making years. We saw the Statue get rededicated, saw Gorbachev, Reagan, Bush. We lived in one of those "empty apartments" when it was called New Brick Village. How we loved that island. There is a lot of history and memories of a Coast Guard life on that island. Some of the nicest people in the world worked, played, worshipped, prayed, lived and even died on this island in New York Harbor. Us former residents could write a book and soon I think we will...

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  5. Yes, I was surprised to learn that this place was abandoned by the CG. Some of my friends went there after CG boot camp, back in the mid 1960's.

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  6. I was at Ft.Jay in 1956 when it was HQ f0r the NE Air Defence Command. Fort Wadsworth, Totten, Slocum, Hamilton etc.
    I was stationed in Ft.Toten and was called on to escort a prisoner to the stockade on Gov. Island at that time named FT. Jay. The stockade was the old original fort. After turning the Gi over to the Sgt of tge Guard I was glad to leave that place but felt badly for the GI.

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  7. I lived on Governors Island as a child from 1965-1969. Some of my fondest memories are from my years on Governors Island. I will definitely have to schedule a vacation back to NYC during Governors Island's "open season." I don't know if visitors who take the tour could fully appreciate how fortunate we were to live on Governors Island

    Elizabeth Fisher

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    1. I lived there the same time Elizabeth! It was a great place!

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  8. WOW !! Seeing the water splashing up reminds me of the storms we went threw when we lived on the Island. We lived in building 355 I think the chiefs club was across from the entrance. There was a concrete circle behind our building. So when the storms were raging they would come across the road and hit my bedroom window on the 4th floor. The lighting would splinter across the sky I didn't get scared because she was right there Lady Liberty holding her torch right out the same window just in the middle of the bay. My father was a Carrier Chief Petty Officer in the Coast Guard. We where blessed all the amazing places and people we met. I remember the Island was buzzing when Serpico was smuggled onto the Island all hush hush. I remember there was a story there was a tunnel from the Island under the water to Staten Island pretty crazy. thanks for listening to my story, jeff dickman

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