New York City and its surrounding areas are replete with islands: Manhattan itself is one, of course. And then let's not forget there’s Staten Island, Long Island, Roosevelt Island, Ellis Island, Liberty Island, Governors Island, Randall's Island (and even Riker's Island).
But here's one you've probably never heard of: U Thant Island. (Come again?)
It’s teeny tiny as far as islands go — just 100 feet by 200 feet. Located in the East River, U Thant Island is not a place you can actually go visit, but you can learn a thing or two about it and add to your mental "fun trivia to unfurl at cocktail parties" file.
The island’s beginnings date back to the 1890s, when an underground rail passage was being developed. This passage became the Steinway Tunnel that the 7 train currently uses to go from Queens to Manhattan, and the excess landfill from the project became an island.
It was originally named Belmont Island after the guy who financed the tunnel project, and that name remained all the until 1977. In that year, a group named Peace Meditation leased the island from the state. They added greenery to the island’s surface and renamed the island (albeit, unofficially) after a former Burmese United Nations Secretary General: U Thant. The group also constructed a metal structure dubbed the “oneness arch,” where, supposedly, personal items once belonging to U Thant have been preserved.
Vox made this handy video describing U Thant, and even documented a canoeing trip near and sort of on the island.
Noteworthy happenings involving the island don’t normally occur, but in 2004, a filmmaker named Duke Riley rowed a boat the island during the night amid the Republican National Convention. He climbed the island’s navigation tower and declared it a sovereign nation at the time. The incident was captured on film; check it out here. Mostly though, the island serves as a sanctuary for migrating birds these days, including Double-Crested Cormorants.
Although those with expert eyes might perhaps spot the island from a bridge or shore, you’ll likely find a better view in a kayak... which is a thing you can do in the East River, so get on that.
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