The Haunted Castle of the Hudson River: Bannerman’s Island

Image courtesy of kenficara at Flickr.com

There are still traces of remains of historical buildings that were erected in the United States. One of these is an imposing castle located one hour -by car- from New York. We’re talking about the Pollepel Island, also known as Bannerman’s Island, which is located in the middle of the waters of the famous Hudson River and, with only 80 meters across, its stark natural beauty was deemed attractive for the construction of a building that was once the place where military surplus storage was kept. Even today, you can read on one side a sign that reads “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal”.

The funny thing is that this storage space looks like a castle. It all started with Francis Bannerman VI, who was also the owner of an island he bought in 1901. Bannerman was a Scottish immigrant who came to America in the mid-1850s.

When the civil war ended, the family company repurchased military surplus and resorted to this island for storage. In total, in what today is an imposing castle, in the past was used to store thirty million leftover cartridges and ammunition.

It is said that Bannerman himself designed the building which he then gave in blueprints to the builders. The amount of products to keep in stock in the first building was so large that another castle had to be added, on a smaller scale and at the top of the island, as a residence. But why this kind of design? The answer was simple: advertising. In this golden era, tycoons were celebrities, and Bannerman focused in using his castle as a huge, brick-made advertisement for his business. The castle was clearly visible from the shore.

In 1918, after Bannerman’s passing, the construction of the castle was paused and, a couple of years later, two tons of explosives blew up, destroying part of the complex.

The island, according to Native American tradition, is inhabited by hostile spirits. It is true that history could indicate that the island’s situation is more than a matter of sheer bad luck, but it is inevitable to imagine that the vengeful spirits caused its decline and fall.

It was thought that the explosion had been caused by a lightning that struck the flagpoles. Locals must have looked at each other, thinking that the spirits were making mischief.

But the worse was yet to come. In 1950, a cargo ship, the Pollepel, was in the middle of a huge storm in the Hudson River. It crashed on the island during the height of the storm, exploding on impact. The blast caused even more damage to the building — and the ill-fated boat gave the island its modern name, although many still call it Bannerman’s Island.

Bad times for the family had just begun. At that time, new legislation put obstacles to their business and, later, the ferry connecting the island to the mainland sank, after which the island came to be uninhabited. Later, in 1969, a fire destroyed the remains of the buildings, leaving them without ceilings or floors.

Since then, the river has almost completely destroyed the walls of the port, leaving only the turrets and bridges surrounded by water. The weather has made it lose its white paint and coating and vandalism and vegetation have also contributed to gradually deteriorate the walls.

Image courtesy of Kilgub at Flickr.com

Although they’re difficult to reach, both the castle and the big house occasionally host small groups of tourists with hard hats. Vandals and intruders continue to ensure its decline, but years of exposure to the elements gave the island another blow. In 2009, about 40% of the front wall and 50% of the east wall collapsed.

It has been the inspiration of works such as the book “Bannerman Castle”, written by Thom Johnson and Barbara H. Gottlock, which tells the whole history of the island and features over 200 photographs. Proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Bannerman Castle Trust, a non profit organization of the State of New York that organizes excursions to the island and restores some of the few remaining structures of the castle. The gardens surrounding these buildings are kept in good condition by volunteers from the area, which help preserve the charm of the place. It’s a new, different way to see New York. A city with numerous secret corners, but possibly not as special or surprising as this island.

The castle is now obviously beyond restoration and that is perhaps the way it should remain, slowly turning into dust. Maybe it’s better off abandoned, returned to the spirits for them to regain their home and finally rest in peace, a testimony to the impermanence and the inexorability of entropy.

Today, the imposing castle, which is abandoned, offers its remains and excursions that the public can do. But many embark on a boat to simply explore it from afar.