Hidden Secrets: New York's Mysterious Island and Its Unspoken History

Hidden Secrets: New York’s Mysterious Island and Its Unspoken History

U Thant Island, officially designated Belmont Island, is a small expanse of rock and vegetation adorned with an unusual metal framework. This diminutive island, measuring a mere 100 by 200 feet, came into existence only in the late 1800s.

Situated off the coast of New York City, there exists a tiny, enigmatic island inaccessible to the public. Referred to as U Thant Island or Belmont Island, this intriguing locale boasts a fascinating history while remaining off-limits.

This compact piece of land, featuring an unconventional metal structure, was formed through the efforts of the renowned piano-maker William Steinway. Stretching halfway between the United Nations complex and Long Island City, it emerged as a result of Steinway’s endeavor to construct a tunnel beneath the East River.

This tunnel aimed to connect Steinway Village in Queens, his company town, to Manhattan. During the excavation process, a shaft was dug into a granite outcrop known as Man-o’-War Reef to reach the tunnels.

Unfortunately, Steinway passed away before witnessing the realization of his vision. A decade later, financier August Belmont Jr. assumed control of the project, successfully completing it between 1905 and 1907.

The petite island that took shape was christened in honor of Belmont. The tunnels were completed beneath the inaugural subway line, the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT). However, tragedy befell the project in 1906 when a tunnel accident claimed the lives of four workers.

On January 16, 1906, a pipe filled with compressed air exploded in the tunnel, resulting in the deaths of four individuals. Two workers succumbed to suffocation and decompression sickness, while the other two drowned as the shaft submerged 20 feet underwater.

In a courageous effort to rescue as many workers as possible, the supervisor and his assistant ventured into the perilous tunnel.

Although they managed to save two individuals, they were tasked with retrieving the bodies of the two men who had suffocated. The bodies of the drowned workers were left at the tunnel’s bottom, overwhelmed by the rush of water from the burst pipe.

Read More: These Towns in California Have the Best Safari Experiences

The History U Thant Island

In 1977, a Buddhist group assumed control of the island, renaming it U Thant Island in homage to the former United Nations Secretary-General U Thant. They erected a metal arch in his honor, adorned with tributes to the leader, which remains visible today.

Although the group was granted occasional access to the island for maintenance until the mid-1990s, visits dwindled due to security measures.

Today, the abandoned island features the enduring ‘Oneness Arch’ alongside a US Coast Guard beacon bearing the island’s moniker, the UN emblem, and inscriptions: “U Thant Island: Compassion – Home. Dedicated to World Peace through Prayer and Meditation,” along with a quote from U Thant.

U Thant explained: “Every man or woman should not only ask himself or herself what he or she is going to do in the world but also ask ‘Will there be a world in which I can live?'” Uncertainty surrounds whether a hidden capsule housing Thant’s papers and personal effects is still hidden beneath an island sculpture.

Access to the island is strictly prohibited to the public, as it functions as a protected area for migratory birds, such as a colony of double-crested cormorants. Nevertheless, eager tourists can observe the island from Manhattan, Queens, or the southern end of Roosevelt Island.

Additionally, there is a continuous passage below as the 7-line train continues to utilize the tunnels, showcasing the foresighted planning of early industrialists, including Mr. Steinway and Mr. Belmont.


With more than two years of expertise in news and analysis, Eileen Stewart is a seasoned reporter. Eileen is a respected voice in this field, well-known for her sharp reporting and insightful analysis. Her writing covers a wide range of subjects, from politics to culture and more.