Rat Island!

February 15, 2012 |  by  |  Found  |  ,
Island looking north | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Island looking north | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Just off the shipping channel in the tidal Delaware River, opposite the mouth of the Schuylkill, lies a half-acre island of scrubby trees, windswept pebbly beach, and upwards of ten thousand discarded plastic bottles. Nameless on those maps that deign to show its existence, the loosely knit group that sets up camp here twice each winter for the last thirty years calls it Rat Island.

One weekend each mid-November, and again in March, the sandy grove in the center of the island sprouts tarps, tents, an outdoor kitchen, and a riproaring driftwood bonfire. As they have for three decades now, the late-night crew will tune in to WXPN’s Stars End ambient music program, and place a call to DJ Chuck Van Zyl to let him know that the Rat Island encampment is listening.

Shipyard seen from island | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Shipyard seen from island | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Through the night the occasional cargo ship glides silently past, just a stone’s throw away. Long after midnight, once the roar of jets landing at Philadelphia International Airport has died away, there is an eerie stillness here, on this forgotten corner of the world, at the far edge of the city.

windswept | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

windswept | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

The next Rat Island encampment is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of March 17 and 18.

Rat Island

Rat Island

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

Send a message!



6 Comments


  1. Long an object of fascination for me.

  2. Always great when you guys share things I never otherwise would have known existed. Great piece Mike!

  3. Love it! Leave it to you Mike to find a diamond in the rough.

  4. I was a regular visitor to Red Bank Battlefield park as a kid, and always wanted to get to that island. What amazing views it has!

  5. super cool, but i have to ask, are they’re actually rats on rat island?

  6. I’ve camped there twice, and didn’t see any rats, for what it’s worth. Your experience may differ: http://starsend.org/ratislandraiders.html

Trackbacks

  1. At the End of the Schuylkill River – Thomas A. Shakely

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

February 21, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow taps into Philly beer history and frozen pie trivia at the old Adam Scheidt Brewing Company plant on North 9th Street > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

February 17, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a High Victorian in Chinatown that's still up to snuff > more

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

February 16, 2017  |  Last Light

Photographer Kris Catherine gives an exclusive look inside the opulent mansions of Elkins Estate > more

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

February 14, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. dials up the Evening Telegraph Information Bureau, a pilot communications service in 1905 that provided Keystone Telephone customers with news and information at a moment's notice > more

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

February 9, 2017  |  Soapbox

On Friday, the Historical Commission will consider legal protections for two historic Germantown homes. Owners La Salle University will oppose the nominations to retain their right to demolition. Arielle Harris makes a case for saving these two Wister family properties and reveals La Salle's long tradition of razing neighborhood landmarks > more

Paging Dr. Typewriter: Healing Old Tech On Fabric Row

Paging Dr. Typewriter: Healing Old Tech On Fabric Row

February 8, 2017  |  Walk the Walk

Bryan Kravitz brings old Remingtons back from the dead at his repair shop in Mt. Airy and typing salon in South Philly. Joe Brin has the story > more