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
Trading Brake Pads For Ballet Slippers On South Broad Street

Trading Brake Pads For Ballet Slippers On South Broad Street

February 19, 2018  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow waltzes through the history of an old auto dealership in South Philly that has been a hub of classical dance training for over 30 years > more

Riding The Rails On Pennsylvania's Original Turnpike

Riding The Rails On Pennsylvania’s Original Turnpike

February 16, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

As Phase One of the Reading Viaduct Rail Park sets to open this spring, Harry K. takes us on a ride along the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in America > more

New Schuylkill River Trail Extension Now Open

New Schuylkill River Trail Extension Now Open

February 15, 2018  |  Buzz

Michael Bixler takes us on a stroll down the newest segment of the Schuylkill River Trail > more

Replicas Of William Rush Originals Return To Fairmount Water Works

Replicas Of William Rush Originals Return To Fairmount Water Works

February 14, 2018  |  News

Missing for decades, two signature sculptures come home to Fairmount Water Works. A. Leonard Pundt has the details on how conservation efforts and carefully-crafted reproductions brought the iconic public artwork back to life > more

Discovering My Family's Place In The Workshop Of The World

Discovering My Family’s Place In The Workshop Of The World

February 12, 2018  |  Vantage

In Port Richmond, Amy Cohen has a chance encounter with her family's industrial past when she happens upon a sign for her grandfather's old business, the Philadelphia Rust-Proof Company > more

Smiling In South Philly At The Eagles Super Bowl Parade

Smiling In South Philly At The Eagles Super Bowl Parade

February 8, 2018  |  Last Light

Michael Bixler dives into the crowd down in South Philly at the Eagles parade with this photo essay > more