Rat Island!

February 15, 2012 | by Mike Szilagyi


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 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.


  1. Davis says:

    Long an object of fascination for me.

  2. Laura Kicey says:

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

  3. Megan says:

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

  4. John says:

    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. john says:

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

  6. Mike Szilagyi says:

    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

  7. Reg Wayton says:

    Actually Rat Island looks like it’s on the JERSEY SIDE.

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