The History Of Fort Slocum, Mount Vernon’s Hindenburg Connection, And The Westchester Children’s Museum

We’ve got answers to all your Westchester questions.



I’ve always been curious about Fort Slocum on Davids’ Island, the deserted military base in the Sound off of New Rochelle. Is it true that the government, the CIA or something like that, used it for a secret prisoner of war camp or even a creepy biological-warfare-experiments-type place?
—Jack Rio, Bedford

You think if they did and I knew about it, I could risk telling you? Well, I will, because that’s the type of guy I am.

First, a little background. The base was originally established as De Camp General Hospital during the Civil War to treat Union soldiers and, later, wounded Confederates. After the hospital closed in 1866, it was renamed Fort Slocum in 1896 and had a variety of uses, including a recruiting station, an artillery outpost, and, for a time, it was the home of the military chaplains’ college. It was deactivated in 1965, and, in 1967, the City of New Rochelle purchased it and used it for a youth summer camp. A year later, Con Ed bought it with the idea of putting some power plants there, but, by 1973, it had decided against it and sold it back to New Rochelle for $1. In 1977, after a decade of ruin, the City designated it for urban renewal. Congress authorized funds to demolish the remaining buildings in 2004. Today, it lies largely abandoned.

Was it a POW camp? Uh, no—at least not in the way we usually conceptualize prisoner of war camps.

Originally, the Confederate soldiers being treated in the hospital were technically prisoners of war.

Your question probably refers to the number of Italian POWs who lived on the island following World War II. After the war, the Italian prisoners were recruited as volunteers to work on various US government properties, including Fort Slocum. The Italians worked as laborers and lived in the residential quarters under relaxed security, but not in any type of prison situation. It wasn’t really a POW camp, as we understand that term. There is a website out there that claims it was used as a Japanese interment camp but that just isn’t true.

And the creepy biological warfare research?

No, that didn’t go on there. Some people believe that’s what happens on Plum Island, off of Suffolk County, Long Island, where the government houses the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The government claims that it is doing research on pathogens that could interfere with livestock, farming, and food sources. Thriller writer Nelson DeMille’s book Plum Island painted it as a spooky biological weapons lab.

A friend of mine, who's in his 90s, and I got into a discussion about the Hindenburg. He insisted that the zeppelin flew directly over his Mount Vernon house on its way to tragedy in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Is this true?
—Derek Andrade, Yonkers

Hindenburg_burning

The Hindenburg crashed on May 6, 1937, on a flight that started out in Frankfurt, Germany, destined for Lakehurst, New Jersey. High winds and storms in Lakehurst delayed the landing for hours, so the captain gave the passengers a tour of the Jersey seashore and then a breathtaking cruise right over the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. When word came that the storms had subsided, they headed to the airfield where it exploded, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It did not sail over Westchester on that final flight.  Eight months prior to the tragedy, the Hindenburg did a long, slow float over Westchester and very close to Mount Vernon. The Pelham Sun ran a small article on it in its October 9, 1936, edition.

What a sight it must’ve been—longer than three 747s laid end-to-end and 135 feet around. I’m sure there were a lot of sore necks that day. The captain of that flight was Ernst A. Lehman, the same man who would lose his life with the 34 others in the explosion (he died the following day due to extensive burns).

 What’s going on with the proposed Westchester Children’s Museum at Playland in Rye?
—Mary Anne Zaba, White Plains

As of its latest announcement in November 2013, it's scheduled to open in the North Bathhouse building in 2015. Right now, it's still in the fundraising stage and The Campaign for the Westchester Children's Museum has raised enough to have an architectural design completed. Currently, the WCM operates its Museum Without Walls program bringing learning experiences to schools, parks and community organizations. To find out more and to donate visit: www.discoverwcm.org.

Have a question about the County? Email edit@westchestermagazine.com. Subject line: Any Questions?

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