6 Uninhabited and Mysterious Islands With Bizarre Pasts

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain  / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Getting away from it all on a deserted island sounds like a wonderful way to live, doesn’t it? But then again, there are some islands you can’t live on, some you aren’t allowed to visit, and some that have terrifying pasts that may give you nightmares—even by reading about them.

1. Daksa

The island of Daksa in the Adriatic Sea near Dubrovnik, Croatia, was the home of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Sabina from 1281 CE to the 19th century. The small island also has a villa and an ancient lighthouse, and it was little used after the monastery closed, and even less so after what happened in 1944. At the height of World War II, Partisans came to Dubrovnik and rounded up 53 men suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, including the mayor of Dubrovnik and the local parish priest. They were never seen alive again. They were taken to Daksa and executed without trial.  

In 2009, two mass graves were unearthed on the island. DNA samples were taken from the victims of the Daksa Massacre, and some were identified. The remains finally received a proper burial in 2010, 66 years after they were executed. But there are tales of the ghosts of the victims haunting the island, still crying out for justice. The little island is for sale, and has been for several years—without any takers.

2. Clipperton Island

Clipperton Island is a coral atoll south of Mexico and west of Guatemala in the Pacific. It was first claimed by the French, then Americans, who mined it for guano. Mexico took possession in 1897, and allowed a British company to mine guano there. Around 1910, Mexico sent 13 soldiers to guard the island. They were joined by their wives and some servants, and soon children were born. Another island resident was a reclusive lighthouse keeper named Victoriano Álvarez. In 1914, supply ships stopped coming due to the Mexican Civil War, and malnutrition set in. The soldiers living on the island started to die off, until only three of the wives and their children remained. Victoriano Álvarez, the lighthouse keeper, also survived.

Álvarez seized control of the survivors and declared himself king of the island. He spent the next few years terrorizing the women and children of Clipperton Island, until they banded together to kill him. In 1917, the last surviving islanders, three women and eight malnourished children, were rescued and evacuated by an American ship. Ownership of the island reverted to France, which manned a lighthouse on Clipperton Island, but after World War II it was completely abandoned. There are now only occasional scientific expeditions to the atoll.

3. North Brother Island

North Brother Island in the East River in New York City is a protected nesting area, and therefore off-limits to the public. The island has quite a lurid history, spanning 130 years. Riverside Hospital opened a quarantine facility for smallpox patients on the 20-acre island in 1885. The hospital later took in patients with other communicable diseases, like typhoid. It was here that Typhoid Mary was housed involuntarily for two decades until her death in 1938.

The hospital closed in 1942, but the buildings were used for veterans' housing for a while, and then as a rehab center for young drug addicts, until corruption, abuse, and rights violations forced the facility to close for good in 1963. The island was purchased by the City of New York in 2007. The buildings still stand in their ruined state, and are said to be haunted by the many who died or suffered there.

4. Lazzaretto Nuovo

Lazzaretto Nuovo is an island situated at the entrance of the lagoon that envelops Venice, Italy. It was a monastery in medieval times, then in 1468 was designated as a quarantine area for ships approaching Venice, to protect the city from the plague. This continued until the 18th century, when the quarantine facilities were abandoned, and Lazzaretto Nuovo became a military base. The Italian Army abandoned the site in 1975, and it suffered years of neglect. Community efforts have since turned it into a cultural museum site, now supported by the Italian Ministry of Arts and Culture. The island is currently open for tourism.

5. Ernst Thälmann Island

Ernst Thälmann Island is a tiny piece of land located in the Gulf of Cazones off the coast of Cuba. It has always been uninhabited, and is casually set aside to remain in a pristine condition. It has a great deal of biodiversity, and includes a healthy reef. The island’s historical name was Cayo Blanco del Sur until 1972, when Fidel Castro hosted a state visit for East German leader Erich Honecker. Castro’s welcome included a renaming of the island in honor of Ernst Thälmann, who was a German communist revolutionary executed by the Gestapo in 1944. Castro ceremonially handed the island over to the German Democratic Republic, though the territory was never legally given away. A bust of Thälmann was erected on the island, and stood there alone until it was toppled by hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Ernst Thälmann Island is the center of a "war" between the Republic of Molossia, a micronation which consists of one household in Nevada, and East Germany, which ceased to exist in 1990. The rationale is that since Castro gave the island to East Germany in 1972, and the territory was not mentioned in the documents that dissolved East Germany, the island is the last remaining part of the German Democratic Republic. This “war” has been going on since 1983.

6. Palmyra Atoll

Located 1000 miles south of Hawaii, Palmyra Atoll is a territory owned by the United States, and it is officially uninhabited (though a handful of "non-occupants" working for The Nature Conservancy or the U.S. government temporarily inhabit the island). The U.S. military built an airstrip there during World War II, which has fallen into disrepair, although it is still used for infrequent supply runs. The atoll is now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, with the exception of Cooper Island, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy.

The atoll was formed by a growing reef that caused quite a few shipwrecks, one in which resulted in a rumored cache of gold on the land. It is said to be haunted by the sailors who died there, and it was also the setting for a sensational double murder in 1974 that became the basis for the novel and then miniseries called And the Sea Will Tell.