Off the Path from New York to Boston

Davis Dunavin/ WSHU Public Radio

There’s an old abandoned hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York City. It was built for smallpox patients in the mid-1800s, but no one's used it for more than half a century. Today, its ruins loom over the southern edge of the island, looking out on the East River. And it’s become a playground for wayward cats.

The Hontvet house.
Photo courtesy J. Dennis Robinson (

There’s a tiny 27-acre island off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire called Smuttynose Island. The population in 1873 was six. So it shocked the country when two of them were brutally murdered — an event that led to the publication of the book "Mystery on the Isles of Shoals," by J. Dennis Robinson. WSHU’s Davis Dunavin brings us the story as part of the podcast ‘Off the Path from New York to Boston.’ And a caution — this story contains disturbing details about two murders.

Joel C. Ryan/Invision/AP and Associated Press File Photo

Pop star Taylor Swift’s songs often draw from her own life. For her new album, Folklore, Swift turned to a new muse: an eccentric heiress who once owned Swift’s multi-million-dollar beachfront mansion in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. WSHU’s Davis Dunavin brings us the story as part of the podcast Off the Path from New York to Boston.

Public Domain

Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and HBO’s Pose have made drag queens famous. But the oldest drag shows in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood may date back to 1869 — four years after the Civil War and a century before the Stonewall Riots. They’re connected to a long-gone venue called the Rockland Palace.

Davis Dunavin / WSHU

It’s one of the world’s great literary mysteries: a 15th century book full of bizarre illustrations of imaginary plants, astrological signs, surreal figures and landscapes. Its origins are unknown, its creator anonymous. And it’s written entirely in an unknown language that’s stumped the world’s greatest codebreakers.