So what’s Plum Island really like? One reporter’s inside tour

08/17/2014 8:00 AM |
JULIE LANE PHOTO | The Plum Island Lighthouse, built in 1869, is in disrepair with no government money to restore it. Stories persist that it’s haunted.

The Plum Island Lighthouse, built in 1869, is in disrepair with no government money to restore it. Stories persist that it’s haunted. (Credit: Julie Lane)

Tell people you’re visiting Plum Island and be prepared for a litany of the perils in store for you. You’ll be reminded of persistent rumors springing from dire biological experiments that have taken place there and that still might be going on.

Just one,“How interesting” would have been nice.

A recent trip to the 840-acre, three-mile-long island just east of Orient Point, a place that has been fertile ground for conspiracy theories of all stripes, a fortress the best-selling author Thomas Harris thought suitable for his uber-villain, Hannibal Lector, did have some dangers.

But not of the spectacular variety.

•   A tick bite that could happen anywhere on the East End and so I was advised to wear the kind of clothing you would choose for any walk in the woods and told to take appropriate action to check for ticks when I arrived back home.

•  A boat trip on a windy day when Plum Gut, the fast-running, famously temperamental channel between Orient Point and Plum Island makes the ride rocky.

You think you check the weather before heading out to work? Not nearly as carefully as people who work on Plum Island. Because Plum gut is so affected by fickle winds, when there’s a storm in the area, employees don’t even travel between the North Fork and Plum Island.

Another feature for those working at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is their hours are staggered, so some staff are always on Plum Island. But only a few sleep there. The happy few are a limited number of staff who might be involved in experiments on creatures that only come out at night, such as on bats. Oh, and there’s a ghost, but more on him later.

Plum Island has its own cafeteria for workers, but you’ll have to bring your own lunch if visiting. That food will have to be consumed while you’re on the island, because no food, except for items such as potato chips in still-sealed bags, will be allowed to leave. And, yes, guards will check to ensure you’re taking no half-eaten ham on rye with you. But any drinks you bring can be carried off because while food can potentially provide a breeding ground for bacteria, liquids don’t, a guide explains.