Obscura Society NY: Earth, Sea & Sky at Bannerman Castle's Ruins - Atlas Obscura
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Fishkill, New York

Obscura Society NY: Earth, Sea & Sky at Bannerman Castle's Ruins

Explore the ruins of Bannerman Castle and discover the history of the land and the stories told in its sky.

Join the New York Obscura Society as we watch the stunning land installation Constellation emerge over the crumbling remains of Bannerman's Island Arsenal. We'll discover the history of the island and its enigmatic ruins, then join artist Melissa McGill and Hadrien Coumans of the Lenape Center for talks and stories by starlight. 

On a small, rugged island in the Hudson Valley sit the castle-like remains of Francis Bannerman VI's ammunitions empire. Immigrating from Scotland as a small child in 1851, Bannerman began selling scrap metal from the harbors at a very young age and founded his own military surplus company when he was just 14 years old. He quickly graduated from selling scrap to canons and full-size Navy ships, and by 1900 Bannerman had such a massive accumulation of military equipment that he was required by law to move his storage outside of city limits. Bannerman relocated to Polepell Island, a small piece of land that his son had discovered while canoeing the Hudson River, where he proceeded to build his own elaborate, castle-like dwelling almost entirely without the help of architects or engineers.

Today, Polepell Island sits in an advanced state of ruin after decades of neglect. Abandoned in 1957 following a series of disastrous occurrences, Bannerman's castle has been left to its own slow decay. Join us for a very special special excursion to the island as we explore what remains of the Bannerman family empire and experience Beacon-based artist Melissa McGill's new large-scale, light-based public art project. As the sun goes down, starry lights will appear one by one with the stars of the night sky creating a new constellation connecting past and present. Join us as we experience the magical illumination of Constellation from a rarely visited vantage point on the island. Then we'll gather to talk with Melissa and Hadrien Coumans of the Lenape Center to discover the Lenape history of the land, the ancient inspiration for Constellation, and the historical and mythic connection between land and sky.

Tour includes a brief guided walk on the island where you will learn about both Constellation and Bannerman’s Castle and have an opportunity to see breathtaking views of Constellation from the water. Feel free to bring your own picnic snack for the train and boat! No food is allowed on the island.


Questions? Email: rebecca.posner@atlasobscura.com


  • We'll be boarding the 5:43 pm Poughkeepsie Station bound Metro-North train from Grand Central Terminal to Beacon Station, arriving at 7:11 pm. If you'd like to travel with the Atlas Obscura group, meet us at the Grand Central Terminal clock in the main concourse by 5:30 pm.
  • Those traveling by car can meet us at the Beacon Ferry Dock in Beacon, NY at 7:15pm. The boat will depart promptly at 7:30pm.
  • Our tour will last approximately 2 hours 30 minutes: 1/2 hour each way on the shuttle boat and about 1 hour 15 minutes island tour and talks by Melissa McGill and Hadrien Coumans.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Some of the paths and trails are steep and there will be a lot of walking, including 72 stairs.
  • There is no running water on the island, but there are porta potties. Bottled water will be available for purchase on the boat.
  • Rain or shine
  • Bring a flashlight!

Metro-North fare is NOT INCLUDED in the price of the tour. Please purchase your roundtrip train ticket at Grand Central Station.