Island of the beautiful souls.
About Hart Island
Burials of the unclaimed and unidentified.
Hart Island was part of New York City even before Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx or Staten Island. The island was purchased in 1868 by the Department of Charities and Correction for the purpose of setting up a workhouse for older boys from the House of Refuge on Randall’s Island.
Soon after the workhouse opened in 1869, burials of unclaimed and unidentified people began on Hart Island. Inmates from Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary traveled by ferry accompanied by bodies released for burial from the city morgue at Bellevue Hospital. Riker’s Island inmates accompanied by a morgue truck still travel by ferry on weekday mornings to Hart Island to bury the decease.
Mass burials on Hart Island began in 1875. A numbered grid system was implemented to facilitate dis-interments for later identification at the morgue. Today, most of the buried are identified. The workhouses are long closed. Yet, the system of burials remains unchanged and the cemetery only recently opened to visitation by relatives.
Hart Island, sometimes referred to as Hart's Island, is located at the western end of Long Island Sound, in the northeastern Bronx in New York City. Measuring approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) long by 0.33 miles (0.53 km) wide, Hart Island is part of the Pelham Islands archipelago, to the east of City Island.
The island's first public use was as a training ground for the United States Colored Troops in 1864. Since then, Hart Island has been the location of a Union Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter's field with mass burials, a homeless shelter, a boys' reformatory, a jail, and a drug rehabilitation center.
The island was intermittently used as a prison and a homeless shelter until 1967; the last inhabited structures were abandoned in 1977. The potter's field on Hart Island was run by the New York City Department of Correction until 2019, when the New York City Council voted to transfer jurisdiction to
the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
The remains of more than one million people are buried on Hart Island, though since the first decade of the 21st century, there are fewer than 1,500 burials a year. Burials on Hart Island include individuals who were not claimed by their families or did not have private funerals; the homeless and the indigent; and mass burials of disease victims.
Access to the island was restricted by the Department of Correction, which operated an infrequent ferryboat service and imposed strict visitation quotas. Burials were conducted by inmates from the nearby Rikers Island jail. The Hart Island Project, a public charity founded by visual artist Melinda Hunt, worked to improve access to the island and make burial records more easily available. Transfer to the Parks Department in 2019, had been sought for over twenty years, and was hoped to ease public access to the Island. Burials in the island's Potters' Field continued after the transfer.