December 14, 2012

Hart Island

When I first learned about Hart Island, I was watching a movie called "Don't Say A Word" featuring Michael Douglas, and Brittany Murphy. There is a long scene towards the end of the movie that is set in Hart Island, New York. Hart Island was then made reference to again when I was reading about the sad ending for child actor Bobby Driscoll, who is buried at Hart Island.

Hart Island is more than just an Island, located in New York, Hart Island is a potter's cemetery for the New York City. It's the largest tax funded cemetery in the world. New York acquired it in 1869 and began using it as a cemetery. According to Wikipedia.com, over 850,000 people have been buried there. Due to the large amount of burials on the island, and the tax payer expense in doing so, the burials are now conducted by Rikers Island inmates. All burial records are kept within the prison system, making it difficult for the public to get information about their loved ones. The Hart Island Project, a nonprofit charitable organization since 1994, has helped family members obtain burial records of their loved ones.

Prisoners are ferried to the Island from Fordham Street Pier located on City Island. They are paid 50¢ an hour to buried the dead. Coffins are placed in two rows, three high, and 25 across. There is one single grave, for a baby that died of AIDS in 1985.

Visitation to Hart Island is restricted and NY City Department of Corrections schedules any visits family members wish to have. They have to have proof that their family member is buried on the island. Currently no one is allowed on the island without contact the prison system.

Before the purchase of Hart Island by New York City, it was used for a Civil War Interment camp, a prison, and a workhouse for trouble youth. Those buildings are now decaying in the background as bodies are committed to the ground.

There are pictures of Hart Island at The Hart Island Project website, that are simply haunting. Several prisoners holding baby coffins 4 at a time and setting them in the ground, also several of the decaying buildings, with light pouring in from the caved in ceilings and nature slowly calming back what it used to own. One of the Hart Island Chapel, now empty with debris scattered across the bare floor.

It seems Hart Island is full of ghosts, ghosts of the past, and the present.

The Sad Fate of Bobby Driscoll
The Hart Island Project