Hart Island in Bronx, NY

You never know when you may come across a name or a location and really not know much about it. Hart Island on the westernmost edge of Long Island Sound in the Bronx region of New York City is such an example. This place is seen by many as a very spooky place.

It was charted by British naval cartographers who named it Heart Island in 1775. By 1777, either by accident or on purpose the name became Hart Island. Also just getting there is difficult with its shallow waters with submerged rocks. Many ships over the decades have run aground on Hart Island.

The city of New York bought Hart Island for $75,000 in 1868 from the Hunter family, a new potter’s field (burial site for the poor) was set on 45 acres at the island’s northern tip. It was run by the Dept. of Charities and Correction, who also handled the prison and a school for delinquent boys on the island. Prisoners had to bury the dead.

With the 1870 yellow fever epidemic, the island contained a women’s psychiatric hospital called The Pavilion, which was built 1885, as well as a tubercularium.

Over the years, it is figured some 850,000 people (maybe even 1 million)were buried on Hart Island (actual numbers is unknown due to poor record-keeping and a fire in 1977 where the records were kept). The north side for the original burials filled up and in 2010, the south side was used, with 695 adults and 504 babies buried there now. The name ‘potter’s field is still used but the official name is ‘Field of Blood’.

Not always the poor were buried there, early on it would include those who died from yellow fever or typhoid or veterans with no family. It included babies born stillborn or those who died at birth.

In most recent years identification of those buried there has improved. In 2011 there were 1,200 burials and only 15 were unidentified.

Hart Island, a public cemetery for the poor is how many still think of it. Yet the public is not allowed to walk the grounds because there is a prison there. It is probably the quietest place in all of NYC as observed by many people. They can visit and stand on a wooden gazebo a few steps from the ferry dock. The island is about 1 mile long and .33 miles wide with the only method of reaching it is by boat or using a ferry. There is no electricity on the island.

Hart Island Project’s website has a search-able database for burials since 1980. The recording of those buried had been started from 1869 and continued to today, the Department of Correction has recorded each Hart Island burial in handwritten books. A fire on the island in 1977 destroyed the books from 1956 to 1960, plus most of the 1970s and no backup existed. About 25,000 names were lost. Check out the database.

Even in 2020, the island is used for burials of those no one claimed who have died of COVID-19 corona-virus.

Photos: Aerial view of Hart Island; 1890 burial in Potter’s Field on Hart Island and approach to the island and prison.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

New York City Photos

Cemetery Superstitions

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< Return To Blog Learned a lot! Never heard of this place before.
Sara N Martin 31/10/20

So glad you liked it. It could help those with family in NYC they can't find to look into seeing if they were there.
alice 31/10/20

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