The Top 10 Secrets of Hart Island, NYC’s Mass Cemetery

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We’ve covered the fascinating, morbid, and tragic history of Hart Island, New York City’s “potter’s field,” or mass burial ground since 1869, and even interviewed a resident who was housed in a rehab center there in the 1970s. Now, a recent New York Times exposé reveals even more stories and secrets of Hart Island, located in Long Island Sound off the Bronx, the final resting place to over one million of the city’s unclaimed, unidentified or forgotten residents. Combining new information with historical ones we’ve covered in the past, we present the secrets of Hart Island.

10. Hart Island Is Just the Most Recent of NYC’s Mass Burial Grounds

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The location of New York City’s potter’s fields (a term which the New York Times explains comes from the Bible) follows the path of the city’s development from the early days of the country. Potters fields were located in what was considered far enough from what were then the boundaries of the current settlement. Many of our most notable parks were once potters fields, including Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, Madison Square Park, Bryant Park, and more.

Hart Island was purchased by New York City in 1868, used prior as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers during World War II, and burials began in 1869.

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3 Responses
    • michelle young Reply

      It’s a great question. It goes back to New York City as a melting pot. Most other American cities cremate but NYC respects the diverse religious practices possible in the unclaimed. Here is an excerpt from what Melinda Hunt of Hart Island Project says:

      New York City has a long-standing policy of respecting diverse religious practices. Many religions do not permit cremation. Until recently Catholics buried on Hart Island were placed in separate “consecrated ground.” In 1913, “baby trenches” were separated from “adult trenches.” Starting in 1935, “catholic babies” had separate trenches from “regular babies.”

      Incredible care and expense goes into conducting the burials. In 1990 the cost of flowers, tools, heavy equipment, parts to repair equipment, general maintenance equipment, fuel and inmate labor, at thirty-five cents per hour, drove the cost of each burial to $346. In addition, the city provides for free exhumation if family members claim a body within seven years of burial.

  1. ward roberts Reply

    how many teenagers from City Island died when they tried to sail or row, at night in winter from CI to Hart Island?

    was NYC sued or held liable for this stupidity? it would not surprise me!!!!!!!

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