2. Hart Island

Hart Island

The 101-acre Hart Island serves as the city’s last potter’s field, a. burial ground for the unclaimed dead or those whose families couldn’t afford a funeral. The island is uninhabited today, but more than 800,000 have been buried there since 1869, making it the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. The history of Hart Island dates back to the mid-1800s, and reveals an intriguing past that extends far beyond the island’s current purpose as a public burial ground. Like North Brother Island and Rikers Island, Hart Island was often associated with society’s “unwanted.”

The strip of land was first used as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. After the war, New York City purchased the island in 1869 and began using it as a cemetery; right after the first civilian burial of Louisa Van Slyke took place. From the time of the Civil War until World War II, other uses for the island included a prison workhouse for delinquent boys, a women’s insane asylum, an isolation zone during the yellow fever epidemic, an old men’s home, a tuberculosis hospital, and a reformatory. Today, most of the buildings on Hart Island have been demolished. See some of the last video footage of those historic structures here!