Behind the Scenes - Hart of Madness
I first became aware of Hart Island when I chanced across an article in the New York Times called, “Unearthing the secrets of New York’s mass graves“.
I was stunned to learn that right off the coast of the Bronx, were the bodies of over a million poor souls, buried since the mid-19th century, and still being interred there. Besides the colossal potter’s field, this tiny island held an incredible history on its shores. It was once home to a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, a boys’ reformatory, and a women’s lunatic asylum.
The more I read about Hart Island, the more I realized it would make a perfect setting for my next book. What more sinister location than a women’s lunatic asylum around the turn of the 20th century?
The buildings on Hart Island are now ruins. The cemetery, however, is still very much alive. Bodies of indigents, poor and homeless, and those who have slipped through the cracks, are routinely buried in long trenches by inmates on Rikers Island. Sadly, many are babies, whose fates were determined long before they were born.
Hart Island is still in the news today as the grim stories of bones emerging have made headlines.
The Hart Island Project developed by Melissa Hunt has enabled families who believe they may have a loved one buried on the Island, to visit the gravesite. Tracking down the information is not easy, however. Ferries from City Island carry family members to the cemetery on regularly scheduled days.
I have included a few photos from various websites of what remains of the crumbling Hart Island institutions.