Hart Island to become parkland, making graves easier to visit

A small island in the Long Island Sound that is home to the nation's largest public burial ground will soon be easier to visit and explore.

Under legislation that Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law on Wednesday, the city's Parks Department will take over the administration of Hart Island from the Department of Correction.

The Parks Department will be in charge of transforming the island to make the graves more accessible to families of the dead.

"Many of our city's parks have long-ago histories of having been the resting places of our ancestors. Today, they are ever-cherished, well used public spaces where memories are made," Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said in a statement. "Together we will honor those at rest, continue access for their loved ones, while working to transforming into a welcoming public space."

At various points in history, the 131-acre island, which is part of the Bronx, has housed a Civil War internment camp, a psychiatric institution, a missile site for the military, a homeless shelter, a jail, and more.

Eventually, the only thing left was a potter's field, where about a million people are buried. Many of those had no family, no money, and, in some cases, no name. The Department of Correction had managed burials there for more than a century. Inmates from jails on Rikers Island dug many of the graves.

Melinda Hunt, an artist, has been documenting the island for nearly 30 years. She founded a nonprofit called The Hart Island Project to help family members connect with their deceased and perhaps forgotten loved ones.


Get breaking news alerts in the FOX5NY News app. It is FREE!

Download for iOS or Android