NYC is home to many surrounding islands—hell, Manhattan itself is one. And though we’re sure you’ve heard of Long Island, Governors Island, even Roosevelt Island, are you familiar with Hart Island? This mysterious island located in the northeastern Bronx (adjacent to City Island) was purchased by the Department of Charities and Correction in 1868. It was intended to be a workhouse for older boys from Randall’s Island’s House of Refuge.
By 1869, the workhouse had opened and soon, the island became a mass burial ground for unclaimed and unidentified bodies. Bodies were brought from the city morgue at Bellevue Hospital to the island for burial. Riker’s Island inmates routinely buried the dead until inmate labor officially ended on April 3, 2021.
The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation took over management from the NYC Department of Correction in 2021. The island currently serves as a public cemetery to more than one million individuals—most of whom have since been identified.
Beyond a burial site, the grounds were a former quarantine station, a psychiatric hospital, a tuberculosis ward, a reform school, a homeless shelter, a rehabilitation facility, a military base, and a jail.
Now, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation have opened Hart Island to the public with free tours on select Tuesday mornings with Urban Park Rangers. In order to attend a tour, one must register for a spot. A lottery system will be used if a tour reaches capacity. Lottery registration will open a week before the tour date.
The first tour will set out on Tuesday, November 21st, 2023. Guests will get to learn more about the mysterious island’s past, present and future. Find further detail about the free public tours and information on Hart Island here.