Hart(s) Island

Long Island Sound, Bronx, NY

Status: Former Prison Camp; Former Insane Asylum; Former Tuberculosis Sanatorium; Former Prison; Potter’s Field


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Previous to European colonization this island was the home of the Siwanoy Tribe.

A British doctor purchased the island from the Indigenous population as part of an almost 10,000 acre estate in 1654.

The first recorded use of this island as public property just off the coast of the Bronx is as a training camp for the United States Colored Troops in the Union Army during the US Civil War. It was then used as a Union prison to hold Confederate POWs.

235 prisoners did die on the island, but they were originally buried there they have since been removed and interned at in the Cypress Hills Cemetery which is now part of both Queens and Brooklyn.

In 1868 New York City purchased the island from Edward Hunter for $75,000 ($1,650,000 in 2024 dollars). Shortly afterward they began to use the island as a Potter’s Field with the burial of Louisa Van Slyke who died in the charity hospital at age 24.

Previously the 2 Potter Fields for New York City were where Washington Square and the New York Public Library Main Branch now stand. Many of the first people buried on the island died in the smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island.

For the majority of the 19th century there was a women’s insane asylum called The Pavilion, a tuberculosis sanatorium, and an industrial boy’s school on the island.

A boy’s workhouse was built on the island in 1895 and had a population of 2,000 by the early 20th century. Some male elderly prisoners were also transferred from the overcrowded Blackwell’s Penitentiary.

In 1924 Solomon Riley purchased a 4 acre parcel on the island’s west side for the purpose of building an amusement part for the African American population in Harlem as they were banned by segregation laws from entering the other amusement parks around the city.

However, New York City became concerned about a hospital (asylum) and a correctional institution in such close proximity. In 1925 the city condemned the land and bought out Riley ending the amusement park dreams; Riley had already built some structures and bought a number of steamboats.

During World War II all prisoners were all transferred to Riker’s Island and it was converted to a disciplinary barracks for the US Armed Forces.

From 1951 to 1954 the city operated a homeless shelter and home for alcoholics capable of handling up to 2,000 people on the island.

From 1955 to 1974 a battery of Nike anti-aircraft missiles in silos were installed on island operated by US Army Fort Slocum.

In 1966 the prison was closed, and a drug rehabilitation facility called Pheonix House was opened in 1967. Pheonix House operated successfully until the regular ferry service stopped in 1977 and it was moved to Manhattan.

Despite numerous plans the island has never been used for anything other than burials. In 1985 numerous people who died of AIDS were buried on the island for fear their remains were contagious.

Since then, thousands of AIDS victims – the exact number is not known – have been buried on the island.

During the Covid-19 pandemic many people who died of the disease were also buried on the island.

In 2022 many of the deteriorating structures on the island were demolished.

In 2019 ownership of the island was transferred to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

In March 2023 it was announced that the island will be open to public at some point in the future; not as full public park but in a way that people can visit the cemetery.

There are ferries from City Island to the island but under very strict conditions so visiting here is possible but not easy.

There is a distinct possibility that 1 million or more people are buried on the island.


Paranormal Activity

No paranormal investigations that we know of have been done on the island, but it takes about 5 minutes to find one of the numerous conspiracy theories from Satanic rituals of the rich and famous to secret government experiments.

There are numerous reports of hearing unexplained whispers by workers, patients, prisoners and other people who have spent time on the island; they are most commonly the whispers of children. The phantom laughter of children is also heard.

A feeling of being watched by something is unseen is also frequently reported on the island.

Other reported activity: shadow figures; light anomalies and electrical disturbances.