[T]he 101-acre island serves as a separate burial ground, the city’s last potter’s field, for those who are either unclaimed or whose families couldn’t afford a funeral.
The island is uninhabited today, but more than 800,000 dead has been buried there since 1869, making it the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world.
Inmates from Rikers Island are ferried over on weekdays to perform the burials, disinterments and maintenance tasks. Every year, an average of 2000 burials are conducted, and about one third of them are infants and stillborn babies.
Since the American Civil War, Hart Island has had an interesting history as well, at various times being:
- A prison workhouse
- An insane asylum for women
- An isolation zone during the yellow fever epidemic
- A tuberculosis hospital
…among others. I am rather surprised it was never the site of a leper colony, just to round out the list.
Via Untapped Cities.