Just off the coast of New York City sits Hart Island: An abjectly grim place with a long history of sorrow and soil.
The island, just off of Long Island itself and technically a part of The Bronx, has been a catch-all for The Big Apple’s bad news.
The island’s first public use was as a training ground for the United States Colored Troops in 1864. Since then, Hart Island has been the location of a Union Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a potter’s field with mass burials, a homeless shelter, a boys’ reformatory, a jail, and a drug rehabilitation center.
Many of the more than one million bodies are buried on Hart Island, most of whom are from the forgotten corners of NYC society. The homeless and derelict, with no family left, are interred here along with scores of similarly lonely folks from within the prison system.
Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to batter the Five Boroughs, a macabre scene is playing out on this hallowed patch of dirt.
Aerial images captured on Thursday showed 40 caskets lined up for burial at Hart Island — the same day New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported 799 new deaths across the state. Normally, about 25 bodies a week are interred there, mostly for people whose families can’t afford a funeral, or who go unclaimed by relatives.
And while the President and his coronavirus task force warned us that this week would be a difficult one, there was little that we could do to prepare for these photographs from one of the world’s most somber places.
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