August 24, 2008
The scariest part of going to Hart Island,
was just trying to get there.
We left early in the morning,
as the sun was coming up,
and pulled the boat up into a patch of trees.
We walked through the brush,
over buldozed sections of earth,
past freshly dug graves,
and overgrown streets.
Ian wanted to prepare to shoot pictures as soon as it was light.
I was telling a friend about Hart Island the night before, about how it has been a potter’s field for over a hundred years.
“Do you think they keep records of all the people they bury there?” she asked.
“I’m sure they do.” I said.
Room after room of rotting paper.
Maybe they already transferred all this stuff to microfiche.
The sun was just coming up,
and I left Ian to walk through the woods.
I was careful to steer clear of the clipped lawns. Rikers Island inmates come out here during the week to tend the grounds and bury the dead.
Most of the old structures on the island are falling into ruin.
Ian said that this end of the island will most likely be leveled within a year.
They need room for more graves.
In many ways it reminded me of North Brother Island,
except for the graves.
I caught up with Ian in a large building in the middle of the Island.
“This used to be a woman’s insane asylum,” he said. “They were employed making shoes.”
“You would have to be crazy to make shoes like this.” I thought.
A brochure on the floor advertised a rehab center that used to be here in the 1970’s.
“The love here is so real and so strong it just hits you.” said the brochure.
“Once we learn to care about ourselves, everything begins to come together.”
That is basically true.
We took a break for lunch. It was about 9am.
I was getting worried about getting off the island.
It was daylight now, and fishing boats began appearing close to shore.
Anyone who saw us would know we were not supposed to be on the island.
I was urging to Ian to pack up and head back to the boat.
But we kept finding more things to photograph,
like piles of coffins and tyvek suits.
Ian said that when a family member comes to claim a body after burial,
the prisoners find it and give it back.
“Lets get out of here,” I said.
We headed back to the boat,
and paddled away from the island.
For the first time that morning, I took a whole deep breath.
Take a look at Ian’s pictures of Hart Island here.
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