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Visit Hart Island

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The loneliest island in New York

In one version of this story, the island was named when it was used as a game preserve. Another version states that it was named for the deer that migrated from the mainland during periods when ice covered that part of the sound. A passage in William Styron’s novel Lie Down in Darkness describes the island as occupied by a lone deer which is shot by a hunter with a row boat.

In any case, the island’s history is steeped in death. In its period as a Civil War prison camp, 235 prisoners died and were buried on the island (they were moved at a later date), and during the 1870 yellow fever epidemic Hart Island hosted a major hospital facility.

Since then, it has also been home to a women’s lunatic asylum, a tubercularium, a corrections facility for delinquent boys, and a Nike missile base. Currently, the island is used as the New York Potter’s Field (a place of burial for unknown individuals), which makes it the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. It is also used to bury amputated body parts. According to the most recent census the island has no permanent living residents.