The spot in New York City where 1 million people are buried

Hart Island is New York City's potter's field.  It is a tiny island off of the coast of the Bronx in Long Island Sound where more than one million people have been buried since the 1860s.

Treated like a prison, it has been off-limits to even the relatives of the people buried there.  There are no headstones with the names of the dead, just markers that show each trench where 150 people are buried.

A thousand more bodies are added every year, buried in open trenches in rows of two stacked three high in pine boxes. They include loners and criminals to veterans and folks who simply outlived everyone they knew, or got lost in the system.

The island contains a million stories, but until now, few have been told. That is, in part, due to the secretive nature of the island, which is run like a prison by the New York City Department of Correction.  There is even a no trespassing sign on the dock where the boat that ferries people to the island sits.

Prisoners actually bury the bodies.  They also built a large cross that is surrounded by rocks on one hill.  It is one of the few signs that the land is a cemetery.

On the day Chasing News visited a trench was half full of bodies, waiting for more before it would be covered with dirt.

But the secrets of Hart Island are slowly being told, thanks to the loved ones of those buried there, journalists and artists.

One of the babies buried there was born during the blizzard of 1978 in New York City.  Tomika Joseph was born prematurely and was transferred to Mount Sinai for emergency surgery.  She died and by the time Elaine Joseph could get someone in the morgue to help her, the baby had been taken to Hart Island.

"Each time I stand there, I know that my baby is buried among a thousand babies.  And this is now what I would have chosen for her,"  Elaine Joseph says.  "She was alive for five days. She deserved more than a mass burial."

It took 30 years and a threatened lawsuit for Joseph to be able to visit the spot where her baby is buried.

The Hart Island Project is now trying to unlock the secrets of the island and give life to the people who are buried there.

Founder Melinda Hunt says, "In New York City it is very easy to become disconnected and a lot of times people feel overwhelmed by a death and they're not given very much time to make arrangements."

One of Herbert Sweat's twin daughters is buried there.  When he was fighting in Vietnam his wife agreed to a city burial for the infant without knowing what it meant.

He is still waiting for permission to visit.

The island also contains a prison used in the Civil War, a former asylum, and a drug treatment facility.  All of the buildings are crumbling.

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