In the middle of New York City is a mysterious abandoned island. Owned by the city, the public is banned from stepping foot on it, and few people alive have explored this tiny ghost town. And there is a good reason most are banned from entering it. The island has a dark history – but many believe something sinister is still going on there now. This is the terrible story of Hart Island.

For 60 years, Hart Island has been abandoned. Serving no purpose, it’s handful of large buildings are slowly crumbling. Originally, it was inhabited by native Americans – but through the centuries it was used for all kinds of things. It’s been a military training camp, a residential area, and even a civil war prison island. In the 1860s much of the island was bought by the city of New York – to be used as a cemetery. From then on unclaimed corpses – which in my view are the best kind of corpses – would simply be buried here on Hart.

Bad Beginnings

Every since those dark early days, people in mainland New York would tell ghost stories about the island. But what was still to come made those initial stories seem childish. In the 1870s the island began to be used as a quarantine zone for Yellow Fever, any who die there being thrown in with the unclaimed. Soon the entire island was purchased by the city for this purpose, becoming a permanent quarantine area for infectious diseases, from tuberculosis to smallpox. Given how feared such diseases were in those days, it’s hard to put into words how notorious Hart Island became.

1885 saw an imposing hospital constructed, along with other buildings to provide for the imprisoned patients. Essentially it was a self contained community, even having it’s own school. Most notorious of all was the tuberculosis ward, where abuse was so common a group of patients broke out and fled to the mainland. It was eventually shut down.

Hart Island’s Reputation Grows

Also on the island was a lunatic asylum and a prison – so basically, every kind of creepy institution possible to be built was built here. And they were built for the same reasons. Prisons and asylums on the mainland were massively overcrowded. Like the tuberculosis ward, abuse was common at both – but the prison was expanded to include a workhouse for boys. For decades it carried on this way – countless dead were buried, countless prisoners confined, and countless ghost stories told.

In the 1920s an amusement park was almost built there – but given how dangerous everything else is on Hart Island, the plan was rejected. Little changed until after world war 2, when a homeless shelter was opened. But as the years rolled by, the cemetery expanded, cannibalising other areas. Hart island is small, and eventually the cemetery rendered the entire island unusual for any other purpose. So in 1977 the island was abandoned, and has been ever since.

What remains today is a stupidly eerie time capsule full of abandoned buildings. The cemetery is also still in use, and the place local hospitals send amputeted limbs to be buried. In fact, more than a million people have been buried on Hart Island, which for an island so small is truly shocking. Over time, coastal erosion has revealed skeletal remained where the island meets Long Island Sound. Some even call it skeleton Isle, because every creepy island has to be pirate themed.

The Haunted Island

It’s no surprise a lot of people believe the island to be haunted. And to be fair, if any place in the world is haunted, this one must be. The old asylum, prison, and tuberculosis ward are all said to be filled with wailing ghosts, stuck in the last place they would want to be. On quiet nights their cries can be heard echoing across Long Island Sound. But claims of paranormal activity on the island predates all of these buildings. In 1865, a local newspaper in New York reported ghostly encounters on Hart Island.

At the time the island was home to a military training camp, and according to the news report, soldiers stationed there began to experience bizarre goings on. One late night, an officer was startled by the sound of heavy breathing. Like a person drowning or being strangled, they were clearly struggling for breath. So he walked outside to investigate. But the moment he left the house, all he heard was the wind.

The next night, the exact same thing happened, again only being heard inside his home. As the nights went by, the breathing noise grew louder and louder. Only in that specific house was it heard, causing the officer and others to believe it was haunted. And that’s where the article leaves it, so I guess it’s an open mystery. Remember this ghost story comes from before Hart Island was used as a mass graveyard – before the brutal prison and asylum was built, and before being a quarantine zone. So perhaps there was always something strange going on here.

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