Friday, May 8, 2009

Hart Island

In last week's New Yorker, there was a Talk of the Town piece by David Owen about City Island (City Island Postcard: At Sea). It mentions its proximity to Hart Island, where the City's potter's field is. I knew that Hart Island was somewhere in the East River, but I didn't know where. Nor did I know exactly what's buried there: "still-born infants, unclaimed and indigent people of all ages, and amputated limbs." The gravediggers are prisoners from Rikers.
What I did not realize is that buried among the indigent is the novelist Dawn Powell. I knew that she didn't die well off, but I didn't realize it was quite so bad as all that. One gets to Hart Island on a ferry from City Island. It served as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. When I was a child, our family visited an island in Lake Erie (near Sandusky) that served as a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp. So many grave markers- they went on and on. I had dreams about it for years. The graves, and the causeway from the mainland that was so narrow two cars couldn't pass each other.

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