There are 1 million bodies buried in mass graves on a forbidden island in Long Island Sound.
The bodies of stillborn infants, homeless people, the poor and the unclaimed were stacked three coffins deep on Hart Island, just east of the Bronx, AFP reported.
There are no names marking the graves, only white posts shoved into the ground to make each set of 150 adult bones.
One of the largest cemeteries in the country, it is illegal to film or photograph on the uninhabited island. Visitation can only be done with the authorization of the Department of Corrections, which oversees the island.
Hart became a cemetery during the Civil War. Over the years it has served as a military training camp, a prison for captured Confederate soldiers, a workhouse, a mental asylum and a Cold War missile base.
Inmates from Rikers Island buried corpses at Hart Island, with 1,500 bodies sent there annually, according to visual artist Melinda Hunt.
Hunt is head of the Hart Island Project, which aims to make the cemetery more accessible to the public.
The island has one jetty. It’s covered in spikes and barbed wire and closed to the public.
"You have a right to know where a person is," Hunt told AFP. "It's very important not to disappear people. It's not an acceptable thing to do in any culture."
The DOC says it doesn’t have the resources to make the island open to visitors. Few visits have been permitted to the island since 2007.
Elaine Joseph, a 59-year-old nurse whose baby daughter died when she was just five days old in 1978, said, "They treat you as a visitor of an inmate.”
"You don't see anything," Joseph said. "They check your ID and ask you to hand over your cell phone, any electronic equipment, and they put it in an envelope and lock it and then you get to the island, they ask for your ID again.”
Joseph was allowed to visit the grave site on March 14, after she and a small group of women threatened to file a complaint against the DOC.
Laurie Grant, a 61-year-old doctor who gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1993, was supposed to visit the gravesite on March 28, but the ferry that was supposed to carry her there never arrived.
It is unclear whether there was a miscommunication or an unwillingness to let her visit.
Joseph dreams of the day the cemetery will be open to the public, so she can visit as often as she wants.
"I can't say I found closure," Joseph said. "When you lose a child, there really is never closure. There is a piece of you that is gone. I did find solace in that there was water surrounding it and there was a lovely view."
She wants to install a bench to honor her baby, where she can leave flowers.
"If I can put a marker on a bench, I'll be happy," she said.