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Through the good offices of the New York City Department of Correction, the New York Correction History Society (NYCHS) was able to arrange a Go-Home-to-Hart visit for three women who lived on the island as children.

Boat to Hart awaits at City Island ferry slip.
The grown daughter of one of the returning residents accompanied her.

The Department of Transportation's regular Hart Island ferry Michael Cosgrove, undergoing its annual inspection, was unavailable. But the contract substitute launch Miller's Girls, that provides backup to the Cosgrove, was in service. It ferried the former residents to the island that had once been their home.

They were escorted by NYCHS' general secretary, by City Island Museum founder/curator and NYC Tax Commissioner Virginia Gallagher, and by Correction Officer Michael Cassara of DOC's Support Services Division that conducts City Cemetery operations on the island. Earlier the vessel had transported the inmates and officers involved in Potter's Field burials and grounds maintenance.

Aboard and enroute to Hart, from left, are: Virginia Gallager, Judith Colgan, Mary J. McDonnell, Maureen McEnery-Hraska, Patricia Murphy, and CO Michael Cassara. The Hart power plant smoke stack can be seen in the distance.

Returning to the island were

  • Mary J. McDonnell, a City Island attorney whose father Thomas McDonnell was Hart warden in the 1930s and 1940s before the U.S. Navy took it over to house sailors doing "brig time." Although she lives on Hart's sister island a brief boat ride away, this trip was her first visit back in about 60 years.

    With her was her daughter, Maureen McEnery-Hraska, also of City Island, for whom the Hart visit was her first.

  • Patricia Murphy of City Island, whose father Francis J. Sweeney served as Hart deputy warden in the 1950s and 1960s. She had not been back in about 40 years.

  • Judith Colgan of Maryland whose grandfather Joseph P. Mannix lived on Hart in the early 1950s when he was in charge of the city welfare agency's homeless shelter there. She spent her summer and holiday vacations with her Hart Island grandparents, and had not been back since.

All three former residents had thought a return visit would not be possible, given the Department of Correction's long-standing restrictions on access due to security considerations. However, NYCHS has been able to work out special arrangements with DOC to conduct specific history-focused tours, with certain conditions and limitations, on particular agreed-upon dates.

Mary McDonnell and Pat Murphy swap stories about the buildings nearest the Hart ferry slip.

As they disembarked onto Hart, Mary and Pat began swapping recollections about the first few buildings encountered nearest its ferry slip: the Security Checkpoint, the Ferry Waiting Station, and the Inmate Visit House.

Pat noted that back when she lived on the island, her family's residence was a short distance from the ferry slip -- in fact, in sight of it. When she was a young lady dating the young man who eventually became her husband, their saying good-night at the front door became a problem. As Pat recalled, still indignant as if it had happened only the day before, the couple "would hardly get to the house" before the crew would begin sounding the horn summoning her beau back so the ferry could begin its return trip to City Island. There was no ferry horn sounded years later at their wedding on City Island. "[Correction] Commissioner [Anna M.] Kross attended it," Pat remembered.

Identifying the largest building nearest the ferry slip as the Inmate Visit House, Mary remarked, "There used to be booths in that building with glass partitions to separate the visitors from the inmates." But, recalled the former NYPD attorney, even though no physical contact between visitors and inmates was permitted, a persistent few still tried smuggling drug by soaking thin materials, like thread and paper, in narcotic solutions; letting them dry to harden, and then squeezing them beneath the glass partition panels.

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