Photo Album Page 5
A rusty iron gate, still swingable on its rusty iron chain and hinges, drew considerable comment from the ladies who noted the craftmanship of its graceful yet sturdy design. It once had provided access to a garden next to the house, but the long-uncultivated plot was now overrun by a profusion of plant life, unplanned and unpruned. The low garden wall and its small gate seemed hardly able to contain, much less restain the wild growth.

Judith Colgan pointed out that, when she was a child, the island was not much developed south of the house that served as residence for her grandfather and his family. Many of the abandoned buildings now in its vicinity weren't there then during his heading the welfare shelter for homeless men.

Mary McDonnell, standing on the pavement, also looks at the tumbled-down house in the jungle-like overgrowth. Both she and Judith Colgan lived in the house as children but in different eras. It is the same house, except very much worse for abandonment, that was photographed in the 1955 photo shown at the top of each of these Going-Back-to-Hart Photo Album pages.

The City Cemetery had not yet extended its operations into the southern end of the island. "As a child, I was vaguely aware something of the sort was going on elsewhere on the island, but it never made an impression on me as a little girl," she said. "I don't think I really understood about death at that age. But I do remember the old men my grandfather tried to help and to whom he insisted I show respect."

Mary J. McDonnell identified as "the TB building" a structure on the next block over from the tumbled-down ruin of what was once her Hart Island home. The stone structure stands at the edge of what is the current section of City Cemetery burials. Correction Officer Michael Cassara said he had heard it was once used as a kind of theatre to show movies to the inmates and to stage entertainments. Mary commented, "In my time, the building was used for the inmates with TB. Maybe later when TB stopped being such big public health problem, at least for a while, the building might have been put to other uses."

A rusty iron gate swings open on a rusty chain, providing access beyond the garden wall.

After spending some time viewing the City Cemetery section currently used for burials, the group boarded the bus that then drove to an older, more landscaped section north of the complex of abandoned buildings. The bus stopped near the shore facing Long Island Sound.

There Patricia Murphy recalled that the beach -- now strewn with debris washed shore after storms -- was once the scene of many happy summer swim parties. She looked around for the screened beach house from that era. All she found were the foundation-like stones and bricks where the beach house had been. "I remember that when we were old enough to have parties here ourselves we had to be very careful not to leave any of the bottles behind; otherwise maybe one of the inmates might find it and drink whatever little was left."

CO Cassara escorts Judith Colgan and Maureen McEnery-Hraska to the post-WWII Peace Monument built by inmates on the highest point of the island.

The ladies asked Officer Cassara whether people out in their boats on the Sound ever come ashore attempting to use the beach for recreation. He noted the island was well posted with warnings that read "Prison: Keep Off."

The few boaters who don't see the signs or who are tempted to try to come ashore anyway are quickly, politely but firmly dissuaded from doing so by the officers assigned to the island. The unwelcomed visitors are made to realize their attempt to visit, if they persist, could result in stay for much longer than they would care to experience, the officer explained.

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