It may be just a stone's throw away from the mass urban sprawl that is New York, but nobody lives there and just an abandoned prison and empty lunatic asylum remain as evidence that the island was ever inhabited. New York's mysterious Hart Island is, however, home to up to a million graves - many of them poor and unidentified, others interred there because of unfortunate circumstances.
The city's authorities have been using the island, which is technically part of the Bronx district, as a city graveyard, burying bodies in plain pine boxes piled on top of one another and marked only with a number, since 1868.
The Department of Correction, which is in charge of the mass cemetery, estimates that there are between 750,000 and a million people buried on the island, which is visible on Google Maps but not included on the Subway line. The last public ferry to the island completed its final journey in 1976.
In 2010, some 695 adults and 504 babies were buried there by prisoners from Riker's Island. Adult bodies are stacked three high with each grave containing up to 165 bodies and hidden from the world by 36 inches of dirt.
A picture taken in 1990 shows a large trench dug ready for hundreds of bodies to be buried. Pine boxes used as coffins can be seen at one end of the trench
A separate grave for stillborn babies and fetuses contains as many as 1,000 miniature boxes. Among those buried there is the first child to die of Aids in New York - one of the few to be afforded an individual grave marked SC B1 1985 (standing for Special Child, Baby 1, and the year of death) - as well as famous writers and actors including Bobby Driscoll who played Peter Pan in the 1953 DIsney movie.
Driscoll died in 1968 and his body was found in a deserted tenement by two children playing. His body could not be identified and when it went unclaimed he was buried on Hart Island. The following year his mother contacted Disney in the hope of reuniting Driscoll with his desparately ill father before he died. But an NYPD fingerprint search located his body on Hart Island. His name appears on his father's gravestone at a California cemetery, but his remains are still on Hart Island.
Memorial alert is the name of a new product designed to combat thefts of tombstones.
Amid a rash of tombstone thefts from cemeteries in Johannesburg, a company will be offering relatives of the deceased a high-tech solution: microchips that can be inserted into the memorial that will sound an alarm and send a text message to their cell phones if it is disturbed.
Nearly 20 marble tombstones are stolen monthly from the city's 36 public cemeteries, despite security guards and perimeter sensors.
The city already allows microchips to be placed inside graves to help families locate their loved one's final resting places in the vast grassy spaces. Now, with thefts often carried out at night and the recycled marble or granite tombstones winding up in the hands of crooked stonemasons, authorities are taking technology a step further to foil those who take "graveyard shift" a little too literally.
"This is peace of mind for the family," said Buff. "Tombstones are the property of the owner which is the family member, and you'll find you cannot insure a tombstone or it's too expensive for many. By doing this, it is insured."
The woman was at a cemetery in the suburb of Ferraz de Vasconcelos, Sao Paulo, when she heard faint noises then noticed the earth moving in a grave close by.
'I was terrified to see a man, who I thought was dead, trying to get out of the grave,' said the petrified woman, who asked not to be named.
'He had his head and hands out and was moving his arms around, trying to get out.'
The woman first ran away screaming, but returned and called the emergency services, who found the man half buried in a plot of earth. She claimed that when she called police they did not believe her, and accused her of wasting their time and playing a joke.
'They kept questioning me asking: "Are you serious. This is a joke isn’t it,"' she said.
Eventually, unable to convince the authorities, she went to the cemetery office to plead with them to confirm with police that her discovery was real.
The man is now recuperating in the local hospital in Ferraz de Vasconcelos. A hospital source said he is 'coming back to life'. He will also be subjected to psychological tests.
Police believe the man, said to be a former city hall worker, was involved in a fight in another part of the city, where he was badly beaten by his attackers until he passed out and was taken to the cemetery by his assailants.
It is believed they then threw him into a empty grave which was partly filled with earth.
When the victim regained consciousness, he began making groaning noises which alerted the woman who found him.
The family of a Colorado preacher’s wife is still fuming after the director of the city-owned cemetery refused to engrave her final resting place with the name ‘Jesus’ because it might offend people. The city eventually reversed course under public pressure.
“We were in disbelief,” said Stacy Adams, the daughter-in-law of Linda Baker. “Who tries to censor Jesus from a cemetery?”
The cemetery director …refused..He said, ‘What if somebody wanted to put a swastika?”
She said city officials kept telling them that people would be offended by the name of Christ.
“We weren’t asking for a six-foot neon sign,” she said. “We did not want to put a cross on everyone’s tombstone. It’s a six-inch fish with the name ‘Jesus ‘ on it.”
Adams tells me the family was incredibly distraught and disturbed by the incident.
“As an American and as a Christian, we have this thing called freedom of speech, freedom of expression,” she said. “We weren’t trying to stop anybody from putting anything up. We just wanted the same freedom others have.”
I find it astonishing that the cemetery director would equate the name of Jesus whom Christians believe was the Son of God with a swastika.
Over 77% of the American population identifies as Christian according to a Gallup poll in 2012.
The family of a woman murdered on Valentine’s Day by her boyfriend say they have been caused additional pain and suffering after being told that the SpongeBob SquarePants headstones that they paid $26,000 to have built are ‘inappropriate’ for the Cincinnati cemetery where their daughter is buried.
Sgt. Kimberly Walker, 28, was found dead in a Colorado Springs, Colo., hotel room on Valentine’s Day and her boyfriend, also a soldier, has been charged with first-degree murder. To stand as a tribute to their lost loved one, the Walker family decided it would be fitting to erect two 7,000-pound SpongeBob SquarePants monuments at Walker’s graveside in the historic Spring Grove Cemetery.
According to Deborah Walker, Kimberly’s mother, her daughter loved everything to do with the cartoon character and had countless SpongeBob-branded items including shower curtains.
‘SpongeBob went in her casket before we laid her in the ground,’ she told WLWT.com.
After receiving approval from a cemetery employee in March, the family decided on the design for the SpongeBob monuments and paid 10 percent of the price for the two $13,000 each statues upfront.
The Walkers also purchased six plots together at the cemetery to provide the required space to erect them.
Spring Grove has accepted responsibility for the misunderstanding and promised to work with the family to design at alternative which they hope will be more in keeping with the historic cemetery.
‘Spring Grove is deeply sorry for the issues involving the monument the Walker family recently purchased. Although the family chose a design with the guidance of a Spring Grove employee, unfortunately the monument did not fit within Spring Grove Cemetery guidelines,’ President and CEO Gary Freytag told WLWT in a written statement.
‘As an historic cemetery, we must constantly balance the needs of families who have just suffered a loss with the thousands of families who have entrusted us in the past.
I agree with the cemetery
But these bizarre hanging coffins have baffled people for centuries in southern China.The tombs - attached to mountain cliffs in Gongxian, Sichuan province - were left behind by the Bo people, believed to have died out 400 years ago.
Each coffin is made from a hollowed out single tree trunk and was originally protected by a bronze cover.
'Some of the tombs are nearly 3,000 years old and the most recent date back to about 1500. Nobody really knows why they dealt with their dead in this way,' explained one local expert.
'It is believed that they thought the gods would be able to reach them more easily like that.
'People say that the hanging coffins prevented bodies from being taken by animals and also blessed the soul for all eternity.'
This is what Russell J, Larsen had inscribed on his headstone in Lorgan, Utah, according to Snopes.
Despite what you may have heard, the following is NOT inscribed on his tombstone though it's pretty funny.
FIVE RULES FOR MEN TO FOLLOW FOR A HAPPY LIFE
1. It's important to have a woman who helps at home, cooks from time to time, cleans up, and has a job.
2. It's important to have a woman who can make you laugh.
3. It's important to have a woman who you can trust, and doesn't lie to you.
4. It's important to have a woman who likes to be with you.
5. It's very, very important that these four women do not know each other or you could end up dead like me.
A 10-year-old German boy has discovered what appears to be an Egyptian mummy in a wooden chest in his grandmother's attic. Alexander Kettler found the 'mummy' inside a sarcophagus in a dark corner of the attic in Diepholz, northern Germany, after it had lain undisturbed for at least four decades.
The boy's father, Lutz Wolfgang Kettler, now intends to take the box, covered in hieroglyphics, to Berlin so that experts can ascertain whether it is genuine.
As well as the 'mummy', the box also contained a death mask and a canopic jar used by ancient Egyptians to store removed organs.
Mr Ketller believes that the sarcophagus and jar are fake but says that there is every chance that the mummy itself is real. He said: 'You just don't get the feeling that's something you could buy at a shop around the corner.'
Mr Kettler's father travelled to north Africa in the 1950s and had a mysterious chest shipped back to Germany.
Her body is so perfectly preserved that it is hard to believe this girl died more than 500 years ago. But what is even more remarkable is that scientists today have been able to learn the secrets of her death – by analyzing her hair.
The 13-year-old Incan girl was heavily dosed with alcohol and coca leaves, which form the basis of cocaine, before being left to die of exposure high in the Andes as a sacrifice.
Known as the Ice Maiden, she is one of three children found in stone tombs on a mountain in Argentina.
The girl, the eldest of the three, was found cross-legged, with her head slumped forward and her hands resting in her lap.
She wore a feather headdress over her tightly braided hair and there were coca leaves between her teeth and balled up behind her cheek.
The children were discovered in 1999. They are believed to have been sacrificed in a ceremony called capacocha, a ritual thought to have been used to instill fear and help control members of the rapidly expanding Inca empire.
Analysis of the children’s hair, which still contains a chemical fingerprint of their diet, shows that all three were plied with drugs and alcohol to subdue them in the months before they died. Amounts were particularly high in the 13-year-old girl, perhaps because she showed more resistance.
There is no evidence that the girl, known as the Llullaillaco Maiden after the mountain in northwest Argentina, was brutally killed. Instead, it is thought she died of exposure. Priests would have waited for her to fall unconscious before placing her in a burial chamber.
Dr Andrew Wilson, from the University of Bradford, said: ‘We think it likely that the Maiden was selected for sacrifice 12 months before her death, after which her treatment changed, corresponding to the sharp rise in coca consumption.
‘She was then probably involved in a series of rituals, involving consumption of coca and alcohol in the build up to her sacrifice.‘Both substances were controlled, were considered elite products.
‘The fact that in her final weeks the maiden shows consistently higher levels of coca and alcohol use compared to the younger children suggests there was a greater need to sedate her in the final weeks of life.’
Humans have been decorating graves with flowers for almost 14,000 years, say archeologists.
The first evidence the tradition of floral tributes has been dug up in Israel where sage, mint and other plants were used in ceremonial burials.
In modern times the tradition is used as a sign of respect or remembrance, but it is believed to have started thousands of years ago to disguise the stench of the rotting corpse. It was also hoped the scent of the plants would stop animals being attracted to the grave to dig up the body.
The ancient Romans often laid out the ground of the tomb as a garden so the spirit could enjoy itself as it wandered.
The latest discovery was unearthed at the bottom of 13,700 to 11,700 year-old graves at a scenic prehistoric burial spot known as Raqefet Cave overlooking the Mediterranean coast.
A team of Polish and Peruvian archaeologists have discovered a 1,200-year-old royal mausoleum from Peru’s Wari civilization which has never been looted.
The team found row after row of bodies wrapped in decaying traditional textiles made from llama wool and posed in a seated position. In three small adjacent chambers they discovered the human remains of three Wari queens buried with their valuables. When Giersz from the University of Warsaw saw the glint of gold in the tomb, he realized they would have to keep the discovery secret for the duration of the excavation or the place would be picked clean by human vultures.
Images of winged, supernatural beings adorn a pair of heavy gold-and-silver ear ornaments that a high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave in the newly discovered mausoleum at El Castillo de Huarmey in Peru. National Geographic: Peru's Rare, Unlooted Royal Tomb
Somehow they managed to keep the news from leaking for months as they unearthed more than a thousand artifacts. They found silver and gold jewelry, semi-precious stone beads, bronze ritual axes, silver bowls, knives, richly decorated ceramics, an alabaster drinking cup which is the only one of its kind ever found at an ancient Andean site, carved wooden artifacts that survived in exceptional condition and my personal favorite, gold weaving tools kept in a cane box. Royal women couldn’t be expected to weave cloth with just regular tools, now could they? No, they wove with gold tools.
The Wari civilization flourished in much of today’s Peru between 600 and 1100 A.D. Their territory covered almost the entire length of modern Peru and reached more than halfway inland. Their capital city Huari had a population of 40,000 at a time when Paris had a population of 25,000.
The clothespin gravestone marked the grave of W. Jack Crowell, who owned the National Clothespin Company, the last wooden clothespin manufacturer in the United States (today it produces plastic clothespins and barrettes). Originally, Jack wanted a giant clothespin with real spring so children could teeter on it.
Sonny ‘Uno’ Santiago, 23, was a rapper who died in a car crash in February. Commissioners at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn this week unanimously rejected his family's request to inscribe his gravestone with a song verse that included a profanity.
The panel became aware of the language when the company inscribing the 3-foot tall memorial submitted drawings to commissioners.
The inscription read: 'You gonna remember the damn name, I give a f*** if I die with no damn friends, I got my fam by my side and that’s until the end.’
Pine Grove Cemetery regulations posted online state that ‘the cemetery office must approve all inscription work on monuments.’
City officials contacted the family about the inscription and they agreed to have the gravestone inscribed with a different, profanity-free verse from a song Santiago wrote.
Good for them. I hope all other cemeteries take not of the regulations they should impose on themselves.
They used to spend their days collecting protection money, kneecapping those who would not pay up and planting explosives in the cars of their rivals.
But now the only reminders of the gangsters that made up the Russian mobs in the 1990s are their tombstones with gaudy sketches of them etched into the granite.
The men, who are casualties of the Russian business world and were relatively young when they were killed, are sculpted standing in designer suits and leather jackets.
I got an advertisement in the mail the other day for a fancy marble mausoleum being built in Jersey.
“You’ve worked hard your whole life,” it read. “Now, don’t you want to reward yourself with the very best?”
A historic church and graveyard which features in Bram Stoker's Gothic novel Dracula is faced with a horror story of its own.
Human bones uncovered after a landslide last month have been washed down the cliff St Mary's Church stands on in Whitby after heavy rainfall.
The human remains are then being collected at the bottom of the cliff face and re-buried.
St Mary's Reverend Canon David Smith said: 'The cemetery has been a closed for more than a century so if any graves are exposed it's only bones.
Meanwhile residents and business owners are terrified the cliff will be hit with more rainfall.
The landslide has been blamed on a drainage pipe which broke when the cliff began to crumble. Heavy rainfall saturated the soil and lead to the mudslide.
The landslide comes after five houses in Aelfelda Terrace, Whitby, were demolished last month after flooding washed the steep bank beneath them away.
Austerity-struck Paris has been hit by a wave of street muggings and grave robberies with thieves prepared to exhume bodies to steal gold and jewelry.
Last week, police in the French capital arrested three people as part of a widening grave robbery investigation.
There was further public outrage after two masked intruders shot dead a 52-year old precious metal worker when he tried to stop them stealing gold from his foundry in the chic central Parisian district of Le Marais.
Police said sky-high market prices for precious metals are acting as a magnet for thieves with scant regard for the living or the dead.
In Pantin cemetery, in the north of Paris, dozens of bodies have recently been dug up, with gold teeth and jewelry stolen from them.
Police sources said the three men seized last week were gravediggers employed by the city's cemeteries.
Last month, four other men – three from the same Pantin cemetery – were arrested and placed under investigation for aggravated theft, grave robbery and violating the integrity of a corpse.
Last month, four other men – three from the same Pantin cemetery – were arrested and placed under investigation for aggravated theft, grave robbery and violating the integrity of a corpse.
According to a source close to the investigation, the men removed personal belongings from corpses in the freshest graves, opening them in the dead of night.b Two of the men were caught wearing miner's helmets and gloves. Their boots were covered in fresh earth.
One of the suspects was found to be carrying 10 gold teeth.
After the initial arrests, the mayor of Paris, Bernard Delanoe, expressed his outrage and ordered the city authorities to step up surveillance of cemeteries.
The Queen is known to be inseparable from her beloved Corgis. Now poignant pictures have emerged of the graves of royal pets from throughout the generations. The little-known plot is hidden away in a quiet corner of the 20,000-acre Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
It was created by Queen Victoria after the death of her Collie, Noble, in 1887, and revived in 1959 when Elizabeth II wanted somewhere to bury her first Corgi, Susan.
Before he became a famous novelist, Thomas Hardy worked at an architectural firm in London.
It was during this time that an older part of St Pancras Churchyard was designated for almost total obliteration in order to make way for a new railway line. The Bishop of London gave the contract for this work to Blomfield who passed responsibility on to his young student, Hardy. Yet these objects in the way of progress could not be cleared like slums. Even progress occasionally must respect what came before and the removal and relocation of so many middle class graves would almost certainly have caused an uproar if it was not done properly.
The coffins were removed from the site with circumspection and care and were reburied elsewhere (the Victorian English had a horror of cremation). There was no need to move the headstones. Yet although the graves were old and unvisited it would not have been respectful to simply dump the headstones in to the Thames.
The process would have taken a great deal of time and young Hardy, who was 25 when he was given this commission would have spent the best part of a year overseeing the work. Perhaps his experiences in St Pancras church yard later informed some of the bleaker passages in his novels.
Some of the headstones were placed in a circular pattern around a young ash tree in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, far enough away from the site of the railway for them never to have to be disturbed again. Over the decades the tree has, inevitably grown and parts of the headstones nearest the tree have disappeared in to its growth.
A woman walking along a San Francisco beach found an eerie surprise when she realized that one of the rocks along the shoreline was in fact a tombstone.
Teresa Trego was not the first person to spot old tombstones next to the small pebbles along Ocean Beach.
While there are no longer bodies at the site, it once was used as a cemetery and the tombstones were left to help stave off erosion in the early 1900s.
It's kind of poignant but it's also kind of what San Francisco's all about: we're a small town, we reuse everything,' Ms Trego said.
In the late 1800s, people in the burgeoning city of San Francisco set up a cemetery at Laurel Hill, which was then considered far out from the beginnings of the city. San Francisco Bay reports that as the urban area grew, however, the city and the families of the deceased moved their bodies further inland to Colma, but left the tombstones in place.
'Golden Gate was a cemetery where people weren't necessarily wealthy, and so those people and their descendants were less likely to have the means to move the gravestones back down to the new graves,' one park official told Fox News.
I doubt that explanation. If families had the means to excavate the bodies, they would take the tombstones as well.
Looking for a really awesome way to lower your taxes? Virginia residents may want to consider having their cremated remains blasted into space. The state is considering a law that would give folks who want to mingle their ashes with the debris of space up to $2500 a year in deductions, with an $8000 cap.
If the measure passes, the final pitstop for folks who take advantage of the tax break will be the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The purpose of the law is to increase revenue for the spaceport, which is looking to expand in response to the cancellation of NASA's space shuttle program.
Twenty-one German soldiers entombed in a perfectly preserved World War One shelter have been discovered 94 years after they were killed.
The men were part of a larger group of 34 who were buried alive when an Allied shell exploded above the tunnel in 1918 causing it to cave in.
Thirteen bodies were recovered from the underground shelter but the remaining men had to be left under a mountain of mud as it was too dangerous to retrieve them.
Nearly a century later French archaeologists stumbled upon the mass grave on the former Western Front during excavation work for a road building project.
Many of the skeletal remains were found in the same positions the men had been in at the time of the collapse, prompting experts to liken the scene to Pompeii.
A number of the soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the foetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs.
As well as the bodies, poignant personal effects such as boots, helmets, weapons, wine bottles, spectacles, wallets, pipes, cigarette cases and pocket books were also found.
Even the skeleton of a goat was found, assumed to be a source of fresh milk for the soldiers.
Archaeologists believe the items were so well preserved because hardly any air, water or lights had penetrated the trench.
The 300ft long tunnel was located 18ft beneath the surface near the small town of Carspach in the Alsace region in France.
Laid out side by side and holding hands, these 1,500-year-old male and female skeletons are surely a sign of eternal love if ever there was one.
The lovers were probably even ‘looking into each other’s eyes’ when they were buried in the 5th century, during the final days of the Roman Empire.
The extraordinary discovery was made by archaeologists excavating an Ancient Roman palace in the Italian town of Mutina, known today as Modena.
Anthropologist Vania Milani said: ‘It was a very touching and beautiful sight to see. The woman’s head is turned towards the man and they were holding each other’s hands. I suspect the head of the man was also turned towards the woman at the time of burial and that it was probably resting on a cushion which then decomposed over time and caused it to roll away. They would have been looking into each other’s eyes at the time of burial in a sign of eternal love.’
Today is All Souls Day, the day when we pray for the dead. Looking to visit a grave or a cemetery?
When Jim Tipton saw a massive tombstone in a Gainesville, Fl., cemetery that was engraved with the name Waldo, he snapped a photo, developed the film and coded a rudimentary HTML website, which he titled "I Found Him." The year was 1995.
From that droll joke, which was seen by a few hundred early web adopters, grew FindaGrave.com, easily the world's most extensive and trafficked online database of graves. On any given day FindaGrave.com serves 8-10 million page views. The crowd-sourced knowledge base even tracks down the final resting places of individuals. Ask the site’s users to locate where dead loved ones lie and, according to Tipton, 80 percent of the time you'll have an answer.
"It's something that happened to me rather than something I did," Tipton told me over the phone a few weeks ago, referring to the success of a site he started as a lark.
That meager collection snowballed into database that became huge. "The power of the crowd really energized the site," he said. People whom Tipton affectionately calls the black sheep, death obsessed, cemetery walkers came out of nowhere and added grave after grave. Today, the site's users add grave records at three times the U.S. death rate. For the past 16 years, he's just been trying to keep up with the flood.
Find a Grave lets the living connect with the past. Long-lost lovers, army buddies, childhood friends, those ghosts we carry with us can be found by a simple query and the efforts of an army of cemetery walkers sharing their solitary pursuit through Find A Grave.