Virginia, ever the area historian, pointed to a bouy, sometimes called the Hart Island lighthouse: "That's where, on the bottom, is a wreck of a wooden vessel that went down in the early 1900s. Some City Islanders discovered the wreckage. In the 1960s they went down there and salvaged a steel steering wheel and some portholes. They donated the pieces to our museum. I plan to put the wheel -- in concrete -- just outside our museum entrance."
The group turned into a side street where the wild tree overgrowth made passage by the bus extremely difficult. So the ladies strolled along on their own, and the bus was driven around the island perimeter road to the opposite end of the street to await them.
As members of the group approached a long single story building on their left, Mary exclaimed: "The Roughies's place! The old men's home. How they got the name Roughies, I don't know." She explained to an inquirer that the "roughies" were the very old inmates with physical impairments. They had difficulty walking or could not hear or see very clearly. They lived in that building where there were no stairs to climb. They used to sit outside most of the time, sometimes doing handcrafts.
The visiting group entered an interior intersection of the Hart Island "village" of dormitory buildings for inmates and homes for resident staffers and their families. In addition to the island's west shore road on the City Island side and its east shore road facing out to the open Long Island Sound, the village area has third north-south road -- running through the interior of the town, intersecting five of its east-west streets.
The overgrowth of wild trees is so tall and thick along this interior road that all seems bathed in perpetual shadow. Only a few stray sun rays stream down at angles through rare openings in the overhead canopy of limbs and leaves.
Maureen McEnery-Hraska remarked that she wished she had taken advantage of an opportunity presented to her many years ago, when the island facilities were still in operation, to visit the place. "Then I would have seen it before it got this way."
As Maureen looked at the back of a big building with several wide outside metal stairways, her mother identified the structure as one of the main inmate housing units that included large dorms and the main mess hall.
Pat and Mary remembered the noise that the lines of inmates used to make on the metal stairways going to and coming from meal. Maureen asked if the inmates were chained but both Pat and Mary quickly assured her that they weren't. "They weren't those kind of inmates, these were mostly just druggies." Pat remembered how one or two inmates might be assigned to assist with house chores and help tend the garden.
The group proceeded up the interior roadway beneath the canopy of leaves and limbs from the wild trees overgrowth. Pat pointed to a house at a corner. "See those baywindows. That must have been a private residence, the home of some staffer or other, but I don't remember it. My dad didn't really want us children wandering around the island. He kept a pretty tight rein on us. So some places here I don't recognize."
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