Label on the vintage photo glass reads:
40 bodies to a tier,
4 tiers deep.
Potters Field,
Hart's Island, N.Y.
Potter's Field
vintage photo:
When taken
is a mystery...
Got a clue?
Upper right detail: Note outline.


I saw offered on eBay an old photo glass slide that shows what looks like a late 19th Century or early 20th Century view of Hart Island.


Vintage Hart Island photo glass slide as displayed on eBay. The actual photo portion of the glass slide is 3 inches wide by 1.75 inches.
The label on the slide states 40 bodies to a tier, 4 tiers deep. Potters Field, Hart's Island, N.Y.

No precise date is given. Even its general era is a mystery.

I placed a bid and acquired it so I could give it to your society. I make the presentation knowing you will share it with others via your web site. Perhaps someone seeing it there may help shed more light on when the photograph was taken.

The eBay seller ascribed the photo to the circa Civil War era, but your web site's Hart timeline notes the city began Potter's Field operations on the Island in 1869.

Considering the number of burial plots seen in the photo, the cemetery looks as though it had been in operation a good while. A few decades perhaps.


By scanning the small photo at extremely high resolutions, by "zooming in" on each section, and by experimenting with brightness, contrast and color settings, some details emerge not apparent in a routine scan. By this technique, NYCHS detected two items helpful on the issue of photo's era. In the above super-magnified section, note the vague outlines of the street lamp (on the road right of center) and Ford Model T-type flatbed truck (lower left road), hauling what fits the shape of coffins. Electric street lights came to NYC in the late 19th Century and the Model Ts in the early decades of the 20th Century. So the post Civil War era, it was not, the eBay seller's claim to the contrary notwithstanding.
That consideration plus the smokestacks, water tower, and building outline in the upper right corner (suggestive of some sort of institutional and/or industrial complex developed by the correctional agency) would support placing the photo's origin sometime in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries rather than the immediate post Civil War period.

I am a 25-year veteran of the Ohio Highway Patrol, 8-year survivor of the United States Coast Guard, and ham radio operator. I became interested in Hart Island when I learned that Ed Dros, its Warden in the 1950s and 1960s, had been a ham radio enthusiast too.

CBS News president Bill Leonard (W2SKE) once wrote an article about the ham radio world of the 1960s. In the piece, Leonard mentioned notable people with ham radio tickets such as Arthur Godfrey, General LeMay, Ed Dros, etc etc.

Looking into who Ed Dros was, I found your site and its many pages about Hart Island, a fascinating subject.


Warden Edward Dros and Correction Commissioner Anna M. Kross observe elderly inmate sew a doll at Hart Island shop repairing toys for needy children circa 1960.
My guess is that the Potter's Field photo was taken from high ground on the island. The foreground seems to rise. The focus seems to be on fairly flat land below.

The roadway is evident. There seems to be a work station building back along the tree line. I see burial plot markers all the way down to the far right view. There is a flourishing grass over the graves. I don't know if it was planted or not.

In the upper right corner I make out what appear to be two stacks and a water tower right in the middle of the stacks further down the island and not in the burial yard. The faint outline of three-mast schooner can be seen in the fog about 11 o'clock center; no kidding, I am an old Coast Guardsman. Is that Long Island Sound? The tree line was probably planted to help curb the wind from the northeast.

The trees have painted trunks. I think it was an old custom to keep insects off the bark. To the extent I was able view the slide photo, I saw no one out and about on foot, no carriages or horses in view either. Perhaps NYCHS will be able to see more.


Are those rectangular dark areas without makers above at mid-image actually trench continuations to be filled with coffins and is the mound in the foreground actually fill removed from trenches as excess?
I would swear the area at the bottom left are trench continuations awaiting to be filled with coffins rather than roadway which I had originally thought. The mound in the foreground might then be fill removed from most of the trenches as excess.

I marvel at the workers' dedication the quality of their workmanship, how things are lined up and given great care! The picture does reveal that to me. Even walkways are evident coming up from the beach area. The trees even look as if they were trimmed.


By techniques described in another caption on this page, NYCHS detected what may be the barely discernable figures of a couple standing to the right of a tree near the small house or workstation at the tree lined end of a street. For the couple(?) -- man in dark suit with white shirt; woman in white -- see above image and insert right. For location, see right side of the image at the top of this page.
Thanks for your help with Warden Ed Dros information. I may try to get his obit from the last Florida residence where he passed.

The slide needs cleaning; however, I am afraid that cleaning it might remove some photo material.

Perhaps someone with more knowledge about cleaning old photo glass slides could come up with the answer on that aspect of this interesting piece of Hart Island history.

Bob Ballantine
Warren, Ohio

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