A rare look inside New York's potter's field

Run by city's Department of Correction, Hart Island is the final resting place of over one million of New York's poorest residents.

HART ISLAND (REUTERS) - Once a month, a ferry takes mourners to a remote island in the outskirts of the Bronx.

Final destination: Hart Island, one of the largest and desolate cemeteries in the world.

Over one million of New York's poorest have been laid to rest here, a so called "potter's field" only accompanied by white nondescript markers.

Carleen McLaughlin is the spokesperson of the city's Department of Correction which operates the mass graveyard.

"We have been doing this for over a hundred years now. These days we bury about 1,000 coffins per year. And we disinter about 40 people every year," she said.

For decades, volunteering inmates have been ferried here where they spend the day burying the unidentified, unclaimed, or those whose relatives cannot afford a private burial, explains Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan.

"The prisoners look upon this as good duty. They're out in the fresh air, they're getting exercise and they're away from the prison," said Mr Ultan.

In 1948, inmates even built a memorial for the unnamed dead - but today it's as forgotten as the many New Yorkers it honours as public access to the island has been restricted for a long time.

But following the recent settlement of a class-action lawsuit, the correction's department now allows relatives greater access to the island for their monthly visits.