NEW YORK (PIX11) — A solemn place full of mystery in New York City that has been closed for decades to most visitors will open for some public programming.

Hart Island has been the city’s public burial grounds for 150 years. Tours will be conducted twice a month beginning at the end of November. 

People can register for a lottery and the city says about 60 visitors will be randomly selected.

Additional dates and times could be added as the program is evaluated. A ferry takes people back and forth.

The mile-long stretch of land is part of the Bronx, and it is known as the northeastern most point in the city. Hospitals, schools, jails, treatment centers and rest homes have also been located on the island over the years.

Martin Thompson is the executive director of Hart Island Operations. He has worked on the island for nearly two decades.

“This is one of the most beautiful spots in the City of New York. The public has not had an opportunity to come out. People may have a dark view of and this will change and transform once they visit the area,” he said.

The crews do maintenance, preservation and landscaping of the more than 100 acres.

It will be used as the city’s cemetery for the foreseeable future. Planning and designing for future sites is also happening now.

New York City Parks Department and NYC Human Resources Association within the Department of Social Services manage the city land. It formerly was the Department of Corrections.

They hope millions of dollars worth of renovations and work will help lift the stigma and tell the story of the place and the people.

It has been the final resting place for the homeless, those suffering from disease, or people who died without a name or family.

The island will continue to be open to families of those buried here.

Urban Park Rangers with NYC Parks will lead free walking tours. All public history tours are done on foot and last approximately 2.5 hours, with ferry transportation provided to and from Hart Island.

“We’re thrilled to begin offering free public history tours of Hart Island, allowing New Yorkers an intimate look at the island for the very first time. Our Urban Park Rangers have created informative and reflective programming that highlights the island’s important role in New York City history,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “

The first tour will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Lottery registration for this tour opens on Nov. 15 and closes on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 11:59 p.m. 

Additional public tours will be held on the following dates:  

  • Dec. 5, 2023 
  • Dec. 19, 2023 
  • Jan. 16, 2024 
  • Jan. 30, 2024 
  • Feb. 13, 2024 
  • Feb. 27, 2024 
  • March 12, 2024 
  • March 26, 2024 
  • April 9, 2024 
  • April 23, 2024 
  • May 14, 2024 
  • May 28, 2024 

Organizers say the tours will “encompass the history of the Island including how it became a municipal cemetery, wildlife and natural aspects, the burial process, and island advocacy.”

Hart Island is the largest public cemetery in the country and has served New York City since 1869.   

Upgrades and projects have been completed including new paths, access points and landscaping.

The Department of Design and Construction recently completed a $32 million project to remove old structures from the island. The island’s historic chapel is also being stabilized.