In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Walt Disney Pictures released a series of films featuring a child actor named Bobby Driscoll. He was the voice of Peter Pan, and also starred in the live-action Treasure Island and Song of the South. The latter has never been released on home video in the United States, but Disney used to periodically re-release its films in theaters, which is how I originally saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi, Pinocchio, Robin Hood, and Sword in the Stone. That must be how I saw Song of the South.
At the far west end of Long Island Sound, just to the east of the Bronx, there is a tiny dot of land called Hart Island (view this excellent map). Over the centuries it has been the site of a mental asylum, a prison, a POW camp, and a U.S. Army missile installation. It is also the site of the largest cemetery in the United States. It isn’t a normal cemetery, however. Hart Island is a huge potter’s field. The 800,000 bodies buried there belonged to the homeless, the penniless, and the unidentifiable. Their corpses, along with stillborn babies and amputated limbs fill mass graves, where plain wooden coffins are piled atop one another, over a hundred at a time. Somewhere in one of those mass graves lies the body of Bobby Driscoll.
By the mid-1960s, Driscoll had seen his fame and fortune vanish. He’d been to prison and he was addicted to drugs. When he died alone in an abandoned Manhattan building, his body went unidentified. More than a year passed before efforts were made to locate the missing Driscoll. Eventually, police matched Driscoll’s fingerprints to ones taken off the unidentified corpse, but his body was never exhumed for reburial in a family plot. Instead, Driscoll is still an anonymous person buried among hundreds of thousands of other anonymous people at Hart Island.
Hart Island is strictly off-limits to the public, but Richard Nickel managed to sneak ashore, and his photo essay is marvelous, disturbing, and touching.