It is estimated that more than one million people are buried in New York City’s Hart Island, the city’s public cemetery, and the final resting place for unclaimed, penniless or unidentified individuals.
For the better part of its 150-year history, the island was closed off to the public. The only visitors allowed to witness the burials were the gravediggers themselves. Because the Department of Correction managed the island, the burials have long been the job of incarcerated people.
Casimiro “Cas” Torres was one of them. In the late 1980s, he was arrested for robbery, and sent to Hart Island to bury and disinter bodies.
Almost three decades later, he came to StoryCorps to keep their memory alive.
Cas Torres in his late teens, around the same time he was imprisoned and transferred to Hart Island.
This story aired July of 2021, when jurisdiction of Hart Island transferred from New York City Department of Correction to the City’s Human Resources Administration and Parks and Recreation, formally ending the practice of using inmates to carry out the burials.
Top Photo: Cas Torres at their StoryCorps interview in New York City on January 30, 2015. By John White for StoryCorps.
Originally aired July 16, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.