By LYNN ROGERS
Special to the Advance
Staten Island was home to the Marine Hospital quarantine station that operated from 1799-1858.
It was located approximately where the Staten Island Ferry Terminal is today, up the hill past Borough Hall and across from the St. George Theatre.
In the 1840-1850s, there was a complex of “pest” tents and hospital structures. Patients were segregated by disease, and men, women and children were mostly housed separately.
Staten Island, Manhattan and Bayonne and Elizabeth, N.J., residents who were infected with diseases could be sent to the Marine Hospital.
The largest number of immigrants to pass through the doors of the Marine Hospital during the years of its operation were from Ireland and Germany.
All ships — including passenger ships, merchant ships and military vessels — entering into New York Harbor were stopped to await a health inspector from the hospital, who went by boat to each arriving ship.
Anyone found with an infectious disease, including ships’ crewmembers, were removed from the ships and taken to the Staten Island facility.
LEFT ON THE STREETS OF STATEN ISLAND
If two members of a family of five were found to have infectious disease, those two people were taken off the ship and brought into quarantine, the rest of the family was left on the streets of Staten Island with little or no means to await the outcome of their loved one.
During the peak of 19th century Irish immigration — 1845-1852 known as the Great Hunger — hundreds of thousands of Irish fled to America in search of a better life and came to New York.
In April, 1851, a New York newspaper wrote: “The number of poor people from Ireland who are wandering through the streets of Staten Island in a starving condition is dreadful. Every night they go to the police station houses for food and shelter.
“Last night, in the fourth-ward station house, there were 80 poor people of this description, huddled together, and when food was laid before the children, they rushed at it and devoured it like hungry wolves.”
Newspapers started to call Staten Island Staten Ireland because of the tremendous number of new Irish residents.
The trip from Ireland to the entrance of New York Harbor was a harrowing voyage, the majority traveled in steerage (below deck in the hull of the ship, with little natural light nor fresh air).
Between 250-500 people could be lodged in steerage and all of their daily needs were mostly conducted there as well. The voyage took two to three months and disease was rampant.
Once in America, some immigrants were fortunate to be able to stay with family or townspeople, but many were not so lucky. Makeshift Irish shantytowns developed along the North Shore, where the immigrants waited, hoped and prayed.
Many patients perished and were buried in one of two cemeteries operated by the facility. Immediately upon death, they were unceremoniously buried in mass graves.
When the family visited or made an inquiry, they were informed that their loved one had died and was already buried. No death certificates were issued, no cemetery burial log kept. Some families had the doctor sign a notarized letter attesting to the death and burial. Countless people simply vanished.
Many Irish and German immigrants, whose only reason for being on Staten Island was because of the quarantine, decided to stay and to make their new life here.
Today, they are sixth- and seventh-generation Staten Islanders.
MASS GRAVEYARD FOUND IN ST. GEORGE
At the turn of the 21st century, the State of New York exhumed a large portion of one Marine Hospital cemetery when construction started for the new courthouse complex in St. George.
Utilizing the professional services of an archeology team, remains of adults and children were exhumed from mass graves.
On Sunday, April 27, at 12:30 p.m., Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island (FACSI), in conjunction with the American Irish Legislators Society of New York State, will conduct a memorial reinterment service for the permanent entombment in the recreated cemetery located on the grounds of the St. George courthouse.
Their fate was tragic, but now, more than 150 years later, they will be afforded the recognition and benediction they never received in life.
This event is free and open to the public. FACSI is producing a commemorative booklet and encourages all residents to memorialize their immigrant ancestors and to tell their American immigration story.
Advertisements cost $35 for Ð page, $70 for ½ page and $140 a full page. Ads should be sent via email (pictures should be in pdf form) or via regular mail to:
Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries, 158 Myrtle Ave., Staten Island, N.Y., 10310 or SICemetery@gmail.com. FACSI has restored and currently maintains 11 Staten Island cemeteries on the Island.
Lynn Rogers is the executive director of Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries. For more information, contact SICemetery@gmail.com or 917-545-3309 or visit FACSI on Facebook.