Noteworthy attempts are now being made to pierce the anonymity that grips the burial ground... challenging the city’s secretive bureacracy to open its books.

Francis X. Clines - The New York Times.

The Hart Island Project

New York's City Cemetery on Hart Island occupies 131 acres in the Long Island Sound on the eastern edge of the Bronx. Since 1869, prison labor has been used to bury unclaimed and unidentified New Yorkers in mass graves of 150 adults or 1000 infants. Until 2014, these graves were inaccessible to families of the buried.

On November 14, 2019, the New York City Council passed legislation to create a public park where citizens can freely visit graves. NYC Parks and Recreation assumed jurisdiction on December 4, 2019 ending 150 years of penal control over city burials. Parks took over visitor services in October 2021.

The end of penal control is directly the result of advocacy by The Hart Island Project, creation of a database of recent burials and Traveling Cloud Museum storytelling platform. Burial information about each person includes a clock that measures the period of time that they have been buried in anonymity until someone adds a story, image, epitaph, sound or video.

In 2018, The Hart Island Project mapped the entire island using a drone and embedded geotiffs into over 68,000 profiles listed in the Traveling Cloud Museum. This information now displays on our homepage and populates search engines.

Traveling Cloud Museum was conceived by Melinda Hunt and funded as an artist project through the New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Women’s Fund and the Canada Council for Arts.

The Hart Island Project provides access to information about the burials on Hart Island, tools and workshops for storytelling as well as personal support to families of the buried.

Traveling Cloud Museum is now optimized for mobile and accessible on location. Visitors can navigate to graves using their phones or explore historic points of interest. When in close proximity of a particular location, visitors can learn more about a particular person or historic site using augmented reality. AR offers a virtual form of gravemarking.

Hart Island is the largest natural burial ground in the United States and the only green cemetery in New York City. The Hart Island Project seeks to preserve this historic burial practice as an affordable alternative to cremation and burials in concrete vaults. Natural burials are without physical markers and the landscape left open. We hope that as the city burial practice on Hart Island become visible, that more people will accept it as a choice without prejudice.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signs bills transferring jurisdiction of Hart Island from the New York City Department of Correction to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Prisoner shooting hoops alone
Prisoner shooting hoops alone ©1993 Melinda Hunt
Standing inside a gravesite
Standing inside a gravesite ©1993 Melinda Hunt
Edge of an active gravesite
Edge of an active gravesite ©1993 Melinda unt
Madonna and anonymous gravesites
Madonna and anonymous gravesites ©1993 Melinda Hunt

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