“This was a scary time and people were avoiding AIDS patients like the plague,” recalled Eugene Ruppert, 69, who retired as a captain with New York City’s Department of Correction, which oversees burials on Hart Island.

Corey Kilgannon – The New York Times.

The Hart Island Project

Hart Island is the burial site of anyone who dies in New York City whose body is not collected by a licensed funeral director. The City does not cremate. On June 18, 1983, the New York State Funeral Directors Association urged its members not to embalm AIDS fatalities. It then became difficult to find a funeral director to handle the bodies of people who died of AIDS related illnesses.

At least seventeen AIDS victims who died before 1985 were buried in individual graves at a remote location at the southern-most tip of the Hart Island. In 1992, photographer Joel Sternfeld and Melinda Hunt were permitted to photograph the marker of the first child known to have died of AIDS. On April 29, 2018, a drone flying over the southern tip of Hart Island captured the locations of burial markers.

The Hart Island Project AIDS Initiative is an attempt to identify AIDS victims buried on Hart Island and preserve their stories. According to a recent story in The New York Times by Corey Kilgannon: “Trying to pin down the precise number of those with AIDS buried on Hart Island is difficult. A longstanding stigma about the island and criticism that the burial practices are crude and outdated have made city officials reluctant to provide many details.”

Drone video tour to burial locations on Hart Island of people who died on AIDS. Music: Just (After Song of Songs) by David Lang. Directed by Melinda Hunt with an interarts grant from Canada Council for the Arts
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AIDS grave of the first child to die of AIDS in New York City ©1993 Melinda Hunt
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Southern Hart Island location early AIDS burials ©2018 The Hart Island Project

The Hart Island Project © 2018
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