Abolishing the Prison of the Dead


“The way to normalize this is to have people who do have a choice choosing this green burial,” Hunt said. Our taxes pay for City Cemetery, and we can reframe the way we think about public burials, she said. “You’ve already paid for your burial—make it the cemetery you want it to be.”

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©Evangeline Gallagher

New York City to Start Cleanup of Cemetery Damaged in Superstorm Sandy


Next month, New York City will begin cleaning up unearthed human remains and restoring the damaged sea wall along the shoreline of Hart Island, which is one of the largest public cemeteries in the country.

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Exposed 19th Century Cistern - Seth Weinig/AP

Few folks know about this historic mass grave of HIV-positive people near New York City


Hart Island is a small islet located a mile east of the Bronx. It’s one mile long and a third of a mile wide (roughly 131 acres), and during the mid ’80s and ’90s, New York City buried thousands of people who’d died of HIV on the island out of fear the bodies might infect others.

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A scene on Hart Island from “Pose” season two (image via FX)

What happens to those who die poor or unclaimed in NYC


“No one who sleeps there had a dollar to their name in life…the bodies interred here are as utterly forgotten and wiped away as if they never existed.” This is how the New York Herald described Hart Island in 1874, five years after the city began burying its poor on the island off the Bronx. A century and a half later the poor and unclaimed are still buried in pine coffins, usually marked only with numbers, not names. These are stacked three deep in a trench, three feet below the surface. Each trench holds 150 adult coffins. Roughly 1,200 people are buried there each year.

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Hart Hearings


On May 30, the City Council held a hearing to review the future of Hart Island of the city’s public burial process.

“We’re the only city in the world that has a public cemetery like this one,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who chaired the hearing. “After 150 years, it is time to reexamine and improve our island.”

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Ferry dock %c2%a92010 melinda hunt
©2010 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project
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Past events

Jail for the Dead: How New York City Buried the Unclaimed - A conversation with Thomas Laqueur & Melinda Hunt

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Part of the Death and After Series hosted by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life

Public Lecture - The Aura of the Dead in a Disenchanted World - by Thomas Laqueur


Aura—the breath of enchantment—that makes the body of a saint or a unique masterwork of art special is said to be on the wane, done in by technology and secularization. But the bodies of the dead and even their ashes, indistinguishable one urn from other, have lost little of their potency. This lecture explores the ways in which the aura of mortal remains function to create sacrality in the absence of God and other worlds beyond our own.

This event is cosponsored by the Department of History, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Part of the Death and After series at IRCPL.

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Hart Island Project Annual Meeting


The Hart Island Project annual meeting is free and open to the public. Please join us to learn about our initatives.

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Neighborhood Preservation Center

City Hall hearing on legislation to transfer Hart Island to Parks.


The New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation and the Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on Thursday, May 30 2019 at 10:00 A.M. in the Committee Room, New York, NY regarding four bills pertaining to the City’s Burial Process.

 To view the topics in detail, please CLICK HERE.

Oversight - Hart Island and the City's Public Burial Process.
 Int 906 - In relation to a transfer of jurisdiction over Hart Island from the department of corrections to the department of parks and recreation.
 Int 909 - In relation to a Hart Island transportation plan.
 Int - In relation to the establishment of an office to provide support to those in need of burial assistance.
 Int - In relation to the creation of a task force on public burial and related issues.
Please be advised that if you plan to participate, it would be greatly appreciated if you could bring thirty (30) copies double-sided of your written testimony to the hearing or submit your written testimony to:
We would appreciate receiving a response from you as to whether or not you will be able to attend or submit written testimony. Please let us know if you would like help preparing your testimony: 

Access Provided: For questions about accessibility or to request additional accommodations please contactNicole Benjamin ( or 212-482-5176) at least 72 hours before the hearing.
For all other questions about the hearing, please contact Emily Balkan ( or 212-482-5439).

See pdf announcement

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Hearing 2016
Testimony in 2016 to transfer jurisdiction of Hart Island to Parks

In the Presence of Absence - Exhibition Closing and Publication Launch


On the last day of In the Presence of Absence, we will mark its passing with a series of readings on the themes of grief and loss. Writers and artists Raha Behnam, Erica Cardwell, TR Ericsson, Michelle García, Diane Mehta, and Jillian Steinhauer will share original work. The event will also celebrate the launch of the exhibition’s accompanying publication, which contains essays by García, Steinhauer, and Jessica Lynne. As at a wake or a shiva call, there will be refreshments and a chance to mingle and reflect.

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After the Fire and Before AIDS: Sonia ©2017 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project
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