News and Events
New York's long-forbidden graveyard island to be converted to a park
A Potter's Field as a Public Park
City approves temporary placement for Hart Island memorial touchstone
Local advocates pushing for memorial touchstone on Hart Island run into roadblocks
Elsie Soto’s father died when she was 9 years old, and it took her more than over 20 years to finally find his grave. Now she’s hoping to honor all those in unmarked graves by placing a bereavement stone where her dad is buried, at one of New York City’s most mysterious and painful landmarks.
Hart Island, the nation’s largest public cemetery, was created for the destitute but now serves a surprising range of people
NEW YORK — Valerie Griffith’s final journey began on a battered ferry, a floating hearse bound for a most unusual island.
Nobody lives on Hart Island, a scruffy one-mile slice of land in Long Island Sound that New York’s tabloids call “Forgotten Island,” “Haunted Island” and “Isle of Tears.”
For 150 years, it’s been known as the place where the city buries its penniless — not art collectors like Griffith
Inside the push to open up Hart Island, NYC's COVID cemetery
Two years since burials of COVID victims began, an effort is underway to transform the island into an open public cemetery. So far, it has remained largely closed off to the public, and difficult to visit even for bereaved families.
Hart Island Burials Taken Over By Tree Landscapers, Uprooting Families’ Hopes for Transformation
The city has tapped a landscaping company with no experience running cemeteries or public spaces to help transform Hart Island, the long-neglected gravesite of thousands killed by COVID, into a refuge for families and other visitors.
The management contract has both the leaders of some of New York’s largest graveyards and families of those interred on Hart Island concerned over the fate of the City Council’s $85 million vision to turn the potter’s field into the nation’s largest municipal cemetery.
Meanwhile, the city Parks Department plans to keep a former Rikers Island captain who supervised inmates carrying out emergency burials of pandemic victims in charge of interments.
Family Finds Missing Loved One Buried On Hart Island
After decades of searching, relatives of missing loved ones finally find closure on Hart Island. The city parks department has eased visitation restrictions. On Saturday, Valerie Smith's family was able to commemorate their visit to her gravesite with a cell phone video on location.
The Biggest Public Graveyard in the U.S. Is Becoming Park
New York City wants Hart Island, the burial grounds for victims of Covid-19 and AIDS, to be a more accessible and inviting place.
It's been the city’s dominant public graveyard since the 19th century. People were buried there during other epidemics including AIDS and the Great Influenza outbreak of 1918. For most of that time, Hart Island has been run much like a jail by the Department of Correction. Save for scheduled and highly-regulated visits, it's been inaccessible to the public. Most labor on the island was done by Rikers’ Island inmates paid a fraction of minimum wage.
But times are changing. This month the Parks Department took over the island, two years after the city council granted it control. Making it a more accessible and inviting space will be a challenge given the island’s deteriorating buildings, ongoing burials and the need to establish a regular ferry service to the island.
Relatives Of Those Buried On Hart Island Say Access Remains Extremely Challenging
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A massive public graveyard is undergoing a transformation. New city management has taken over Hart Island in the Bronx to make it more welcoming to visitors. Advocates say conditions at the cemetery have improved, but there’s still a long way to go.
As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reports, drone video shows an aerial view of Hart Island, where more than a million New Yorkers are buried, including those whose families couldn’t afford funerals, or next of kin couldn’t be reached.
“Such a stigma of being buried there,” said Sean Rickard, who has a family member buried on Hart Island.
Rickard was part of the first group of people to visit Hart Island since the Parks Department assumed jurisdiction last weekend, ending 152 years of control by the city Department of Correction. Until last year, Rikers prisoners buried the bodies on Hart Island, which meant the grounds were highly restricted.
“What we want to do is have it more resemble the experience of visiting any cemetery,” said Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project.
Hart Island’s Last Stand
On June 5, the Department of Buildings, citing public safety, issued an emergency order for the “immediate demolition” of 18 institutional, residential and service buildings constructed on Hart Island between the late 1800s and the mid 1900s.
NYC Temporary Morgue Lingers, a Reminder of Pandemic's Pain
As the medical examiner’s office prepares to close the temporary facility, the agency has stopped taking newly deceased people there, and investigators are working to contact relatives and determine final arrangements for the roughly 200 whose remains are left, spokesman Mark Desire said via email last week.
Hundreds of bodies of covid-19 victims are still in New York’s refrigerated trucks more than a year into the pandemic
In a report to a city council health committee last week, officials with the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner acknowledged that the remains of about 750 covid-19 victims are still being stored inside the trucks. Officials said during a Wednesday committee meeting that they will try to lower the number soon.
Dina Maniotis, executive deputy commissioner with the medical examiner’s office, said most of the bodies could end up on Hart Island, off the Bronx, where the has city buried its poor and unclaimed for more than a century.
“We will continue to work with families,” Maniotis told the health committee, according to the City news site. “As soon as the family tells us they would like their loved one transferred to Hart Island, we do that very quickly.”
Rikers Inmates Will No Longer Bury The Dead Amid Hart Island Transformation
“Hart Island has been treated as a topic of shame in this city, and it's largely been kept out of the public consciousness of New Yorkers,” Council Member and health committee chair Mark Levine, who sponsored pieces of the legislation, said during an oversight hearing on Hart Island Wednesday. “It should be a dignified place open to the public, not just to people who have loved ones buried there. A place which uplifts and celebrates the history, offers reverence to the stories of those who are buried there, including victims of the most recent pandemic.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget also includes more than $50 million in capital funding to demolish dangerous structures on the property. “The buildings are scary to people who visit,” said Melinda Hunt, founder of the Hart Island Project. “They're a reminder of Hart Island being managed by the penal system for a very long time.”
A Look Inside Hart Island, NYC’s Potter’s Field, as COVID Graves Grow
Hart Island, a small piece of land off The Bronx, resurfaced in national headlines in April 2020, when New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
News footage of the island’s cemetery showed trenches being filled with pine coffins, sending shock waves around the world. But these mass burials taking place during the pandemic mark just the most recent interments in Hart Island’s long history.
One in 10 Local COVID Victims Destined for Hart Island, NYC’s Potter’s Field
Last year on Hart Island proved deadlier than any year during the AIDS crisis. More burials are expected as the disproportionate pandemic impact sends thousands to the final resting place of New York’s most vulnerable.
Schumer and AOC Get Feds to Pay for Funerals of COVID-19 Victims in NYC and Beyond
The federal government will help pay for the funeral and burial of COVID-19 victims whose families can’t afford the expenses, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced Monday.
In a rare joining of forces, the two New York members of Congress, who disagree on the Democratic Party platform, said that the Federal Emergency Management Administration will tap into the overall $2 billion national pot of disaster funds to cover the costs.
New York State will get approximately $260 million in funeral assistance funds, according to Schumer. FEMA will cover all funeral expenses, which run an average of $7,000. People can file retroactively for reimbursements dating back to Jan. 20, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020
How a Potter’s Field Became a Civil Rights Leader’s Resting Place
In more normal times, Scott Green , a lifelong civil rights activist, may have had a ceremonious funeral followed by a burial in a military cemetery in Little Rock, Ark.
Mr. Green was one of the students known as the Lost Class of 1959 at Central High School, where a battle over forced desegregation in Little Rock helped propel the civil rights movement. After he died in April at age 76 with symptoms of Covid-19 in Manhattan, former President Bill Clinton called Mr. Green’s family to extend his condolences….
In 1965, Scott Green became first Black trainee of the local Sheet Metal Workers’ Union, and he would later recruit more Black members and go on to fight racial discrimination, while working on prominent buildings including the World Trade Center, his brother said.
Biden Leads Mourning for Virus Victims
In a somber sundown ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in a city virtually occupied by troops on guard against political violence, Mr. Biden paid tribute to the victims of the pandemic on the same day that the death toll in the United States topped a staggering 400,000— and almost a year to the day from the first report of the virus appearing in the country.
“To heal we must remember,” Mr. Biden said, standing in front of the Reflecting Pool, which was surrounded by 400 lights meant to mark the 400,000 victims of the virus. “It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all whom we lost.”
The Hart Island Project Annual Public Meeting
Bronx Parks Speak-up
The Hart Island Project will have a table at Bronx Parks Speak-Up. Join us for our first in person event at Lehman College's Faculty Dining Room in the MUSIC BUILDING AT 250 BEDFORD PARK BLVD. Bronx, NY and learn about our new navigation tools and interpretive guide.
Global Pandemic Touchstone Walk on City Island
On Sunday, October 16th at 2:00 pm EDT, the Hart Island Touchstone Coalition (HITC) will stage the first in a proposed series of bereavement walks to honor the memory of those who have succumbed to the scourge of pandemic illnesses.
The HITC community will pull a hand-drawn carriage containing a granite Global Pandemics Touchstone donated to the Coalition by the nonprofit Peace Abbey Foundation on a course from Pelham Cemetery on King Avenue at City Island to the entrance of the Ferry Dock overlooking Hart Island Cemetery. The quarter-mile bereavement walk with the Touchstone, will bring together families and friends who have loved ones buried on Hart Island and who are seeking to have the Touchstone placed there in their loved one's honor.
HDC Six to Celebrate - Bronx Conversation with Past Awardees
The Historic Districts Council (HDC) invites you to an in-person event to discuss how to assist Bronx neighborhoods advance their preservation goal. If you are interested in learning about the preservation-related priorities of different communities, come hear from previous participants about their experiences with this program, their achievements, and their current priorities in terms of preserving the historic treasures of their neighborhood. The conversation will be led and moderated by Angel Hernandez and Samuel Brooks, co-chairs of HDC’s Bronx Borough Landmarks Committee. Thursday, October 13, 2022 – 7:00PM
The Hart Island Project Annual Meeting
Please join us for a progress report on our mission to open access to Hart Island and assist families and friends of the buried.
We're converting our website to mobile first and adding new navigation and location based storytelling tools.
We need your ideas for how to preserve Hart Island as a National Historic Site and National Monument
Bronx Parks Speak-up
Please join The Hart Island Project to learn about our work to restore Hart Island as America's largest natural burial ground and its essential place in New York City's Green Infastructure
On Hart Island: Past, Present and Future - On Zoom & In Person
The Roosevelt Island Library and the Roosevelt Island Historical Society are proud to host Melinda Hunt and her presentation on Hart Island. Melinda Hunt is President and founding director of The Hart Island Project in New York City. Her work led to ending 150 years of penal control on Hart Island. She is a NYFA/NYSCA Fellow in electronic art. She is a visual artist who works in a variety of fields and settings.
HIV/Aids The epidemic isn’t over!
The exhibition “HIV/Aids, the epidemic is not over” traces the social and political history of AIDS. Taking a retrospective and contemporary look at the epidemic and the mobilisations it has generated, it aims to contribute to the fight against it. Indeed, putting Aids in a museum is not to bury it; on the contrary, it is to reaffirm its relevance, as shown by the title of the exhibition, which takes up a historic slogan of Act Up: “The epidemic is not over!”
On Hart Island: Past Present & Future
Please join Melinda Hunt - interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and founding director of The Hart Island Project - to discover the historical significance of one of the most mysterious and beautiful places in New York City, Hart Island. During this interactive presentation, Melinda will share historical documents, videos, and testimonies to engage us with the municipal burial place's rich history - intrinsically connected in one way or another with all New Yorkers. Free event with registration.
NYC Women’s Fund Showcase - AIDS Burials on Hart Island
AIDS Burials on Hart Island series will premiere on NYC Women’s Fund Showcase on NYC TV channel 25, October 22, 2021 at 8 PM.
An encore broadcast will take place on November 19, 2021 at 8 PM
Open House New York 2021
In this episode of The Gotham Center for New York City History’s Sites and Sounds podcast series, Melinda Hunt talks about Hart Island, the small landmass that lies half a mile from City Island, in the Bronx, on the Long Island Sound.
Storytelling tools for COVID-19 Webinar
We’re please to announce the launch of our COVID-19 Initiative with new tools added to Traveling Cloud Museum for searching and claiming people who died from the pandemic in New York City and are now buried on Hart Island.
The Hart Island Project is working to end the stigma for families who agreed to a City Burial. Please join us on Thursday, September 23, 2021 @7 PM for a webinar on how to claim and add stories or photos about someone buried on Hart Island who succumbed to COVID-19.
Hart Island Suite Premiere
Jazz composer Anita Brown received a 2019 NYSCA award with support from The Hart Island Project as fiscal sponsor. The work was scheduled to premiere in 2020 and delayed due to COVID restrictions. Hart Island Suite tells the story of Anita's elder sister, Julie, who was buried on Hart Island before Anita was born.
Hart Island Poem wins Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award
Plough will announce the winners of its first annual Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award in an online event with Rhina P. Espaillat and Plough poetry editor A. M. Juster. The winning poet donated her prize to The Hart Island Project.
Hart Island Project Annual Meeting
The Hart Island Project annual meeting is open to the public and will take place on Zoom. If you were unable to attend you can watch it on the link below..
Landscapes and Pandemics: The inequities of HIV/AIDS & COVID-19
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latinx people, as well as LGBTQ+ people, many who are living at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities. Over the past year, several comparisons have been made between the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the US in the 80s and 90s and the current COVID-19 pandemic. We will hear from leading academics and activists and learn what these pandemics mean for communities across the US.
NYC COUNCIL HEARING: Hart Island and the City's Public Burial Process & Assistance Program
The public is invited to attend this hearing and testify. If you are planning on testifying live via video conferencing, please register no later than 24 hours before the hearing.
Each person who intends on testifying live should register separately. Persons who do not register in advance will not be permitted to testify live via video conferencing.
If you are interested in viewing the hearing, but do not wish to testify live, the hearing can be viewed at https://council.nyc.gov/livestream/.
Written testimony may be submitted without registration by emailing it to email@example.com up to 72 hours after the close of the hearing. Thank you for your cooperation.
For questions about accessibility or to request additional accommodations please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (212) 788-6936 at least 72 hours before the hearing. All other questions should be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AIDS Burials on Hart Island Workshop with Elsie Soto
Join The Hart Island Project and Elsie Soto at a live workshop this Saturday, Feb. 27.
Watch video in advance here
Join us on Zoom at 11:00 AM for workshop starting at 11:15 AM-AIDS Burials on Hart Island as part of Bronx Parks Speak-Up 2021
Zoom link – Meeting ID: 893 3782 3394 / Password: 46690
27th Bronx Parks Speakup from 10-11 AM
Meet with The Hart Island Project to answer your questions about our newest initiative to designate Hart Island National Monument.
Watch slide show in advance on the History of and Potential for Hart Island here
Join Zoom meeting starting at 10 AM here
City Island Nautical Museum Web Series: The History and Potential for Hart Island
The City Island Nautical Museum's Vice President and Administrator, Barbara Dolensek, will be in conversation with President of The Hart Island Project, Melinda Hunt, exploring the history of and potential for Hart Island, the largest natural burial ground in the country, located right off the coast of City Island. There will be time for questions and answers.
Mourning at a Distance: Grief and Memorialization During COVID-19
One of the cruelest aspects of COVID-19 is that its victims often die alone. This fact not only dramatically affects those lost to the virus, who frequently pass away by themselves in a hospital amid relative strangers, but also the emotional health of the loved ones they leave behind. The highly contagious nature of the virus has made the traditional rituals surrounding death nearly impossible. There is no bedside vigil; no proper funeral; no grieving periods that involve the tender touch of family and friends and many of the deceased are buried on Hart Island which is now inaccessible to families and friends. Melinda Hunt will be a panelist on this webinar. Register