News

Hart Island, the nation’s largest public cemetery, was created for the destitute but now serves a surprising range of people

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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

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The New School Photographic Collection

Inside the push to open up Hart Island, NYC's COVID cemetery

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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.

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©2022 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Hart Island Burials Taken Over By Tree Landscapers, Uprooting Families’ Hopes for Transformation

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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. 

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Family Finds Missing Loved One Buried On Hart Island

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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.

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Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

The Biggest Public Graveyard in the U.S. Is Becoming Park

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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. 

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Brody Ford/Bloomberg City Lab
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Events

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Past events

The Hart Island Project Annual Meeting

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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

Join Here on Zoom


©2022 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Bronx Parks Speak-up

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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

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On Hart Island: Past, Present and Future - On Zoom & In Person

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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.

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Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

HIV/Aids The epidemic isn’t over!

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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!”


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Mucem.org

On Hart Island: Past Present & Future

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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.

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Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project
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