News

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

Relatives Of Those Buried On Hart Island Say Access Remains Extremely Challenging

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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.

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Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

Hart Island’s Last Stand

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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.

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Melinda Hunt Courtesy of The Hart Island Project
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Events

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Past events

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

NYC Women’s Fund Showcase - AIDS Burials on Hart Island

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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


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