News

Corey Johnson gets serious about fixing an ‘indefensible’ Hart Island

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New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson plans to mount an aggressive effort to turn Hart Island — the potter’s field where prisoners bury New York’s poor in mass graves — into a more publicly accessible cemetery.


And he says he'll do so even if it means overriding the will (and veto) of Mayor Bill de Blasio.


“Once you visit Hart Island, it's very apparent and clear that the current state of affairs on Hart Island is..." Johnson paused to find the right word: "indefensible.”

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Ydanis Rodriguez/New York City Council

Council Speaker Johnson Remembers Those Forgotten on Hart Island

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Hart Island is out of sight and out of mind for many New Yorkers, but the small plot of land has a significant spot in the city’s history.

During the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, thousands of bodies were buried on the island in what has commonly become known as Potter’s Field.

It’s not clear the exact number of AIDS victims that are buried there and unfortunately, state officials have been reluctant to investigate.

Though, just days before World AIDS Day, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson visited the island to pay respects.Arriving on Tuesday, he called his visit “emotional” and noted that the mass graves seemed forgotten there.

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Visiting New York City’s early AIDS graves

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On Tuesday, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, took a tour of Hart Island, off the coast of the Bronx, where the city buries its unclaimed dead. He asked to be taken to a remote spot on the island’s southernmost tip where in 1985 the city buried some of the earliest casualties of AIDS in an effort to quarantine them.

The graves were in an overgrown area and some of the headstones were toppled over, said Mr. Johnson, who is the city’s first openly gay male speaker and is H.I.V. positive.

“I was sort of taken aback that that area felt sort of neglected,” he said. Mr. Johnson said the visit strengthened his support for transferring the jurisdiction of the island from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department.

He added, “I knelt down in front of one of the markers and closed my eyes for a minute and thought of all the gay men who lost their lives.”

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Jacob Tugendrajch/New York City Council Speaker's Office

A New Memorial Service for Neil Harris Jr., This Time With His Family

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Back on April 30, 2017, the West Side Rag reported on a memorial service that was held at the Christian Community Church on West 74th Street for “Stephen”, the young homeless man who passed away in Riverside Park on March 9, 2017.

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A family photo of Neil Harris, Jr., from 2010

After her son went missing 4 years ago, mom finds closure

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For four years, Susan Hurlburt wondered what happened to her son.

Neil Harris Jr. was last seen at the Inwood LIRR  station wearing a hoodie under a thick Carhartt jacket on Dec. 12, 2014. She hadn’t heard from him since.

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Craig Ruttle/Newsday
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Events

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Past events

Cyber Monday/Giving Tuesday

The Hart Island Project launched Traveling Cloud Museum 2.0 on November 1, 2018. Please show your support for our innovation storytelling platform by donating on-line on Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday


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Mass for All Souls buried on Hart Island - 9 AM

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St. Brendan Catholic Church is one block from the D train. For more information call 718-547-6655.


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©1992 Joel Sternfeld/The Hart Island Project

Memorial Service for Neil Harris Jr. AKA Stephen

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Neil Harris Jr., the Long Island man who lived the last years of his life in Riverside Park, will have a new memorial service on Nov. 4 after a local journalist discovered his real name and told his family.

Harris was known to many locals as Stephen. He spent his days on benches in the park, including one at 75th Street. When he died last year, the city could not identify him, and he was buried on Hart Island, the city potter’s field. Locals held a memorial service for the man and dedicated a bench in Riverside Park to him.


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Loneliness in a Beautiful Place: AIDS burials on Hart Island

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Loneliness in a Beautiful Place: Drone video tour of AIDS burials on Hart Island and introduction to the Traveling Cloud Museum's new interactive map

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 AIDS victims.
 
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. 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: “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.”
 
Traveling Cloud Museum is an effort to deconstruct their disappearance  by urging people to stop the clocks of anonymity.

See pdf announcement

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The Hart Island Project

Illustrated Talk with Author Stacy Horn – Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York

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Author Stacy Horn will relate the chilling account of the infamous Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), when it was managed by the Department of Charities and Correction. The workhouse, prison and lunatic asylum on Hart Island were branches of those on Blackwells. The Department of Correction still controls Hart Island today as the nightmare continues into the 21st Century on Riker's and Hart Island. 

$15, $10 MHM Members. Purchase tickets


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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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