News

What happens to those who die poor or unclaimed in NYC

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“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

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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

Council blasts de Blasio administration's pace on 'insane' Hart Island policies

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The City Council clashed with the de Blasio administration Thursday over the future of Hart Island — a potter's field off the Bronx coast that serves as a mass grave for a million people — and whether it will be transformed into an accessible public cemetery. Speaker Corey Johnson bristled at the current policies that govern the island and called the de Blasio administration's lack of celerity "insane."

… "This is crazy that a million people are buried on Hart Island and there is one Saturday a month that people can visit," Johnson said at a joint Council hearing of the health, transportation, and parks and recreation committees. "This needs to be changed immediately. This is such a profound injustice. People should leave here today and be embarrassed by this. This is so undignified."

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Seth weinig
Seth Weinig/AP

Why a Historic Change is Looming for Hart Island

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More than one million New Yorkers - most of their names unknown - are buried in mass, unmarked graves on Hart Island, a huge public cemetery a short distance from City Island in the Bronx.

Elsie Soto's father was laid to rest there after dying of AIDS-related complications. 

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City council hearing 2019
NY1

Can an Island Off the Bronx With One Million Graves Become a City Park?

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New York City has some of the most famous parks in the world, from Central Park to the High Line.

Now city lawmakers have proposed creating a park in a most unlikely place: the island where the city has been burying its indigent in mass graves since the 1800s.

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Todd heisler
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
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Events

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Past events

Hart Island Project Annual Meeting

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


Screen shot 2019 06 01 at 4.15.37 pm
Neighborhood Preservation Center

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

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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: EBalkan@council.nyc.gov
 
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: contact@hartisland.net. 

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

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

Revisiting Hart Island

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Over the last few years, Melinda and the Hart Island Project have brought the plight of Hart Island’s deteriorating condition to the public and opened the conversation to make the Island a public park.


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Hart island lecture 2019

Collective Grief: The Design, Politics and Future of Memorials

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While grief is a personal feeling, memorials are a key way in which our society collectively mourns. This panel discussion will consider the different forms that such public tributes can take and the politics of who gets to be commemorated. What new memorials are being created to fill out the landscape of a death-denying country dotted with Confederate statues? What future ones do we need? The four panelists, Anthony Goicolea, Melinda Hunt, Karla Rothstein, and Elizabeth Velazquez, have all experimented with what a memorial can be, bringing their creative energies to bear on an old practice. They will speak about their work and then engage in a conversation about who, what, and how we collectively remember. Moderated by Jillian Steinhauer.


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