News

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

NYC Temporary Morgue Lingers, a Reminder of Pandemic's Pain

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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.

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New York Times
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Events

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Past events

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


©2020 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Open House New York 2021

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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.

WATCH HERE


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Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

Storytelling tools for COVID-19 Webinar

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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. 

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COVID-19 burials on Hart Island

Hart Island Suite Premiere

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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. 

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