News

New York City to Start Cleanup of Cemetery Damaged in Superstorm Sandy

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Next month, New York City will begin cleaning up unearthed human remains and restoring the damaged sea wall along the shoreline of Hart Island, which is one of the largest public cemeteries in the country.

Read more… New York City to Start Cleanup of Cemetery Damaged in Superstorm Sandy
Exposed 19th Century Cistern - Seth Weinig/AP

Few folks know about this historic mass grave of HIV-positive people near New York City

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Hart Island is a small islet located a mile east of the Bronx. It’s one mile long and a third of a mile wide (roughly 131 acres), and during the mid ’80s and ’90s, New York City buried thousands of people who’d died of HIV on the island out of fear the bodies might infect others.

Read more… Few folks know about this historic mass grave of HIV-positive people near New York City
A scene on Hart Island from “Pose” season two (image via FX)

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.”

Read more… Hart Hearings
©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."

Read more… Council blasts de Blasio administration's pace on 'insane' Hart Island policies
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. 

Read more… Why a Historic Change is Looming for Hart Island
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.

Read more… Can an Island Off the Bronx With One Million Graves Become a City Park?
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Hart Island inaccessibility slammed as city considers NYC Parks control

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City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and activists slammed the de Blasio administration at a hearing Thursday over what they characterized as a slow motion plan to open up the public gravesite at Hart Island to more visitors and better maintain it.

Read more… Hart Island inaccessibility slammed as city considers NYC Parks control
Charles Eckert/AM New York

Hart Island, The Largest Public Burial Ground In U.S., May Soon Be Controlled By NYC Parks Department

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Hart Island, a giant cemetery that many advocates consider neglected for years, is finally getting noticed by City Hall.

Elected officials have agreed to support a bill to transfer control of the island from the Department of Correction to the Department of Parks, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Thursday.

Read more… Hart Island, The Largest Public Burial Ground In U.S., May Soon Be Controlled By NYC Parks Department
CBS New York

Materializing Memory and Trauma

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Curated by the award-winning critic, and former Hyperallergic Senior Editor, Jillian Steinhauer and dotted with homespun memorials and retiring audiovisuals, In the Presence of Absence is a smart, understated group exhibition whose hushed atmosphere calls attention to grief’s lingering effects in public and private life, particularly for people from historically marginalized communities. Most artworks in the show reference historical traumas in the United States — from settler colonialism to the AIDS epidemic — whose horrors are often presumed to be past but whose psycho-social consequences are still very much present.

Read more… Materializing Memory and Trauma
Emily Harris, “Reclaimed vol. 2” (2019)

"Made in NY” Women’s Film, TV & Theater Fund Award

The Hart Island Project is pleased to announce that Director Melinda Hunt is one of 63 recipients for inaugural round of NYC Women’s Fund for Film & Theater for her web series: Loneliness in a Beautiful Place: AIDS Burials on Hart Island. The award was announced by NYFA and MOME on February 28, 2019. read more

Inspired by stories of people who lost a loved one due to AIDS related illnesses and discovered them listed in the Traveling Cloud Museum, the web series will be completed in 2020. As part of The Hart Island Project AIDS Initiative, we hope the series will help to reconcile the deaths of New Yorkers buried on Hart Island during the AIDS epidemic. We encourage the community to search and identify victims with an AIDS ribbon and or contribute a story to Traveling Cloud Museum. 

Read more… "Made in NY” Women’s Film, TV & Theater Fund Award
credit: Antoine Braxton

The Law of the Dead and the Rights of the Living: New York Needs Reform

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Justice intersects with the dead on Hart Island, the potters’ field of New York City where over a million unclaimed bodies lie. Perhaps their inhabitants lost contact with anyone who knew them, due to rejection or mental illness or outliving their loved ones. Some families may be too poor to bury their dead, or end-of-life plans could have been lost as a dying person was shuttled between nursing homes and hospitals.


Hart Island gives rise to several concerns of fairness and justice.

Read more… The Law of the Dead and the Rights of the Living: New York Needs Reform
Infant mass grave ©2018 The Hart Island Project

Oscars Flashback: The tragic life and death of former Disney star Bobby Driscoll

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Paperback mysteries usually end this way, not Disney fairy tales. In March of 1968, a pair of children playing in an abandoned, Greenwich Village tenement in New York City discovered a young man dead on a cot, surrounded by beer bottles and religious handouts. There were no obvious signs of foul play. He had no identification. The body was unknown and went unclaimed. 

Read more… Oscars Flashback: The tragic life and death of former Disney star Bobby Driscoll
Everett Collection

An Urban System of Death

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Today, as space for interment within the five boroughs becomes ever more limited and expensive, and as concerns about environmental and spatial sustainability come to the fore, designers and cemetery stewards are beginning to envision new urban systems of death. When every inch is contested, how can space for contemplation and remembrance be preserved, even if space for “traditional” burial is not?

Read more… An Urban System of Death
©2018 The Hart Island Project

He died in New York in 1989. Now Ferg Griffin is coming home

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Fergus Griffin is no longer missing. His Hart Island clock stopped ticking after 28 years, 241 days, 38 minutes and 15 seconds, when family members posted loving tributes to him on hartisland.net, following his positive identification via DNA testing.

Read more… He died in New York in 1989. Now Ferg Griffin is coming home
Fergus Griffin in 1983

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.”

Read more… Corey Johnson gets serious about fixing an ‘indefensible’ Hart Island
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.

Read more…

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.”

Read more… Visiting New York City’s early AIDS graves
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.

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

Read more… After her son went missing 4 years ago, mom finds closure
Craig Ruttle/Newsday

Events

There are no upcoming events

Past events

Hart Island Project Annual Meeting & Peekskill Open House

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The Hart Island Project Annual Meeting will be held at 10 AM on June 3, 2017. It will be followed by an open house in participation with Peekskill Open Studio. There will be a free trolley from the Metronorth train station to the downtown area. Maps available at the gazebo.

Read more…
Hart Island Project Annual Meeting & Peekskill Open House

Unique Places of Death NYC & Secret Island: Performance & panel discussion

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Composer and multimedia artist Volker Goetze presents live performance excerpts of new compositions for African harp, dulcimer, bass clarinet, trumpet, percussion and New York City sounds and visuals. 

Volker Goetze uses live performance combined with 3D immersive audio and 360 video to fully capture the “Unique places of Death;” places in New York City listed in the Traveling Cloud Museum database. 

“Secret Island” is a photography and music project about the forgotten borough of New York – Staten Island – telling the untold stories about historic events which shaped Staten Island going back to the prehistoric ice age up until today.

The concert will consist of 20 minute excerpts of both projects followed by a panel discussion with the composer and Melinda Hunt director of The Hart Island Project. Music for this event is commissioned, in part, with a 2016 composer's commission from the New York State Council on the Arts and Exploring the Metropolis Performing Arts Residency courtesy of Con Edison. free tickets

Read more…
Unique Places of Death NYC & Secret Island: Performance & panel discussion
Volker Goetze

Memorial Event for Rosalee Grable

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Celebrating the one year anniversary of Rosalee Grable's death and subsequent burial on Hart Island with song and good spirit. We can't visit her grave on Hart Island but we can gather and remember a great person.  

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Memorial Event for Rosalee Grable
Huffington Post

Historic District Council Presents: Celebrating Hart Island Public Lecture

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City Cemetery on Hart Island is the largest municipal burial ground in the United States. Located in the Long Island Sound, just a stone’s throw from City Island, Hart Island was purchased by New York City in 1868 for the purpose of opening a Branch Workhouse for older boys from the House of Refuge on Randall’s Island. One hundred and fifty years later, young misdemeanants still bury unclaimed bodies in common graves at City Cemetery. Last year, around 1200 bodies were released for city burial by the Medical Examiner. Hart Island is the final resting place of over one million people and counting.

Formed in 2011 to raise awareness, support for family and friends of the buried, and access to records and maps, The Hart Island Project hosts a storytelling platform called the Traveling Cloud Museum. This award winning digital platform has made the burial process, which is largely unchanged since 1872, visible. The organization works to dispel popular misconceptions about Hart Island including a belief that New York City is running out of burial space.

This lecture and discussion will focus on how this historic burial process serves New Yorkers and explore its potential as a park and urban natural burial facility. Rich in history, Hart Island may hold the secret to a sustainable, ecological municipal burial practice.

Read more…
Historic District Council Presents: Celebrating Hart Island Public Lecture
courtesy NYPL

Open to the Public - Making Our Story Heard - Historic Districts Council 23 Annual Preservation Conference

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Join The Hart Island Project at the Historic Districts Council for a Participant Driven Preservation Conference on Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 9 AM to 4 PM.

This day-long Conference will dive into campaigns to preserve communities throughout the city with sessions led by the participants.

Read more…
Open to the Public - Making Our Story Heard - Historic Districts Council 23 Annual Preservation Conference
Historic Districts Council

Bronx Parks Speak Up

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The Hart Island Project will host a table at the 23rd Annual Bronx Parks Speak Up beginning at 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday, February 25, 2017. The event is held at Lehman Colleges Faculty Dining Room in the MUSIC BUILDING AT 250 BEDFORD PARK BLVD. W. The theme of this year's Speak Up is "The Future of Bronx Parks and Open Space. Please come by and say hello. 

Read more…
Bronx Parks Speak Up
(clockwise from top left): Bronx River Alliance, Karen Argenti, Clarence Eckerson.

Six to Celebrate Launch Party

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Please join the Historic Districts Council (HDC) and The Hart Island Project at the 2017 launch party! Six to Celebrate annually identifies six historic NYC neighborhoods that merit preservation. These will be priorities for HDC’s advocacy and consultation over a yearlong period.

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Six to Celebrate Launch Party
Historic District Council
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