Hart Island, New York's Mass Burial Ground

In its past, Hart Island in New York City has been a Civil War prison camp, a mental asylum, a workhouse for the poor, and even a missile base. But it's most prominent -and current- function is as potter's field, where the city buries its unclaimed dead. Around 900,000 people are interred on Hart Island, laid in mass graves by inmates from Riker's Island. The Department of Corrections runs the island, and it is forbidden to visitors except for a once-a-month trip to the shoreline, but even then the graves are off-limits. And no photography is allowed.

There are a few ways to end up on Hart Island. One third of its inhabitants are infants—some parents couldn’t afford a burial, others didn’t realize what a “city burial” meant when they checked it on the form. Many of the dead here were homeless, while others were simply unclaimed; if your body remains at the city morgue for more than two weeks, you, too, will be sent for burial by a team of prisoners on Hart Island. These practices have given rise to dozens of cases where parents and families aren’t notified in time to claim the body of their loved one. It can take months (even years) to determine whether your missing mom, dad, sibling, or child ended up at Hart.

Even if you do learn that a friend or loved one is buried at Hart, you won’t be able to find out exactly where.

A project led by artist Melinda Hunt, who wrote a book about Hart Island, seeks to give relatives of those buried there the right to visit the grave sites, which involves transferring control of the island from the DOC to the Parks Department. Read about Hart Island, its history and stories, and the efforts to open it to the public after 35 years, at Gizmodo. -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user David Trawin)


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