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Thread: Hart Island

  1. #1
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    Oct 2002

    Default Hart Island

    City Launches Online Database for Massive Hart Island Potter's Field

    By Amy Zimmer

    An adult trench on Hart Island

    Hart Island boys reformatory

    Hart Island Chapel

    Pavilion interior on Hart Island

    Dynamo Room from the boys' workhouse on Hart Island

    Medical records stored on Hart Island

    Buildings on Hart Island

    Prison records on Hart Island in 2008

    NEW YORK CITY — Hart Island, the city’s 101-acre potter's field, has seen 850,000 burials since the city acquired the land in 1869.

    But trying to find out the unclaimed people buried in what is considered the largest municipal-run graveyard in the world has never been easy.

    The Department of Correction, the agency that runs the island, launched Wednesday an online database for the island’s burial records, according to an announcement from City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the council’s criminal justice services committee.

    The database, however, does not go far enough for advocates who have criticized the city for making it difficult for friends and relatives to actually visit gravesites.

    Laurie Grant, whose stillborn was buried there in 1994, filed a lawsuit in December challenging the DOC’s policy restricting access to graves.

    Visitors are restricted to a gazebo on the island rather than allowed to visit the actual burial grounds.

    Grant, an OB/GYN, has become a voice for the families of the 27,769 infants buried there between 1981 and 2011. She is on the board of the nonprofit Hart Island Project, which is urging the city to transfer jurisdiction from the DOC to the Department of Parks and Recreation and make Hart Island an open cemetery.

    “The DOC database does not make burial location information listed in the ledger books available to the public,” said Melinda Hunt, an artist who launched the Hart Island Project website in 2009, nearly a decade after publishing a book about the island.

    “Most people wish to visit an actual gravesite and commemorate their loved one through visitation and storytelling,” she continued.

    Limiting access to grave sites, she added, "interferes, unnecessarily, with the normal process of grief.”

    Besides stillborns, there are many immigrants and victims of crimes and disease buried there, along with homeless people, tourists and others laid to rest after their families couldn't be found or could not afford to pay for burials elsewhere.

    The island, sitting just east of City Island in the Long Island Sound, has been largely abandoned, save for the inmates serving short-term sentences who are bused in from nearby Rikers Island to perform daily burials at mass graves.

    Like many other little islands around New York City, Hart Island had been used for a host of institutions, such as an extension of a prison workhouse for boys on Rikers Island, hospitals and barracks from the Civil War that were turned over to the city, an insane asylum, and a home for victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1870, Hunt’s 1998 book explains.

    The city charter that assigned DOC and the Department of Welfare, a now-defunct agency, to oversee the island has never been changed.

    Photos taken there by Ian Ference, who writes the Kingson Lounge blog, show the island in a state of decay and disrepair.

    Before the DOC’s database, Hunt’s nonprofit worked on a series of Freedom of Information Law requests to get the city to hand over the names of the people buried there in order create its own database that volunteers spent several years developing.

    The Hart Island project is also filing a FOIL request for GPS information for the mass grave locations, in the hopes that legislation, which has been introduced, will grant public access to the potter's field through the jurisdiction change, Hunt said.

    The project is developing an interactive feature called the Traveling Cloud Museum that will include storytelling tied to people buried on Hart Island. It will use the plot and section information in its database linked to the GPS data, enabling the public to search grave locations on Google, Hunt explained.

    “It is inappropriate for the prison system to manage visitation," she said, "and block access to graves."

  2. #2
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    The Bronx's 'Isle of the Dead' may get new life as park

    Queens lawmaker Elizabeth Crowley vows to reintroduce bill to transfer Hart Island's operations to Parks Department

    By Jennifer H. Cunningham

    Claire Yaffa/AP
    This Sept. 13, 1990 photo provided by Claire Yaffa shows a mass burial trench for adults on New York's Hart Island.
    Since 1869, more than 1 million people have been laid to rest at the potter's field on the island that lies in the waters just off the Bronx borough of New York City.

    A Bronx-based potter’s Field that’s been in use since the Victorian era may get a new life.

    Part of Hart Island, a 130-acre isle off mainland Bronx that has been used as a public cemetery since 1869, may become the city’s newest park after a Queens lawmaker vowed to revisit a measure that would bring it under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department.

    Claire Yaffa/AP
    This Thursday, Sept. 13, 1990 picture provided by Claire Yaffa shows the mass burial of infants in Trench 51
    on New York's Hart Island. Since 1869, more than 1 million people have been laid to rest at the potter's field
    n the island that lies in the waters just off the Bronx borough of New York City.

    City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said she’ll re-introduce the bill she co-sponsored to transfer Hart Island’s jurisdiction from the city Department of Correction. Crowley said she aims to have the bill — which died in committee on New Year’s Eve — reintroduced by next month.

    “Every New Yorker should have the right to visit, without having to go through the (Department of Corrections) process,” Crowley said. “My goal is to open up more of the island, and make it more visitor-friendly.”

    STUDIO/HANDOUT - Image Credit in Caption - Bryan Pace/for New York Daily News
    Potters Field - Title : Adult Mass Burial with Pages from the Hart Island Burial Record Books
    Photo Credit : Melinda Hunt in Collaboration with Joel Sternfeld - Exhibit "Silent Beaches, Untold Stories:
    New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront" at St. Johns University, Queens.

    Crowley said she plans to work with the Council’s new Parks Committee leadership to give the plan a fair hearing.

    STUDIO/HANDOUT - Image Credit in Caption - Bryan Pace/for New York Daily News
    Potters Field - Title : New Mass Grave and Mussel Shells with Pages from the Hart Island Burial Records
    Photo Credit : Melinda Hunt in Collaboration with Joel Sternfeld - Exhibit "Silent Beaches, Untold Stories:
    New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront" at St. Johns University, Queens.

    Currently, those wishing to visit some of approximately one million people entombed on the island have to formally request a visit and cannot visit the actual grave site, according to the Department of Correction. Visitors must take a city-operated ferry from City Island to Hart Island.

    Rikers Island inmates are still burying people on the southern portion of the island. The common burial ground serves as the final resting spot for people who are indigent or those whose families don’t know their wherabouts when they die.

    An aerial photo of Hart Island from the 1950s.

    If the park proposal is approved, the city would have to find a way to deal with the influx of traffic onto City Island, said Barbara Dolensek of the City Island Civic Association.

    “Our main concern would be the impact opening a public park would have on City Island,” Dolensek said. “We do think people should be allowed to visit on a limited basis.”

    Inmates prepare for a burial at Hart Island.

    The northern end of the island — which hasn’t had new burials in many years — could easily be turned into a park, said Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project, which is advocating for increased accessibility to Hart Island.

    Hunt — whose group is hosting a hearing this month on the future uses of Hart Island — said several former potter’s fields in the city have been turned into parks — including Bryant Park, City Hall Park and Washington Square Park. Prospect Park in Brooklyn is home to a Quaker cemetery.

    “That’s really the precedent for transferring it,” Hunt said. “[The cemetery] doesn’t impinge on Prospect Park being an active park.”

    Besides burials, the small island in the Long Island Sound that’s less than a mile east of City Island, has also been home to a prison, a reformatory for boys and an insane asylum.

    A Parks Department spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on legislation that didn’t yet exist, but said the department has refused jurisdiction of Hart Island in the past because the agency won’t operate on an active burial ground.

    Hart Island Project Public Meeting, Jan. 18, 2 p.m., City Island Library, 320 City Island Ave.

  3. #3
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    Bronx community board gives nod to law turning Hart Island into city park

    At a meeting Thursday night, Community Board 10 signed off on City Council legislation that would transfer the isolated gravesite's operations from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department.

    By Ben Kochman
    January 19, 2015

    Courtesy Hart Island Project An aerial view of Hart Island, where 65,000 people have been buried since 1980, according to data from the city
    Department of Corrections. A proposed law would make the land a city park.

    A Bronx community board urged Thursday that the isolated burial ground of Hart Island be transformed into a park.

    Community Board 10 signed off on a proposed law that would make it easier for families to visit the 130-acre island, where the city has been burying the unclaimed since the Victorian era.

    Family members of those resting at the city’s largest Potter’s Field can currently visit only once per month, on ferries that leave from City Island. Even then, they are confined to a gazebo that’s out of view of the graves.

    A law introduced by City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) would change that by shifting control of the island from the Department of Correction to the Parks Department.
    Claire Yaffa/AP Since 1869, more than 800,000 people have been laid to rest at the potter's field on the island that lies in the waters just off the Bronx.

    The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a separate legal action last month that seeks to give relatives greater access to gravesites.

    Only one community board member abstained, citing her lack of faith in the Parks Department’s capacity to run the island.

    “Anything you give Parks is like putting a hole in the ground,” fumed Virginia Gallagher as she was overruled.

  4. #4


    City reaches agreement for visits to mass grave on Hart Island: source

    BY Reuven Blau , Stephen Rex Brown
    Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 2:13 PM

    DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty ImagesAn abandoned prison workhouse on Hart Island. Each plastic pipe indicates the burial site of roughly 1,000 people.

    The Department of Correction has settled a lawsuit brought by families who wished to visit their relatives' unmarked graves on Hart Island, two sources told the Daily News.
    The agreement, which is expected to be announced soon, will create visitation times and better organized transportation to the island, one of the sources said.

    Hart Island is the city’s only active potter’s field, where the poor or unidentified are laid to rest.
    It is home to some 1 million bodies and the largest mass grave in the United States, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit.

    The island has been under the control of the Department of Correction for over a century. Inmates perform daily mass burials there. Roughly 1,500 are interred each year.
    Previously, the department said it could only arrange visits once a month via ferry from nearby City Island. Once on the island, families are restricted to an area near the dock and not allowed to visit the graves themselves.

    The suit, filed in December called that “a disgraceful policy” and sought a court order compelling the city to facilitate access to the graves.
    Claire Yaffa/APA photo dated Sept. 13, 1990 showing the mass burial of infants in Trench 51 on Hart Island.

    Papers alleged that in reality, the monthly ferry visits were nearly impossible to arrange due to “ a number of bureaucratic hurdles.”
    “No city agency should force families to resign themselves to never seeing their loved ones again. There is no excuse for anyone to suffer like that just to visit a cemetery,” said NYCLU attorney Christopher Dunn when the suit was filed.
    A spokeswoman for the NYCLU said the parties had not yet reached a settlement.

    Among those named in the case is Rosaria Cortes Lusero, who gave birth to a stillborn child in 1995 at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
    The baby girl was buried on Hart Island — and Lusero hasn't been able to visit her grave since, papers charged.

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