Rikers Island inmates performing adult burials on Hart Island. Photograph by Joel Sternfeld via The Hart Island Project
Our story on the abandoned Hart Island in New York City, the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, was our 9th most popular article in 2013. Yesterday, Curbed reported that the mass burial ground may get new life as a park. Queens Democrat Elizabeth Crowley wants to reintroduce a bill to place the island under the jurisdiction of the NYC Parks Department.
It is estimated that somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million are buried there, unceremoniously in the city’s latest potter’s field–New Yorkers who were unclaimed or whose families couldn’t afford a funeral. Still, some notable people are buried there like Bobby Driscoll, the Disney child actor and voice of Peter Pan who died homeless. The grave of the first child to die of AIDS is also on Hart Island. The 130-acre island is notoriously hard to visit, as it currently belongs to the Department of Corrections. Rikers Island inmates perform the burials there.
According to Melinda Hunt of The Hart Island Project, New York City is the only municipality that demands people to provide a death certificate before visiting the public cemetery. Visits are limited to one day a month, there’s no map of the burials, and no one is permitted to visit a specific grave. The Hart Island Project is a non-profit dedicated making Hart Island visible and accessible, “so that no one is omitted from history.”
Crowley intends to work with City Council’s new Parks Committee leadership on this reiteration of the bill. Says Crowley ,“Every New Yorker should have the right to visit, without having to go through the (Department of Corrections) process. My goal is to open up more of the island, and make it more visitor-friendly.”
See more photos of Hart Island here.