2. Hart Island

One of the most contentious items at the hearing was a site that is not actually within NYC Parks jurisdiction, but many advocates feel it should be. Hart Island, the city’s mass burial ground or potters field, is managed by the NYC Department of Corrections and staffed by the inmates at Rikers Island, who bury the dead. Access issues for families of the dead have prompted some reforms in recent years, led by activism from the Hart Island Project, but the strange confluence of jurisdictions makes this location, the largest publicly funded cemetery in the world, a bizarre place for bereavement.

Testimony from family members at the hearing was harrowing. One military veteran lost her child at birth and the hospital subsequently lost the body. It took thirty years for her to locate the burial site in a trench on Hart Island. Another testimonial spoke to the number of persons with AIDS who are buried here, a forgotten chapter in the history of HIV and AIDS untold at the recent AIDS Memorial unveiling.

Hart Island also has a history of other uses, as a military base, as a drug rehabilitation facility and more. The active burial grounds on Hart Island are only a small portion of the 101 acre island, so supporters for reuse argue that the rest of the island can be converted into memorial and public space. For the general public now, access can be granted one Thursday a month through application with the Department of Corrections. See our documentation of our visit there this year.