Anorak | Hart Island, New York: The Open Air Cathedral Where The Alone Are Left To Rot

Hart Island, New York: The Open Air Cathedral Where The Alone Are Left To Rot

by | 25th, November 2013

HART Island can be found on the edge of Long Island Sound, by the entrance to New York’s East River. It’s known for death. On the island is Potter’s Field, the place where the unclaimed and unknown dead are buried. They are placed in the earth with little ceremony.

New York’s city cemetery on Hart Island occupies 101 acres in the Long Island Sound on the eastern edge of the Bronx. It is the largest tax funded cemetery in the world. Prison labor is used to perform the daily mass burials that number close to one million. Citizens must contact the prison system to visit Hart Island.

Melinda Hunt was intrigued. She founded The Hart Island Project .

The mission of the Hart Island Project is to make the largest cemetery in the United States visible and accessible so that no one is omitted from history.



Melinda Hunt in her Peekskill, N.Y. studio with one of her charcoal drawings based on photographs she has acquired while researching a project about people who are buried in New York’s Hart Island. In the background is a portrait Kenneth Lyle Douglas who died Feb. 14, 2005 and was located by a friend. Since 1869, more than 800,000 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.




* She likens the figures to the spirits in The Divine Comedy who emerge from the ether to speak to Dante. “Each of these people somehow got stuck, and they got stuck in a place in history, and that place is Hart Island.”






* In 1997, Hunt created an installation for New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum featuring photographs, burial and archival records, and tiny coffins holding blankets embroidered with the names of infants buried on the island.





“Bobby Driscoll’s daughter contacted me in 2008, searching for her father’s grave. He was a very well-known and successful child actor in the 1950s. He even won an Academy Award.” But Driscoll’s career foundered in the 1960s. He became addicted to narcotics and lost touch with his family. He died penniless and alone in 1968, and was buried in an unmarked grave on Hart Island.

Hunt smiles at the sketch. “I don’t think this has to be a sad story. The island is beautiful — one of the last wild green spaces in New York. … at times, it has the sense of a huge outdoor cathedral.”



An inmate’s letter

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Posted: 25th, November 2013 | In: In Pictures, News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink