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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.

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* 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.”

 

 

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* 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.

 

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“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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A Mass Burial.

 

 

Cory Kilgannon:

The current trench should be filled before Christmas. Then the gravediggers, a cadre of inmates bused over from Rikers Island on Tuesdays through Fridays, will begin sowing the next crop of caskets in a pit, freshly dug and running adjacent, said Capt. Martin Thompson of the city’s Correction Department, which manages operations on the island.

His crews follow a grim arithmetic: up to 1,500 bodies buried a year, organized into 70-foot-long plots that, with caskets stacked three-high in rows of six, can hold about 150 adults each, or 1,000 infants, who are buried in trenches separate from the adults. On this 101-acre island, the number of burials since 1869 now approaches one million.

 

 

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. 

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The grim business:

* She wants to say a prayer at her baby’s grave — and she’s suing the city to make sure she can. Dr. Laurie Grant’s only child was stillborn in July 1993, and the tiny body was sent to Potter’s Field on Hart Island off The Bronx. The Westchester obstetrician, now 59, said it took her 18 years to locate the remains of her daughter, delivered by C-section at Lenox Hill Hospital. Grant said she was physically and emotionally wrecked over the loss of her baby and doesn’t remember signing any paperwork. “A nurse said, ‘Well, you can have the city bury the baby.’ She said that it wouldn’t be marked by the baby’s name, but there would be a number, and I would be able to visit,” Grant told The Post.

 

In this portrait taken Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, Germaine Maurer, left, and her son Jared Maurer, 28, pose for the Associated Press in their home in Piscataway, N.J. Germaine Maurer’s other son, Ben Maurer, went missing when he was 17 in 2002. He was identified through advanced DNA technology and new federal funding through a program aimed at identifying bodies at New York’s Hart Island, better known as potter’s field. Already the project has identified about 50 of the 54 bodies that have been disinterred

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Anatomical specimens are displayed at the City of New York Office of Chief Medical Examiner where anthropologists routinely work to reveal the persons behind unclaimed and unidentified remains, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in New York. The office is undertaking an ambitious effort to identify the nameless dead in the city’s potter’s field, seeking to capitalize on the expertise that it gained over the last decade identifying remains from the World Trade Center attack. 

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Bradley Adams, Ph.D., Director of Forensic Anthropology at the City of New York Office of Chief Medical Examiner.

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