'This was a scary time and people were avoiding AIDS patients like the plague,' recalled Eugene Ruppert, 69, who retired as a captain with New York City’s Department of Correction, which oversees burials on Hart Island.

Corey Kilgannon – The New York Times.

AIDS Burials on Hart Island

The Hart Island Project AIDS Initiative is an attempt to identify people who died of AIDS buried on Hart Island and preserve their stories.

Hart Island is the burial site of anyone who dies in New York City whose body is not collected by a licensed funeral director. On June 18, 1983, the New York State Funeral Directors Association urged its members not to embalm AIDS fatalities. It then became difficult to find a funeral director to handle the bodies of people who died of AIDS.

People who died of AIDS in New York City 1985-86 were buried in individual graves fourteen feet deep at a remote location at the southern-most tip of the Hart Island. In 1992, photographer Joel Sternfeld and Melinda Hunt were permitted to photograph the marker of the first child known to have died of AIDS. On April 29, 2018, a drone flying over the southern tip of Hart Island captured the locations of burial markers. NYC Speaker Corey Johnson then visited this location for World AIDS Day 2018.

AIDS Burials on Hart Island webseries was funded in part by the City of New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene through a contract with Public Health Solutions, Council Member Mark Levine and with support from Made in New York Women’s Film, TV & Theater Fund through the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment in association with New York Foundation for the Arts.

AIDS grave of the first child
AIDS grave of the first child to die of AIDS in New York City ©1993 Melinda Hunt
Speaker Corey Johnson
Speaker Corey Johnson visiting AIDS graves on Hart Island 2018 ©2018 The Hart Island Project
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