News

Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows

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Episode II: If I Didn't Have HIV, I Wouldn't Have Met You
It’s the 1980s — Harlem, USA — and the 17th floor of the area’s struggling public hospital is filling up with infants and children who arrive and then never leave. Some spend their whole lives on the pediatric ward, celebrating birthdays, first steps and first words with the nurses and doctors who’ve become their surrogate family. Welcome to Harlem Hospital at the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemics.

Read more… Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows
Maxine Frere, a lifelong Harlem resident, spent her 40-year career at Harlem Hospital Center. Credit - Kia LaBeija

The Hart Island Project to Receive NEA for Landscape of Hope

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The Hart Island Project is pleased to announce it has been approved by @NEAarts for a Challenge America award to support LANDSCAPE OF HOPE which will offer visions of a future landscape on Hart Island in collaboration with landscape design faculty @KnowltonOSU

Read more… The Hart Island Project to Receive NEA for Landscape of Hope
Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows

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Episode I - Mourning in America:  Valerie Reyes-Jimenez called it “The Monster.” That’s how some people described HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. Valerie thinks as many as 75 people from her block on New York City’s Lower East Side died. They were succumbing to an illness that was not recognized as the same virus that was killing young, white, gay men just across town in the West Village.

Read more… Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows
Valerie Reyes-Jimenez. ( Kia LaBeija )

NY Daily News - We need a plan for Hart Island: NYC’s public cemetery must include the public

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Most people only learned about mass burials on Hart Island when drone videos were televised showing long trenches with pine boxes stacked on top of one another in rows during the pandemic. The videos revealed a burial practice begun in 1872 on Hart Island that few people other than inmates and correction officers have witnessed.

Those videos coincided with a shift in jurisdiction of Hart Island from the New York penal system to NYC Parks in October 2021. Management by NYC Parks seemed to signal that the island could finally step out from the shadow of ignominy surrounding it and become a place that honors the lives of those buried there. That may still be the case, but a recently completed burial capacity study by the city Human Resources Administration (HRA) poses significant concerns about the island’s future.

Read more… NY Daily News - We need a plan for Hart Island: NYC’s public cemetery must include the public
Jack Gruber/Ohio State University

The Unmarked Graveyard: Lamont Dottin

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Back in 1995, LaMont Dottin was 21 years old and a freshman at Queens College when, one evening, he didn’t come home. His mother went to the local police precinct to try to report him missing, and his name was added to a list of thousands of cases that the NYPD’s Missing Persons Squad was supposed to be investigating. Then his case fell through the cracks.

Read more… The Unmarked Graveyard: Lamont Dottin

Hart Island, burial site for 1 million New Yorkers, opens to the public

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Hart Island, the city’s burial ground in the Long Island Sound that has been inaccessible for decades, was unveiled as a new public space on Wednesday.
Starting next week, the island will be open twice a month to free walking tours hosted by the Parks Department, which will offer a ferry to visitors from City Island in the Bronx. The island has served as a potter’s field where the city has buried more than 1 million people since 1869. 

Read more… Hart Island, burial site for 1 million New Yorkers, opens to the public
Sophia Chang/Gothamist

The Unmarked Graveyard Episode Seven: Hisako Hasegawa

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The Belvedere Hotel is in the heart of New York City’s theater district. Many of its guests come to see the sights, take in a show. But there are a few dozen people who call the Belvedere home. Decades ago, they came to New York and rented rooms there. As the hotel changed hands over the years, they never left. One of them was Hisako Hasegawa.

Read more… The Unmarked Graveyard Episode Seven: Hisako Hasegawa

Episode Six - The Unmarked Graveyard: Cesar Irizarry

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Angel Irizarry spent years working as a detective, and in 2021 he set out on a personal investigation to track down an uncle who’d been estranged from his family for decades.
But early in his search he made a disappointing discovery: his uncle Cesar had died. So Angel embarked on a new quest, to learn what had become of Cesar during his long absence.

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Episode Five: The Unmarked Graveyard - Dawn Powell

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Dawn Powell wrote novels about people like herself: outsiders who’d come to New York City in the early twentieth century to make a name for themselves. Those novels put her at the center of the city’s literary scene. Ernest Hemingway even called her his “favorite living writer.” After her death, both her books — and her body — disappeared. 

Like many who are buried on Hart Island, Dawn donated her body to medicine. When the executor of her will was asked if Dawns remains should be returned for private burial or cremation, the answer was no. By default, her body was buried on Hart Island. In 1977, the burial ledger listing Dawn was lost in a fire.

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The Secret Cemetery

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Elsie Soto was ten years old when her father, Norberto, died in 1993 from AIDS. “Not being at his bedside, not saying goodbye, not seeing the coffin go in the ground,” Elsie said, made it difficult to reconcile her father’s death. Her grief and shock were compounded by the stigma surrounding AIDS—all the private funeral homes her mother contacted refused to perform the service.

Lizzette Rivera’s mother, Zaida, died from AIDS-related complications when Lizzette was 15 years old, in 1984. Like Elsie, she never got to say goodbye, and there was no funeral. Growing up, Lizzette felt as if she carried her mother with her everywhere, “inside of me, inside my heart.”

Both women knew their parents were buried on Hart Island—the location of New York City’s public cemetery. But they didn’t know where on the island their parents were buried. And, until just a few years ago, they were prohibited from going to the island.

Read more… The Secret Cemetery

Episode Four: The Unmarked Graveyard - Documenting the Invisible

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For more than a century, it was almost impossible to find out much about people buried on Hart Island. But in 2008, that all changed — thanks in large part to a woman named Melinda Hunt. 

Melinda is a visual artist who has spent more than 30 years documenting America’s largest public cemetery and producing creative projects about Hart Island including Traveling Cloud Museum.  She is the founder of The Hart Island Project which advocates for opening Hart Island to families and the public. 

This week, Alissa Escarce sits down with Melinda to discuss the history of Hart Island and how it’s changed over the last few decades. 

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Episode Three - The Unmarked Graveyard: Angel Garcia

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When Annette Vega was seven years old, she found out the man she called “dad” wasn’t her biological father. But all she knew was that her mom had had a teenage romance with a guy named Angel Garcia. Annette has searched for Angel for more than 30 years. Her search came to an end when she found him buried on Hart Island in 2019.

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Stories from Hart Island | LIVE from NYPL

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Producer Joe Richman, The Hart Island Project and guests discuss latest season of Radio Diaries' new series, "The Unmarked Graveyard," which untangles mysteries of people buried in America's largest public cemetery.America's largest public cemetery.

Read more… Stories from Hart Island | LIVE from NYPL

Episode Two - The Unmarked Graveyard: Noah Creshevsky

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When Noah Creshevsky learned he was dying of bladder cancer two years ago, he decided to decline medical treatment. Soon, he and his husband David were faced with another decision: what would become of his body after he died?

Noah chose to be buried in on Hart Island, America’s largest municipal cemetery, not because he couldn’t afford a private burial or cremation, but because it was his personal preference. Noah’s husband David explains how a city burial isn’t a tragic ending in this story.

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Episode One - The Unmarked Graveyard: Neil Harris

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A few years ago, a young man who called himself Stephen became a fixture in Manhattan’s Riverside Park. Locals started noticing him sitting on the same park bench day after day. He said little and asked for nothing. When Stephen was found dead in 2017, the police couldn’t identify him.

Like other New Yorkers whose bodies can’t be identified, he was buried in a mass grave on Hart Island, America’s largest public cemetery. For many, that would be the end of the story. But one day, a woman who knew Stephen from the park stumbled on his true identity. This is the story of where he came from, and the people who went to great lengths to try to track him down. 

Read more… Episode One - The Unmarked Graveyard: Neil Harris

An artist’s Brief But Spectacular take on New York City’s family tomb

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New York City's Hart Island is the final resting place for more than a million unclaimed bodies. In 2018, artist Melinda Hunt launched the Hart Island Project, which has mapped the entire island and published the stories of more than 68,000 people buried there. Hunt shares her Brief But Spectacular take on New York City's family tomb.

Read more… An artist’s Brief But Spectacular take on New York City’s family tomb
PBS News Hour

Hart Island advocate seeks to honor father's legacy

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Holding the last letter her father wrote her before his death in 1993, Elsie Soto said his words continue to inspire her.  “He knew that he just was not going to be here for this and this was what he was leaving me,” said Soto.

Read more… Hart Island advocate seeks to honor father's legacy

Plans to revitalize Hart Island in effort to welcome visitors in the works

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The city has plans to give Potters Field, located on Hart Island and known for being a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed New Yorkers, a makeover to make it more welcoming to New Yorkers. 

Director Melinda Hunt, of The Hart Island Project, says that the plan will focus on changing the negative imagery associated with the city’s free cemetery. 
 
Hunt says the city’s Parks Department will begin providing guided public tours of the island this year, which she says is a step in the right direction to removing that negative stigma, including the removal of many of the island’s crumbling structures.  

Read more… Plans to revitalize Hart Island in effort to welcome visitors in the works

One of New York's most infamous graveyard's will be converted into a park

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Founding Director of the Hart Island Project Melinda Hunt speaks to Newsline with Brigitte Quinn about the opening of Hart Island.

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New York's long-forbidden graveyard island to be converted to a park

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New York City's Hart Island may be marked by crumbling buildings and over a million graves — but to Melinda Hunt, it's a place of beauty.

"From the very first day that I went there, I felt that it was really misunderstood, that it wasn't really a dark place," she told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "It was a very beautiful place. So I became very attached to the landscape."

The island, which has been closed to the public, will be free to visit starting some time this year, according to the city. Public consultations will be held over the next year to develop plans for converting it into a park.

Read more… New York's long-forbidden graveyard island to be converted to a park
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Events

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Past events

Bronx Parks Speak-up 2024

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Please join The Hart Island Project to discuss Landscape of Hope: visions of a future landscape on Hart Island.
Starting in 2024, this project will present NYC Parks with landscape strategies as they begin a masterplan. A landscape strategy forefronts the long-term care necessary for the success of an active, living environment. The relationship between the bio-physical nature or plants and humans on Hart Island reveals the interconnection between human lifespan, public memory, the burial process and plant behavior on the island. We believe this will offer a new cultural landscape for 21st century natural burials while also better adapting the island and proposed parkland to the impact of climate change on the Long Island Sound. 

Bronx Parks Speak-up 2024
Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Public tour of Hart Island

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NYC Parks' Urban Park Rangers offer free walking tours of the island twice per month. Registration is required through an online form and participants will be selected by lottery. All public history tours are done on foot and last approximately 2.5 hours, with ferry transportation provided to and from Hart Island. Historic points of interest on Hart Island can be viewed online here.

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Public tour of Hart Island
The Hart Island Project

Giving Tuesday

Please support us on Giving Tuesday with a personal contribution. Our work resulted in ending penal control of Hart Island, access to gravesites for families and now public tours starting this month. This year we released a new interpretive guide, navigation tools and Augmented Reality grave markers for individual burials. We rely on individual contributions to continue this work. 

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Giving Tuesday

The Recollectors' Storytelling Program

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Join us for a powerful storytelling experience at the NYC AIDS Memorial Through the personal narratives of the Recollectors, we will shed light on the impact of the epidemic and the resilience of the human spirit. This in-person event offers a unique opportunity to connect with others, honor the memories of those we've lost, and celebrate the strength of our community.

Read more…
The Recollectors' Storytelling Program
photo courtesy Elsie Soto

Stories from Hart Island

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Go behind the latest season of Radio Diaries' new series, "The Unmarked Graveyard," which untangles mysteries of people buried in America's largest public cemetery.

Read more…
Stories from Hart Island
Radio Diaries

The Hart Island Project Annual Public Meeting

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Meet with The Hart Island Project Board of Directors at our annual public meeting June 17, 2023 from 2:00-3:30 PM - Zoom Meeting ID: 884 0697 2026

Read more…
The Hart Island Project Annual Public Meeting
Traveling Cloud Museum 2022 Mobile First Updates

Global Pandemics Touchstone Walk to Remember

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Beginning at 1 PM on May 28, the NYC Walk to Remember will proceed through Central Park and continue to West 110 Street and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This 3 mile solemn walk will be in remembrance of New Yorkers who succumbed to COVID-19 and HIV AIDS, and those who knew and cared for them.

The 3 mile Walk to Remember will conclude with a special blessing of the Touchstone at the Cathedral. A service of music and prayer will follow, beginning at 4pm. The stone will remain on view at the Cathedral until it departs early Tuesday morning for Hart Island in the Bronx.

Global Pandemics Touchstone Walk to Remember
Stonewalk on City Island October 2022

Bronx Parks Speak-up

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The Hart Island Project will have a table at Bronx Parks Speak-Up. Join us for our first in person event at Lehman College's Faculty Dining Room in the MUSIC BUILDING AT 250 BEDFORD PARK BLVD. Bronx, NY and learn about our new navigation tools and interpretive guide.

Read more…

Global Pandemic Touchstone Walk on City Island

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On Sunday, October 16th at 2:00 pm EDT, the Hart Island Touchstone Coalition (HITC) will stage the first in a proposed series of bereavement walks to honor the memory of those who have succumbed to the scourge of pandemic illnesses.

The HITC community will pull a hand-drawn carriage containing a granite Global Pandemics Touchstone donated to the Coalition by the nonprofit Peace Abbey Foundation on a course from Pelham Cemetery on King Avenue at City Island to the entrance of the Ferry Dock overlooking Hart Island Cemetery. The quarter-mile bereavement walk with the Touchstone, will bring together families and friends who have loved ones buried on Hart Island and who are seeking to have the Touchstone placed there in their loved one's honor. 

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Global Pandemic Touchstone Walk on City Island

HDC Six to Celebrate - Bronx Conversation with Past Awardees

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The Historic Districts Council (HDC) invites you to an in-person event to discuss how to assist Bronx neighborhoods advance their preservation goal. If you are interested in learning about the preservation-related priorities of different communities, come hear from previous participants about their experiences with this program, their achievements, and their current priorities in terms of preserving the historic treasures of their neighborhood. The conversation will be led and moderated by Angel Hernandez and Samuel Brooks, co-chairs of HDC’s Bronx Borough Landmarks Committee. Thursday, October 13, 2022 – 7:00PM

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HDC Six to Celebrate - Bronx Conversation with Past Awardees
Hart Island Historic Guide

The Hart Island Project Annual Meeting

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Please join us for a progress report on our mission to open access to Hart Island and assist families and friends of the buried.

We're converting our website to mobile first and adding new navigation and location based storytelling tools.

We need your ideas for how to preserve Hart Island as a National Historic Site and National Monument

Join Here on Zoom

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Bronx Parks Speak-up

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Please join The Hart Island Project to learn about our work to restore Hart Island as America's largest natural burial ground and its essential place in New York City's Green Infastructure

REGISTER HERE

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Bronx Parks Speak-up

On Hart Island: Past, Present and Future - On Zoom & In Person

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The Roosevelt Island Library and the Roosevelt Island Historical Society are proud to host Melinda Hunt and her presentation on Hart Island. Melinda Hunt is President and founding director of The Hart Island Project in New York City. Her work led to ending 150 years of penal control on Hart Island. She is a NYFA/NYSCA Fellow in electronic art. She is a visual artist who works in a variety of fields and settings.

REGISTER

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On Hart Island: Past, Present and Future - On Zoom & In Person
Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

HIV/Aids The epidemic isn’t over!

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The exhibition “HIV/Aids, the epidemic is not over” traces the social and political history of AIDS. Taking a retrospective and contemporary look at the epidemic and the mobilisations it has generated, it aims to contribute to the fight against it. Indeed, putting Aids in a museum is not to bury it; on the contrary, it is to reaffirm its relevance, as shown by the title of the exhibition, which takes up a historic slogan of Act Up: “The epidemic is not over!”

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HIV/Aids The epidemic isn’t over!
Mucem.org

On Hart Island: Past Present & Future

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Please join Melinda Hunt - interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and founding director of The Hart Island Project - to discover the historical significance of one of the most mysterious and beautiful places in New York City, Hart Island. During this interactive presentation, Melinda will share historical documents, videos, and testimonies to engage us with the municipal burial place's rich history - intrinsically connected in one way or another with all New Yorkers. Free event with registration.

REGISTER

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On Hart Island: Past Present & Future
Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

NYC Women’s Fund Showcase - AIDS Burials on Hart Island

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AIDS Burials on Hart Island series will premiere on NYC Women’s Fund Showcase on NYC TV channel 25, October 22, 2021 at 8 PM.

An encore broadcast will take place on November 19, 2021 at 8 PM

Read more…
NYC Women’s Fund Showcase - AIDS Burials on Hart Island
©2020 Melinda Hunt/The Hart Island Project

Open House New York 2021

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In this episode of The Gotham Center for New York City History’s Sites and Sounds podcast series, Melinda Hunt talks about Hart Island, the small landmass that lies half a mile from City Island, in the Bronx, on the Long Island Sound.

WATCH HERE

Read more…
Open House New York 2021
Alon Sicherman & Sean Vegezzi/The Hart Island Project

Storytelling tools for COVID-19 Webinar

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We’re please to announce the launch of our COVID-19 Initiative with new tools added to Traveling Cloud Museum for searching and claiming people who died from the pandemic in New York City and are now buried on Hart Island. 

The Hart Island Project is working to end the stigma for families who agreed to a City Burial. Please join us on Thursday, September 23, 2021 @7 PM for a webinar on how to claim and add stories or photos about someone buried on Hart Island who succumbed to COVID-19. 

REGISTER

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Storytelling tools for COVID-19 Webinar
COVID-19 burials on Hart Island

Hart Island Suite Premiere

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Jazz composer Anita Brown received a 2019 NYSCA award with support from The Hart Island Project as fiscal sponsor. The work was scheduled to premiere in 2020 and delayed due to COVID restrictions. Hart Island Suite tells the story of Anita's elder sister, Julie, who was buried on Hart Island before Anita was born. 

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Hart Island Suite Premiere

Hart Island Poem wins Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award

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Plough will announce the winners of its first annual Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award in an online event with Rhina P. Espaillat and Plough poetry editor A. M. Juster. The winning poet donated her prize to The Hart Island Project.

Register to attend on YouTube

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Hart Island Poem wins Rhina Espaillat Poetry Award
courtesy Plough Publishing House
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