There is a place in new york where the city department of corrections, rikers island inmates, stillborn babies, abandoned ruins, and unclaimed (or poor. or unwanted. or lost. ) human beings all meet. this isn’t a kind place that is often spoken about. isolated and eerily solemn, hart island is the world’s largest tax funded, public cemetery. since 1869, it has been estimated that nearly 1 million people have been buried here. it is gotham’s necropolis.
inmates from rikers island (nyc’s local jail) are paid 50 cents an hour to bury men, women, and children in trenches that are 3 caskets deep and 100 caskets long. the caskets are simple pine- there are no personal markers on hart island. only serial plot numbers and burial ids. the only solid marker is reserved for the first child to die of aids in new york city (no name, just a date)- this anonymous child a casualty of an era where deaths spiked in the city. during the 1980s and 90s many people were buried at hart island unwittingly- all due to the fact that many people in hospital care didn’t know what “city burial” fully meant. between 1965 until the mid 1990s new york faced severe crime waves peaking in 1990, the aids and c***k epidemics, rising infant mortality, and an increase in poverty all coinciding with cuts in social services.
before 2014 access was almost nonexistent save for the rare occasions photographers and journalists where given access. since 2014 there has been a movement. led by the hart island project to give hart island public access. only 70 people a year are allowed on the island to visit their deceased loved ones. no photos are allowed on hart island itself (the few that do exist are haunting, and an excellent window into the city’s history) and the doc makes people surrender electronics and cameras. they gather on a gazebo built on the docks of the island. a small gesture of humanity by a city with a history of dumping its unwanted, shunning its poorest, and forgetting their existence in an island that, as someone once put it, is prison for the dead.
taken on july 14, 2018 on a canon t1i. #newyork#newyorkcity#bronx#bx#nyc