At the western end of the Long Island Sound you will encounter Hart Island. Though it is small, approximately a mile long by a quarter mile wide, it has quite a story. Hart Island is the location of a 101-acre potter’s field (that is city burial ground) for New York City. It is the largest tax-funded cemetery in the United States, with burials dating back to the American Civil War. The Island is controlled and maintained by the NY Department of Corrections and Rikers Island inmates preform the burials. Deceased individuals who are either unidentified or unclaimed are sent to Hart Island. The Island is not accessible to the public and there are those who have been working to make available the information of those buried on the island to enable family members to find their loved ones or visit them. Joining the Indy Team today is Meldina Hunt and she will tell us how this has been accomplished with the Hart Island Project.
A note from our interviewee:
“The Hart Island Project is a public charity that assists family in locating people who disappear onto Hart Island. Toward that end, we host an on-line database of burials since 1980 in an on-line museum called the Traveling Cloud Museum. The museum has interactive features assigning each person buried a clock of anonymity that can be stopped by a visitor who adds a story, photo, link or epitaph. Each person’s profile lists a plot that takes the visitor to a map of the island and displays where that person is buried. Last week, a class action lawsuit was settled permitting families to visit grave sites. The Hart Island project is hoping to get New York City to rethink the burial process and develop a landscape plan for Hart Island to become a public park. Burials on Hart Island are natural burials where human remains decompose within 25 years returning nutrients to the land. If the burials were conducted in relation to a planting trees and shrubs, it could become the first municipal green cemetery in the United States. Graves on Hart Island are marked using GPS and commemoration would be cloud based as it is in the Traveling Cloud Museum.”
Melinda Hunt, president 2014-2016, is an interdisciplinary artist and founding director of the Hart Island Project. She holds an M.F.A from the Yale School of Art (1985) and M.S. in Digital Imaging and Design, NYU (2007). She began working on Hart Island with photographer Joel Sternfeld in 1991. They published a book, Hart Island, Scalo (1998). Melinda directed a film Hart Island: An American Cemetery (2008). She received awards from NYSCA in public art (1995), film (2000) and electronic art (2011). She received two Canada Council Interarts Awards for Artist and Community Collaboration (2008, 2009) and worked to develop an on-line community and database that document the identities and experience of Hart Island.