Only a few miles from Manhattan is Hart Island, America’s largest cemetery and the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world.
Serving as New York Cities potter’s field for over a 100 years, more than 800,000 people are buried here. People unclaimed by relatives, who can not afford a private funeral, and all the John and Jane Doe’s of New York City are buried on Hart Island. In 2005 alone there were 1,419 burials, including “826 adults, 546 infants and stillborn babies, and 47 burials of dismembered body parts.” The graves are dug by Riker’s Island prisoners and the records are managed by the prison. For a very long time being buried on Hart Island was to be forgotten.
Melinda Hunt is the director of the Hart Island Project. She is a current recipient of two consecutive (2008-2010) Canada Council for the Arts Awards for Artists and Community Collaboration in Integrated Arts. Melinda published a book Hart Island in 1998 in collaboration with Joel Sternfeld and co-produced a documentary Hart Island: An American Cemetery with Banff New Media Institute and composer Fred Hersch.
The Hart Island Project: Buried in Bureaucracy is her current on-line initiative that seeks to make the largest cemetery in America visible and accessible. Toward that end, a digital database of burial records is being assembled by volunteers based on 65,000 records received through Freedom of Information. Currently over 30,000 names have been entered in the database which is free to registered users.
Join Melinda on Friday, April 23rd to hear her talk about Hart Island, her experience working on the Hart Island Project and for a screening of her documentary.