The Hart Island Project: history is created through storytelling
October 1, 2015 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Hart Island is a 131 acre island found at the western end of Long Island Sound. From the air, you can see paths, clearings, buildings and docks, but you can't clearly see the Riker's Island inmates who bury the forgotten dead in mass graves. Since 1869, there have been close to a million bodies buried on the 101 acre potter's field, but only recently was the site re-opened to the public. Still, access is limited, and finding a grave site is difficult. That's where the Hart Island Project comes in, by helping to map graves, identify the dead, and allow people to share their memories of loved ones.

The New York Correction History Society has more history on Hart Island (including a detailed timeline of events), and this MetaFilter post from 2006 also identifies some of the old-to-historic developments on the now uninhabited island. Untapped Cities goes into some more detail, with historic and current photos.

The modern images are from Ian Ference's "unofficial" documentation of the buildings on the property in 2008, more than a decade since Melinda Hunt and Joel Sternfeld were allowed to take photographs on the island. In 2013, a small group of reporters were allowed a rare visit to the island, but their articles are slim on photos. Last year, SBS Dateline (Aus) did a piece on the island, interviewing people who had loved ones buried on the island, but the 15 minute long segment relies on video from the air or from boats around the and archival footage to convey the feeling of being on the island.

With all that, this visit to Hart Island in 1978 is all the more interesting. It's a piece by Channel 7 Eyewitness News (WABC-TV) Correspondent Roger Sharp, from the Roger Sharp archive on YouTube, and it provides some history to accompany the live footage of active burials by inmates.
posted by filthy light thief (4 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Credit to MeFite vecchio for mentioning The Hart Island Project in this question of theirs.

More prior posts on MetaFilter:
* A lost treasure from New York's attic, from the New York Correction History Society, with a link to Hart Island information
* Oh boy!, a post about the "incorrection" of the once anatomically correct Copper John, including an image from a related NYCHS article
* Shall the artist survive?, a post about the Public Works of Art Project, including a WPA mural at Rikers, as documented by NYCHS
* 'I like to think of Hart Island as New York City’s family tomb', a post linking to the Gizmodo article on the 2013 visit to Hart Island

Bonus: Hart Island: An American Cemetary (first five minutes, as a teaser for the complete documentary), featuring portions of Walt Whitman's poem, Whoever You are, Holding Me now in Hand.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:59 AM on October 1, 2015

wow. Thanks for posting.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:21 PM on October 1, 2015

Very nice post, many thanks!
posted by carter at 12:57 PM on October 1, 2015

Since 1869, there have been close to a million bodies buried on the 101 acre potter's field

posted by dabug at 5:20 PM on October 2, 2015

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