New York's Mass Graves
May 15, 2016 9:58 AM   Subscribe

there are a few hart island previouslies
posted by poffin boffin at 10:47 AM on May 15, 2016

(just for more background reading i mean, this is obviously not a double)
posted by poffin boffin at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2016

An absolutely heartbreaking long read. Thank you so much for sharing.

It just illuminates the sad fact that potter's graves are not just the tragic end-of-life scenario that happens to the unfortunately indigent and orphaned. They are what could happen to you, to me, to any of us given the perfect storm of missteps in a sea of bureaucratic apathy.

Reminded me of the similarly well-researched NYT investigative article The Lonely Death of George Bell, previously on the blue.
posted by bologna on wry at 11:09 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

With a partner 20 years older than me and no children I often wonderwho will bury me. I'm only a few paragraphs into this and I'm having to set it down for a little while. But I will read it, it's beautifully written so far and I feel the need to bear witness to the people lying there alone and nameless.And I guess it's a good reminder to plan for an event which my ancestors didn't worry about too much, surrounded as they were by children and grandchildren and siblings (Catholic Irish funerals rarely being small affairs). Thank you for the post.
posted by billiebee at 11:19 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I found the guardianship issue much more interesting. Dead bodies are just dead bodies, the burial of which is a waste of various forms of resources when cremation is an option.

But the fucked up guardianship situation should stand alone as a separate article.
posted by yesster at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

Citing security, the city’s Correction Department also repeatedly rebuffed The Times’s requests to witness Hart Island burials firsthand. Finally, in March, The Times used a drone to fly around the island’s shoreline and record burials on video.

This article is really well researched and put together, and the statement above is fascinating to me. I guess that's the "new journalism" of the 21st century?
posted by mudpuppie at 12:44 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

A tough read, but a good one. In this country, the USA, where property is so much more valued than human life, it can be a strange experience. Wealthy, but full of harsh human degradation. The majority of citizens know very well how easy and short the fall can be into poverty. There are not many nets to break your fall. How many people read this piece and felt a small bolt of fear? Probably almost everyone.

Well over a decade ago I found out by chance that someone I knew was going to be buried in a potter's field the next morning. I drove for hours to be at the burial on time. During the whole trip all I could think was "What happened?" He had children, grandchildren, a sister, and nieces and nephews. I hadn't seen him in years, much can happen, but Jesus, indigent and headed for this type of burial?

I arrived at a hellish place next to a power plant. The cemetery was surrounded by slag heaps. Scenes from Dickens' Bleak House were running through my head. It was horrible. Eventually his sister showed up. She was the only one. She had the money to bury her brother 500 times over. But she didn't. Evidently, she didn't really care for him. I don't know why she was there. At that time all I had was enough gas money to get home.

I had to help carry the body, there weren't enough men in the burial gang. Somebody had to say something over the body, right? So on a rainy November morning in a hellish place, hung over and shaky and full of caffeine, I did the best I could. His good qualities and the good things he had done. He had them and he did them. I'm sorry, Tommy. Sorry that my words were inadequate. Sorry that things turned out the way they did.

People may be buried in potter's fields, but that doesn't mean they are unmourned and not appreciated, as was indicated in the article and by my experience. And a big hug to all the people and organizations who are trying to ameliorate these burial practices.

Note: Tommy had property when he died. But through chance, human pettiness, unconcern, and bureaucracy he ended up like that. Eventually a law firm received all of his property. Ridiculous.
posted by cwest at 12:47 PM on May 15, 2016 [31 favorites]

The most recent post on my blog included the story of Hart Island along with three photos from a 1900 news article.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Okay, NYC, here is the minimum that needs to be done. One day a week, fully open to visitation with a ferry paid for by the visitors. Every grave area (ditch) marked with a plaque of names. A map to find the names.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:33 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found the guardianship issue much more interesting. Dead bodies are just dead bodies, the burial of which is a waste of various forms of resources when cremation is an option.

Ugh, yeah. The guardians' failures were horrific. I was horrified by the people that had family, but the whole system made it impossible for them to reach. The adopted son who wasn't told where to find his mother when she was moved to a nursing home? All sorts of fucked up. The father who was supposed to get an international calling card to call his family Cuba, but no one carried to follow up?

I didn't finish the article, I was too horrified.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

They are what could happen to you, to me

Since I find burial to be a silly waste of money and land, it won't happen to me.
posted by jpe at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2016

That's peachy keen and I'm happy for you, but Leola Dickerson had a family plot in Alabama where she buried her husband and probably expected to be laid to rest beside him. People's views on death and funerals are intensely personal and carry a wealth of cultural baggage. You can think burials are a waste of money and resources and maybe they are, but it's the fact that these people did not necessarily share your views and were essentially dumped some place unmarked due to poverty and beaurocracy that I find incredibly sad.
posted by billiebee at 3:49 PM on May 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

In 2011, a guy I knew had a terrible stroke. We had never been close; he was a generation older than me. But I lived near the hospital so it was easy to visit him, and I did. I didn't make long visits but I made sure to check in regularly. And my friend became a ward of the state. The nurse told me the only reason he stayed in the hospital so long, is that they were waiting for a nursing home placement. It took several months to get one.

I followed my friend to the nursing home and visited him there. I trimmed his toenails and fingernails because no one else did, and put small sums of money on his account to pay the barber. I brought him socks and underwear and eventually t-shirts and sweatpants, since no clothing was provided. I brought him a little flatscreen tv, though I could never tell how much he actually took in of what was on there. I kept his other friends apprised of where he was and how to visit, and sometimes they did. His family never visited.

But when he died, some three years later, I did not do anything to try to get him buried. I'm an atheist and as far as I know he was too. I cared about my friend as a living person; the dead are dead. But some people felt more strongly about this. One of my friend's ex-girlfriends who lived in another state and hadn't been able to help while he was sick, waded into the fray and managed to get him a funeral. And 50 or 60 people did attend! So there is something everyone can contribute.

But frankly I think that if you want to help people like my friend, you're better off to spend your time just visiting some lonely person in there while they still live, and your money bringing them socks and underwear. The staff at the nursing homes told me that 90 percent of their patients never get any visitors at all. There are small things they need which are not provided, and a milk crate full of books will bring joy to many people.
posted by elizilla at 4:10 PM on May 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

My father would have been in this situation if it had not been for a very helpful social worker who directed my mother to a body donation service. My parents had both said for ages they wanted to donate their bodies, but my mother was overwhelmed with caring for my father during a very rapid and terrifying decline due to dementia and he was of course, not capable of signing papers or making those decisions.

It wouldn't have been out of apathy if he had been buried in a potter's field. It would have been half money, half the sheer exhaustion my mother faced after 6 months of my gentle, dryly funny, nerdy smart father becoming increasingly incapable of caring for himself - and then becoming violent.

If you're poor - or even if you're middle class but just making it - look into body donation. Make sure you have eleven copies of the paperwork and that everyone you know and love knows your plans.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:39 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Too sad to get through all at once, I'm having to read it in pieces.
posted by bongo_x at 7:03 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

It isn't just the burial thing. It's pretty strongly implied that some of these guardians are basically running a racket, and that the reason their wards end up in the potters' field is that it saved money that was spent on estate management - that is, the guardianship expense. So no matter what you think about burial, consider that in many of these cases the public interment is evidence of official malfeasance and the neglect of very vulnerable people during their lifetime.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:48 PM on May 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

I couldn't finish the article. I was the legal guardian for my mother in law here in North Carolina, and I had to account for every single penny of her money, which could only be used for expenses that the Clerk of Court had already approved.

The guardians described in this story ought to be flogged in Time Square, every one of them, along with the government officials who fail to hold them to account.
posted by corvikate at 8:13 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's pretty strongly implied that some of these guardians are basically running a racket

This was the most disgusting to me. And they commented on the big gold rings on the one guardian's fingers and then how he was sad about not getting more money from the person's estate. These people's deaths are just ripe for financial siphoning, and here's this huge network of people doing just that! Gross.
posted by jillithd at 8:47 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great article. For those of you who couldn't get through the whole thing, I recommend skipping the final few paragraphs for a moving story of a community bringing someone home from Hart Island.
posted by ndg at 8:57 AM on May 16, 2016

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