Since 1869, nearly a million poor and unidentified New Yorkers have been buried at the 101-acre Hart Island.
Managed by the New York City Correction Department, up to 1,500 bodies are buried annually at Hart Island. They are placed inside of 70-foot plots consisting of caskets, which can hold 100 adults, or 1,000 infants. The New York Times says that last week, a tour made the island available to a reporter for the first time in years. The Correction Department has kept burial information secret and was strict about visitation, but that could soon change.
The occasional memorial service is held by an advocate group and family members have been granted access to the island for what the Times called "closure visits" since 2007. Ferry service to the island could only be made by appointment and was reserved for family members of the deceased. Now, the department has created monthly ferry service and visitors no longer have to be related to the dead.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the department approved the request of eight women to visit the sites where their infants were buried. Mark Taylor, the lawyer representing them, was told that the visits would be granted, but under tight provisions. The women learned just how tight they were upon their visit.
According to the Times, they were forced to deal with "Rikers Island visiting rules" such as no cameras, flowers or phones. They were only allowed to bring one guest (a clergy member or relative) and were granted just one visit to their children's graves apiece.
"They make it so that visiting your dead child in a cemetery is the same as visiting a prisoner in Rikers Island," Taylor said.
Access to Hart Island is so scarce due to security concerns over the workers, who are inmates from Rikers Island. Furthermore, dangerous conditions and the absence of specific amenities such as bathrooms on the island make it a less than ideal place for visitors. However, being more sensitive to the feelings of the families of people buried on the island should be part of the revised process.
[via New York Times]