How this New York island became a mass grave

Published on April 16, 2021
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Hart Island, a small piece of land off the Bronx in New York City, resurfaced in national headlines in April 2020, when New York City was the epicenter of the US coronavirus pandemic. News footage of the island’s cemetery showed trenches being filled with pine coffins, and sent shockwaves around the world. But these mass burials taking place during the pandemic are just the most recent in Hart Island’s long history.

Hart Island’s “potter’s field” cemetery dates back to 1869, and for over 150 years has served as a burial ground for over 1 million New Yorkers. Over the years, infrastructure problems and a lack of reliable public access have earned Hart Island a tainted reputation.

A 2021 analysis by Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center and THE CITY found that over 2,300 New Yorkers were buried on Hart Island in 2020. That’s more burials than any year during the AIDS epidemic, another recent health crisis. They also found that New York City is on pace to bury one in 1 in 10 Covid-19 victims on the island. The analysis of these burials shows who is more likely to be buried on Hart Island: Black and Latino residents, frontline workers, and those who have little access to health care.

To understand how this ties together and what’s next for Hart Island, watch the video above.

This story was produced in collaboration with THE CITY and Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center of Investigative Journalism, as part of “MISSING THEM,” THE CITY’s ongoing collaborative project to remember every New Yorker killed by COVID-19.

“MISSING THEM’s” memorial and form: https://projects.thecity.nyc/covid-19-deaths/

Sources and additional reading:
THE CITY: https://www.thecity.nyc/missing-them/2021/3/24/22349311/nyc-covid-victims-destined-for-hart-island-potters-field
THE CITY: https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/12/11/22170479/hart-island-covid-memorial-new-york-city-potters-field
The Hart Island Project: https://www.hartisland.net/ ​

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