Best reason to remember the indigent dead (2008)

Hart Island

Most of the 60,000 people who die every year in New York City get a headstone or a mausoleum or have their ashes sprinkled somewhere. But some aren't so lucky, so every year around 1,000 of our neighbors who aren't identified or claimed or can't afford to go anywhere else are buried on Hart Island, a tiny bit of land near City Island. Inmates from Rikers who've volunteered for the work bury the coffins in lengthy graves that can hold 175 adults and 1,000 babies each. No one gets an individual marker, although the Department of Corrections keeps records that allow for bodies to be disinterred if someone claims them. For several years advocates from an organization called Picture the Homeless have been working to improve the conditions at this final resting place, aiming to get regular access to the island so homeless people can visit friends' graves and seeking a memorial to the estimated 800,000 people who've been buried there since 1869—making it the largest cemetery in America. "It looks like you're just in a small town with a bunch of buildings," said activist Warren Burnett, who has visited for bimonthly memorial services in recent years. "But I think the knowledge that it's a burial ground, once you get further into the site—there's a very deep connection."


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