And why Hart Island is changing after the Covid-19 pandemic.
This story was produced in collaboration with THE CITY and the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, as part of “MISSING THEM, “THE CITY’s ongoing collaborative project to remember every New Yorker killed by Covid-19. The reporters on this story of THE CITY and Stabile are: Haidee Chu, Jacob Geanous, Téa Kvetenadze, Cassidy Jensen, Josh Merchant, Savannah Tryens-Fernandes and Megan Zerez.
Hart Island, a small patch of land off the Bronx in New York City, resurfaced in national newspapers in April 2020, when New York City became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. News footage from the island cemetery showed trenches filled with pine coffins, sending 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 Country Cemetery dates back to 1869 and served for over 150 years as a burial place for over a million New Yorkers. Over the years, infrastructure problems and a lack of reliable public access have earned Hart Island a damaged reputation.
A 2021 analysis by Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center and THE CITY found that more than 2,300 New Yorkers were buried on Hart Island in 2020. That’s more burials than any year during the year. AIDS epidemic, another recent health crisis.
Stabile and THE CITY also found that New York City was set to bury one in 10 Covid-19 victims on the island.
The scan shows who is most likely to be buried on Hart Island: black and Latinx residents, frontline workers, and those with little access to health care.