The lonely grave of a child who died of AIDS

Since 1869, more than 800,000 paupers and unknowns have been buried on Hart Island.

This slip of land in the East River is New York’s Potter’s Field, where inmates from nearby Rikers Island place coffins in mass plots topped by granite markers.

Yet there’s one solitary plot, dated 1985, that’s especially heartbreaking: it’s the final resting place of the first child to die of AIDS whose body was brought to Hart Island.

Melinda Hunt, vice president of the Hart Island Project, describes how she and a photographer discovered the plot after visiting the island in 1992:

“Buried deep in the wooded area, however, there was one marker with an unusual number, ‘SC-B1, 1985,'” writes Hunt.

“Upon inquiry, we found that the marker belonged to a solitary grave of the first child victim of AIDS to be buried on Hart Island. Extra precautions were taken to bury the child in a separate and deeper grave.”

“This AIDS grave seemed like a ‘tomb to an unknown child.’ It came to represent all children who were yet to die of AIDS as well as child victims of earlier epidemics.”

This photo of the granite grave marker comes from the Hart Island Project website.

Who was this child—and what circumstances made a lonely patch of Hart Island his or her final resting place? Records must exist somewhere.

[Photo at right: ©1991 Fred Conrad/The New York Times. It was reprinted in 2006.]

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11 Responses to “The lonely grave of a child who died of AIDS”

  1. benbinbenben Says:

    Reblogged this on ben * ben and commented:
    i have lost many friends, but never a child.

  2. benbinbenben Says:

    what a horribly neurotic time we went through. hardly improved in some places. the early nineties was a blur of crematorium and dancing queen played at funerals. how can a child be ‘unknown’ and dead of aids in the worlds metropolis? or is that a rhetorical q?

  3. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    The photo of the gravediggers placing a child’s coffin into a grave is hauntingly evocative of Jacob Riis’ photograph of a similar, sad event. The innocent have never dodged the bullets well enough in New York’s history. http://picturinghistory.gc.cuny.edu/images/JacobRiis3-hires.png

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Oh, what a hauntingly similar photo. It gives me chills. The only difference really is that yours has adult-size coffins, and in the New York Times photo, these burly men are stacking and burying tiny baby ones. Thanks for posting Rocco.

  5. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    That’s funny–I only noticed the children’s coffins in the Riis photo! I guess in his time, adults and children were buried in the same graves. There are children’s coffins, at the feet of the gravediggers, waiting to be interred. And one of the diggers is holding a child’s coffin in his arms. So sad.

  6. Melinda Hunt Says:

    Nothing as fancy as granite marker on the AIDS grave of the child. Crude concrete cast by inmates.

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    Crude is right. Thanks for writing in and doing such heartbreaking research and work.

  8. Melinda Hunt Says:

    Fred Conrad’s photo was taken in 1991. Credit should read: ©1991 Fred Conrad/The New York Times. It was reprinted in 2006.

  9. wildnewyork Says:

    Added—-thank you.

  10. Tracing a Village writer through her apartments | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Her final resting place isn’t in or near her beloved Greenwich Village but is on Hart Island—where she was interred in the city’s potter’s field. […]

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