Posts Tagged ‘East River islands’

The lonely grave of a child who died of AIDS

May 14, 2012

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.]

The East River island you’re not allowed to visit

March 10, 2010

That would be U Thant Island (officially known as Belmont Island), a rocky spit of land just south of Roosevelt Island in the East River. It ranks as the tiniest of New York City’s dozens of little islets.

Doesn’t look like a bad place to catch some sun, right? Unfortunately, people aren’t allowed there. This half-acre is maintained by the parks department as a bird sanctuary.

So what’s with the odd and unofficial name? Originally called Man ‘O War reef, it was created with landfill from trolley tunnels dug under the East River. Augustus Belmont Jr., of Belmont Park and subway financier fame, completed the job and got naming rights.

In the 1970s, mostly forgotten, it was unofficially renamed U Thant Island (after the former U.N. Secretary General from Burma) by a group of U.N. employees who followed a mystic in Queens.