Posts Tagged ‘Hart Island’

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 curious history of the city’s Rat Island

November 29, 2010

Dwarfed by tiny City Island and lilliputian Hart Island (New York City’s Potter’s Field) off the Bronx, Rat Island is currently uninhabited.

But this 2.5 acre hump of bedrock has a long, strange history.

Purchased from Native Americans in 1654 by the Pell family, the island’s name supposedly stems from the inmates then jailed on Hart Island.

When inmates—who were nicknamed rats—escaped, they swam to Rat Island first before making a go at reaching City Island.

By the 1800s, it was the location of the “Pelham Pesthouse,” a yellow fever hospital that quarantined 40 people.

New York bought it in 1888, though it’s not clear why, since the city didn’t put it to any use. Until the 1930s a group of artists and writers lived there.

Eventually it went back into private ownership—and last year was actually up for sale. The price? Just $300,000.