This story was produced in collaboration with Vox and Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center of Investigative Journalism, as part of “MISSING THEM,” THE CITY’s ongoing collaborative project to remember every New Yorker killed by COVID-19. Reporters on this story are: Haidee Chu, Rajaa Elidrissi, Jacob Geanous, Téa Kvetenadze, Cassidy Jensen, Josh Merchant, Savannah Tryens-Fernandes and Megan Zerez.
Hart Island, a small piece of land off The Bronx, resurfaced in national headlines in April 2020, when New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
News footage of the island’s cemetery showed trenches being filled with pine coffins, sending shock waves around the world. But these mass burials taking place during the pandemic mark just the most recent interments in Hart Island’s long history.
Hart Island’s “potter’s field” cemetery dates back to 1869, and for over 150 years has served as a burial ground for over one million New Yorkers. Over the years, infrastructure problems and a lack of reliable public access have earned Hart Island a tainted reputation.
A 2021 analysis by Columbia Journalism School’s Stabile Center and THE CITY found that over 2,300 New Yorkers were buried on Hart Island in 2020. That’s more burials than any year during the AIDS epidemic, another recent health crisis.
Stabile and THE CITY also found that New York City is on pace to bury 1 in 10 Covid-19 victims on the island.
The analysis shows who is more likely to be buried on Hart Island: Black and Latino residents, frontline workers and those with little access to health care.
To understand how this ties together and what’s next for Hart Island, watch the video above.