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General News    H3'ed 4/14/20

Funeral Homes Inundated, NY Buries Its Unclaimed Dead On Hart Island

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Hart Island
Hart Island
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Centuries from now, historians will be writing (or whatever the equivalent will be) about how we handled--and didn't handle--the coronavirus/COVID-19 that has, to date, killed over 118,000 people worldwide.

A vestige of this pestilence are mass graves visible from outer space.

Last month, we saw satellite images of mass graves in Iran.

Now New York has had to dig them.

As the United States is now the global coronavirus epicenter, New York is its national epicenter.

Last week, drone footage emerged chronicling images of coffin-flanked New York City Parks Department workers on Hart Island digging trenches for recent COVID-19 victims.

For more than 150 years, Hart Island, the former prison for Confederate soldiers located a mile off the Bronx coast, served as a potter's field, a cemetery for over one million individuals whose identities were either unknown at their deaths or whose families could not afford burial.

Before the coronavirus, burials on the island had begun to decrease.

Normally, Rikers Island jail inmates dig graves for 25 bodies a week for once-per-week burials.

That rate has increased to 25 bodies per day, five days a week.

Rikers inmates have been temporarily relieved of this duty.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday a response to people's concerns over the burials' apparent ignominy:

"There will be no mass burials on Hart Island. Everything will be individual and every body will be treated with dignity. The heartbreaking numbers of deaths we're seeing means we are sadly losing more people without family or friends to bury them privately. Those are the people who will be buried on Hart Island, with every measure of respect and dignity New York City can provide."

Founder of the nonprofit organization Hart Island Project, Melinda Hunt, added:

"A Hart Island burial is not disrespectful. It's a very sacred place."

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Ted Millar is a writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Straight Forward Poetry, Better Than Starbucks, the Broke Bohemian, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices (more...)

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