NYC might get a COVID-19 memorial on Hart Island

July 28, 2020

Photo by David Trawin on Flickr

A New York City elected official wants to create a memorial on Hart Island dedicated to those who died from the coronavirus. City Council Member Mark Levine is set to introduce on a bill on Tuesday that would create a task force to develop a way to honor the hundreds of COVID-19 victims buried on the Island, which has served as the final resting place for poor and unclaimed New Yorkers since the Civil War.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, 138 people were buried on Hart Island during the peak of the virus in New York City, between April 6 and April 10. A spokesperson from the corrections department, which currently controls the site, told the newspaper that the cause of death for each person is not known, but the agency buried about 25 people each week during the height of the pandemic.

“Hundreds of victims of Covid are buried without anything marking their names, without—until now—the opportunity for any form of ceremony at the burial sites, and it’s a place that largely exists outside of the public consciousness of most New Yorkers,” Levine told the WSJ.

According to the legislation, the task force would be made up of the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, and members appointed by the mayor and City Council Speaker, “two of whom must be family members of a person who died as a direct result of COVID-19 and is buried on Hart Island.”

The task force would be required to report recommendations to the mayor and speaker 270 days after the law takes effect and published on the Cultural Affairs website. There will likely be multiple memorials in New York City, where more than 23,500 people have died from the virus.

Congress Member Adriano Espaillat, who represents Upper Manhattan and parts of the Bronx, introduced a bill last week that would create a national COVID-19 memorial in the Bronx. As the Bronx Times reported, the COVID-19 Memorial Act would create a memorial to honor those who lost their lives because of the virus as well as the frontline doctors, nurses, and first responders.

Hart Island–considered the largest burial ground in the U.S.–has served the city through epidemics before, as Hart Island Project director Melinda Hunt told the Washington Post, including yellow fever and the pandemic of 1918. During the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and 90s, many victims were buried on Hart Island. With more than 100,000 New Yorkers dying from AIDS during this time, it’s likely the Island is the largest cemetery for victims of the epidemic, according to the City Council.

[Via Wall Street Journal]


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