NEW YORK - Accessible only boat, Hart Island is in the middle of the Long Island Sound on the eastern edge of the Bronx. Since the late 1800s, Rikers Island inmates have buried well over 1 million unidentified New Yorkers in mass graves on Hart Island.
"My effort has been to make Hart Island visible and accessible," said Melinda Hunt, who has been documenting the 131-acre island through her photography for 26 years. She created a nonprofit called The Hart Island Project to help family members connect with their deceased and perhaps forgotten loved ones.
"Every family lost a child or has someone who suffered from addiction and who becomes disconnected," Hunt said. "For whatever reason, the family isn't organized at death and doesn't hire a funeral director. And the city is the funeral director."
Hunt made an interactive map and listings of all people buried on the island since 1980 and calls it the Traveling Cloud Museum, which is really a collection of stories. The online database has burial information about each person. It includes a clock that measures the period of time that individual remains unidentified until someone adds a story or image about that person. About 500 families are actively using the database, Hunt said.
On Wednesday, Hunt will join several City Council members to reintroduce legislation which would transfer the island from the Department of Correction to the Department of Parks and Recreation and establish regular ferry service to the island.
"We think it would be better to have the Parks Department involved," Hunt said. "But if the Parks Department doesn't do it then the city still has to come up with a proper way to manage these burials."
City officials and the Department of Correction told Fox 5 that they won't comment on pending legislation.