Drone Journalism Mission Proposal: Hart Island Investigation

“Hart Island is one of those places in New York that many won’t ever see.” 

Hart Island is a small island off of the Bronx at the western end of Long Island Sound. According to wikipedia, it has been used “as a Union Civil War prison camp, a lunatic asylum, a tuberculosis sanatorium, potter’s field, and a boys’ reformatory.” Currently, it serves as a mass grave site. The Department of Correction states that more than 850,000 people are buried on Hart Island (other estimates range from 750,000 to over a million). Riker’s Island inmates serve as the gravediggers. It’s difficult for pretty much any other living being to obtain access—including those who have family members buried there. When access is obtained, visitors are escorted to a gazebo very close to the ferry dock; they can’t walk around freely or visit the actual burial area.

Hart Island is ripe for a drone mission! For the countless people who have wanted to but been unable to visit the island and see the area in which their loved ones are buried, a drone perspective would be hugely meaningful. Others would gain visual access to a part of NYC they don’t know much about and/or haven’t seen much of.

The island has a fascinating, multifaceted history and some open information about those buried there, so there is also rich potential for accompanying interactive data visualizations.

Possible people to interview in conjunction with drone footage:

-Melinda Hunt, an artist who is fascinated with Hart Island and has published a book and produced a film about it. She also founded the Hart Island Project.
-Laurie Grant, whose stillborn daughter was buried in the Hart Island cemetery by mistake, and whose grave she has been unable to visit (one of many such stories). The log books that keep track of who is buried there were not public until 2008.
-If possible, it would be interesting (perhaps through one of the above sources) to find someone visiting Hart’s island and send them with a hidden camera to get that viewpoint of the island. (I have access to hidden cameras through surveillance documentary).
-If possible, would also be interesting to interview a former Riker’s island inmate who dug graves there to describe this process.

Read more about the island: