Erosion unearths bones on New York's island of the dead

phys.org | 5/3/2018 | Staff
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Storms and the tides are unearthing the long-hidden bones of Hart Island, creating eerie scenes of skulls, femurs and collarbones on this sliver of land where New York City's destitute dead have for 150 years been sent off to be unceremoniously buried and forgotten.

After photos of exposed bones began turning up in news reports, forensic anthropologists from the city medical examiner's office went out last week and collected 174 human bones that they carefully cataloged, including six skulls, six jawbones, 31 leg bones and 16 pelvises. Small red flags dotted spots along the rocky shoreline where some remains were found.

Erosion - Bones - Could - Carol - DiMedio

"When I hear about the erosion, I always think, 'Are the bones his? Could any of them be his?'" asked Carol DiMedio, whose grandfather Luigi Roma was buried on the island after dying of tuberculosis in 1933.

Advocates for Hart Island say the bones are a jarring sign that it's long past time for improvements. In addition to stepping up a $13.2 million federal project to repair erosion caused by 2012's Superstorm Sandy and other storms, they want the 101-acre island in Long Island Sound to be turned into a park and historic site, even if it continues to be used as a burial ground.

New - Yorkers - City - Council - Member

"These are New Yorkers," City Council member Mark Levine said. "These are human beings who were largely marginalized and forgotten in life, they were people who died homeless or destitute, victims of contagious disease, the AIDS crisis. And we're victimizing them again in their final resting place."

As many as 1 million souls lie buried on Hart Island, purchased by the city in 1868 as land for a workhouse for wayward boys and a potter's field. Over the decades, it housed a Civil War prison, an asylum, a tuberculosis hospital, a jail and a missile base. All the while,...
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