“They, all of a sudden, realized why we have public burials there,” she said of city officials. “It’s not some Dickensian thing. It’s an orderly and secure system of burials that works, especially when you have deaths on the scale of an epidemic.”
Ariane Didisheim, a former professional figure skater who died at her home in April, did not see the need for a formal burial, said Raoul Didisheim, her son.
So facing exorbitant burial costs and backlogged funeral homes, Mr. Didisheim said he decided that Hart Island was best. He said he hoped to see Hart Island open up to the public as a recreational space, which would be a step forward in making it a brighter setting that could provide New Yorkers with “a connection to the circle of life.”
But not everyone agrees with continuing burials on Hart Island. Sandra Yon, whose mother, Ivory M. Pinkney, died at age 76 in April in a Brooklyn rehabilitation center, said she agreed to a Hart Island burial because it was free.
“I didn’t have any money,” she said, “and, at the time, I was devastated and all over the place.”
The more information that Ms. Yon learned online about Hart Island, the more she regretted that it was her mother’s final resting place. “It doesn’t sit well with me, because, from what I hear, it’s just a massive grave,” she said.
City Councilman Mark Gjonaj, whose Bronx district encompasses Hart Island, said he voted against the 2019 legislation that transferred the island’s oversight to the Parks Department because the legislation failed to address how respect for the dead would be maintained, among other concerns.
“It’s sacred ground,” he said. “The city owes the families and surrounding community more answers and clarity on their intentions for the site.”