New York paupers' cemetery opens to mourners for first time

Sun Jul 19, 2015 2:48pm EDT
 
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By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It takes a mere 10 minutes by boat to navigate to New York City's Hart Island, one of the United States' largest paupers' cemetery.

But it took Rosalee Grable more than a year to reach the gravesite where her mother was buried on the uninhabited strip of land off the city's Bronx borough.

Grable, 64, was one of a few dozen mourners who for the first time walked across the barren island on Sunday. The trip marked the end of the long isolation of the site, where about 1 million people are buried.

"I'm so grateful to be able to go there and stand at her grave," she said, holding a bouquet of flowers she planned to leave on the island.

For years, city rules confined mourners to a small memorial gazebo, furnished with a few benches and tucked away on an island's corner.

The city's Department of Correction, which runs the island, had long argued that it needed to limit access to the cemetery due to security concerns and a lack of amenities.

But following the settlement of a class-action lawsuit earlier this month, authorities have begun ferrying relatives and their guests, at least once a month, to the island for visits beyond the restricted area.

The settlement, the result of a lawsuit brought against New York City by the New York Civil Liberties Union, is awaiting a federal judge's final approval.   Continued...

 
Rosalee Grable, (L) walks off the ferry to Hart's Island with Melinda Hunt in New York July 19, 2015.  REUTERS/Sebastien Malo