Potter’s Field on Hart Island

Check out this article in today’s New York Times about Melinda Hunt’s indefatigable, honorable efforts to document the anonymous burials in the potter’s field on Hart Island, NYC.  More than 850,000 unclaimed bodies are buried there.  I contacted Melinda a year ago in an effort to find information on pianist and loft veteran Sonny Clark, who we know dug graves on Hart Island while incarcerated on drug charges.  Clark is an ongoing fixation of mine.  He grew up in rural coal mining territory near where my wife Laurie grew up east of Pittsburgh.  He died of a heroine overdose at age 32 in 1963.  His two sisters have been helping me put a human face on the stereotypical story of the jazz junkie.  More on that later.

HERE is Melinda’s website.  Last year she pointed me toward the photograph below made by Ian Ference, rendering Hart Island’s abandoned archival office in 2008.  I kept thinking about this photograph, talking about it, made it the wallpaper on my laptop.  So Laurie contacted Ian and purchased a print of it for my birthday.  We chose a metal frame for it and it hangs prominently in our living room.

prison records hart island 2008

-Sam Stephenson

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