Chris Arnade Photography

Visiting Millie’s burial ground

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Millie is buried on Hart Island in a large trench, roughly 70’ x 20’ x 6’, with hundreds of others who recently died in New York City.

An exact total is impossible, records are spotty, but close to 900,000 other bodies are buried on the small island, all in large unmarked trenches.

Millie is buried there because she died with nobody to claim her body. She was taken from Lincoln Hospital by the Bronx Medical Examiner and held for six weeks before being buried on March 25, 2013.

The Department of Correction, which runs the city cemetery on Hart Island, offers a once a month closure visit.  Every third Thursday of the month a ferry accepts passengers for the seven-minute ride from City Island.

When I went last month I had reserved spaces for Michael and one of Millie’s sisters. Neither could make the 9:00 am time. 
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Michael (Shelly) did give me a hand written note and a torn half of a dollar to leave on the island. “What is a better memorial to a street whore than a ripped dollar bill?”

The note read

For you

For you I pray you are finally happy, at peace and full of joy. I know you are in a better place then here where we are stuck till our last day. I miss you my friend and love you always. I’m kind of jealous but mad you are gone. You will never be forgotten.

            I love you Millie

                        Shelly

I also brought a bottle of water from the open hydrant in Hunts Point near where Millie worked. The hydrant she used for “Bird Baths.”
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Accompanying me and the three other visitors on the ferry was Correction van and two officers. They were there to make sure we followed the rules: Visitors are only allowed to walk the twenty yards from the ferry landing to a small fenced-in space with a wooden gazebo and a ceremonial marker.

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 That tombstone, inscribed with scripture, is dedicated to all of the bodies on Hart Island.

I sprinkled the water and hid the half dollar. Another visitor read the note. 

A Medical Examiner’s refrigeration truck, emptied of bodies, got on the ferry for a ride back.

Gunshots rang out from a police firing range a mile across the bay. The only other noise was the wind in the trees.

I sat and sketched. Cameras are not allowed.

I looked across the bay towards Hunts Point. I thought of the first time I saw Millie, February 24, 2012, 1:00 am, in the bitter cold. She was drinking from the hydrant. We talked and then I drove her up the hill to the bodega. In the car she showed me a picture of her last daughter, prematurely born the year before, after Millie shot a speedball.  “I have messed up my life. I hope I don’t mess up theirs as well.”
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Thirty minutes later I was on the ferry back. From the boat I spotted a mound of dirt near the shore, Millie’s trench still open and still in use.

Visiting Hart Island with me was Melinda Hunt who has spent the last twenty two years working to bring about changes to Hart Island. It is only because of her selfless dedication that I or anyone else can now visit the island.
image(Melinda Hunt. An amazing person)

I pointed the dirt mound out to her. Her face tightened. “Millie does not truly die until the last story about her is told. Burying her in a place one cannot visit, where one cannot touch her tombstone or put flowers on her grave, only hastens that death.”




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    Dignity and compassion are devoid when one’s eternal rest is executed in an unmarked ditch.
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