Being given the opportunity to interpret the ending from an exhilarating list of endlessly possible outcomes. The subsequent twinge of sadness that comes with the realization of never knowing the true result. These are the ideas that make stories with undefined endings so intriguing.
The brief pang of grief that comes from not knowing with certainty the conclusion of a short story, poem, or novel is one thing, though, while the everlasting ache resulting from a life story with no known ending is quite another. The story of someone's life should not have to be indefinite or left up to interpretation. Unfortunately, on New York's Hart Island, the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, the lives of individuals buried there have been left to just that since the cemetery's inception in 1869.
The cemetery at Hart Island spans 101 acres and is used as the final resting place for unclaimed and unidentified New Yorkers. These individuals are buried in mass graves by prisoners and left to spend eternity in anonymity, forgotten by history. Until very recently, the graves on Hart Island have also been inaccessible to the public.
Thankfully, in 2014, the New York City Council made steps toward granting public access to the island. Following this, the Hart Island Project established the Traveling Cloud Museum, an online database of burials that includes maps, GPS locations, and tools to upload photos of and stories about the deceased.
The Hart Island Project recognizes the fact that simply because someone was unclaimed at the time of their death does not mean that their life was meaningless. They understand that no one's life story should be left to speculation. Through their efforts, most individuals on Hart Island have been identified at last and their life stories are closer to being made complete.
To find out more about the Hart Island Project, donate to their work, and contribute or discover information about an individual buried on Hart Island, visit the Hart Island Project website.