Facebook for the dead

The Traveling Cloud Museum
USA (New York)

Hart Island lies to the east of New York City and is the largest tax-funded mass cemetery in the world. A pauper’s gravesite run by the NYC Department of Correction, for centuries it has been the final resting place for those who die poor, homeless or unclaimed. The Traveling Cloud Museum, founded by Melinda Hunt, lets people search over 65,000 records to find their their loved one and add their story.

The project combines new technologies and storytelling to create an open resource. People with limited means have access to technology and information without hassle or cost. GPS technology, digital search functions and interactive mapping allows users to find their relatives as well as locate their gravesites. Hunt calls the project a “social network for the dead”.

The scratched outcrop has homed New York’s displaced and dispossessed for over 160 years; first a burial ground for slaves, later for troops during the civil war, and in the 1980s New York’s first AIDS victims were buried here. It is a repository for American history, telling the stories of those hidden groups and individuals who have existed beyond the fringes of society.

A sort of ‘open source cemetery’, the Traveling Cloud Museum sets a new standard for future commemorative projects. With visual art and storytelling at its heart, the project shapes a future built on transparency and equality for generations to come.

Image: screenshot from the Traveling Cloud Museum © 2014 The Hart Island Project

Written by

Lauren Burrows, Writer/ Researcher, Atlas of the Future (06 August 2015)

Project leader

Melinda Hunt, Founder, Hart Island Project

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Inmates pause during adult burials. Photograph: Joel Sternfeld/The Hart Island Project © 1992

Vicky Pavia visiting Hart Island on the 40th Anniversary of her infant daughter Denise's birth Photograph: Joel Sternfeld/The Hart Island Project © 1994

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