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Woman Who Lost Newborn in 1978 Visits Approximate Gravesite on Hart Island

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In February, NY1 introduced you to a Queens woman whose baby died shortly after birth and through a mistake at the hospital, was buried at the city's public cemetery on Hart Island. On Friday, the woman was able to visit the newborn's gravesite. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

It's been 36 years since a hospital mistakenly allowed Elaine Joseph's newborn to be buried at the city's public cemetery on Hart Island. She's been to the island there times since then, searching for her baby.

"The first time I went, it was more like an opening visit because it just opened up more questions to me," she said.

Previously, Joseph, or anyone visiting Hart Island, could only go as far as a gazebo that is quite a distance away from where any burials are. Friday was different. The city's Department of Correction recently mapped the land. It has jurisdiction because Rikers Island inmates dig the graves there.

Using GPS coordinates, visitors can now find the exact site of a grave. Joseph walked to an approximate location because the department lost records of babies buried in the late '70. She was the first to visit.

"The captain that runs the island, Captain Thompson, had put the flowers there on his own," she said. "This touched me."

The visit wasn't without restrictions. Guards check IDs, but this time, Joseph was allowed to keep her phone and was told that one family member could go along. She requested that NY1 accompany her.

DOC Spokesman: It's just going to be a family visit.
Joseph: Why? Well, I'd like for her to go with me.
DOC Spokesman: I understand.
Joseph: Who can I speak with? May I speak with the commissioner?
DOC Spokesman: I understand that you'd like to. He is not available right now.

After previously being cleared for the visit, NY1 were told Thursday night that the acting commissioner would not allow media on the trip.

In a statement, the DOC said, "Hart Island lacks the infrastructure to safely accommodate large numbers of visitors."

The restrictions are reasons that lawmakers re-introduced legislation this week to transfer jurisdiction of Hart Island to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

"There are countless people here in New York City that have loved ones that are buried on Hart Island. They deserve an opportunity to have access to the island without feeling like they're visiting a jail," said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of Queens.

They are steps toward what advocates really want.

"Make this a park," Joseph said. "Let others receive the comfort that I just got."

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