in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, axis mundi founder john beckmann unveils ‘numinous,’ a light tribute memorial proposed to raise awareness of new york city’s hart island. among the many effects brought by the pandemic, a novel indignity sees its victims dying alone — without funerals, religious services, or cemetery gatherings. in the case of those victims left unclaimed, along with those who cannot afford a burial, the city turns to hart island, a narrow strip of land in long island sound which has for over 150 years served as a public cemetery with more than one million bodies buried in unmarked graves. the proposed annual light installation will consist of twelve powerful light beacons arrayed in a 250-yard grid across hart island.

coronavirus tribute proposes to illuminate new york city's mass graveyard, hart island
columns of light serve as an ephemeral tribute without the intervention of built structures



with ‘numinous,’ john beckmann of axis mundi seeks to generate a sacred space imbued with light, that would honor the interned of hart island, known and unknown. hart island has long been managed by the department of correction, as incarcerated workers from rikers were employed to carry our public burials. according to the new yorker, these workers were paid less than ten dollars a day. these burials comprise those left unclaimed at the city’s morgue for thirty to sixty days. hart island is now undergoing a rapid transformation as the D.O.C. has been called to hand over control to the parks department by july, 2021. a noteworthy change was seen this past week, as incarcerated workers are no longer employed to bury the dead. 

coronavirus tribute proposes to illuminate new york city's mass graveyard, hart island
light beacons mark points of intersection along overlaid grid



with the development of the proposed coronavirus tribute light installation, john beckmann addresses hart island’s history of mass graves — from its opening in 1869 in response to the 1822 burial crisis, to casualties of the 1911 triangle shirtwaist factory fire in greenwich village, to the victims of the 20th century aids epidemic. adults were historically placed in pine boxes organized according to size, and stacked in groups of 150. each box is labeled with an identification number, the person’s age, ethnicity, and the place where the body was found.

new light installation unveiled to raise awareness for hart island, bronx, NYC from axis mundi design on vimeo



the coronavirus pandemic has brought attention to hart island along with concern over the possibility of mass graves. in response, new york city mayor bill de blasio tweets: ‘the pictures of our fellow new yorkers being buried on hart island are devastating for all of us. I want to make sure everyone knows what they’re seeing and what is actually happening on hart island. remember, these are human beings. these are neighbors we’ve lost… there will be no mass burials on hart island. everything will be individual and every body will be treated with dignity.’


project info:


design + concept: john beckmann

illustrations: nicole girdo

lighting consultants: spacecannon, italy

location: hart island, new york city

special thanks: to melinda hunt of the hart island project, councilman ydanis rodriguez, councilman mark levine, NYC mayor bill de blasio for signing the recently passed bill (november 2019) transferring the jurisdiction of the island from the NYC department of correction to the NYC department of parks and recreation