April 11, 2010

Photo Essay: Low Tide at Dead Horse Bay

I find it hard to believe that there are any areas of New York City that I've never heard of, that have never turned up in my research of places to visit, photograph, and hike, but it turns out that there was at least one: Dead Horse Bay.

Named for the horse carcasses that once populated the shoreline in what's now the Gateway National Recreational Area, south of Jamaica Bay and across the street from Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay (then known as "Barren Island") was populated by horse rendering plants until the 1930s, and became a dumping ground ever since the automobile forced horse-and-buggy carriages off the road, making horses scarce. So much crap was dumped there, that when the landfill was capped, the cap burst, spewing garbage all over the beach into the ocean.

Now, especially at low tide, the beach - not far from the lovely and clean Jacob Riis and the disgustingly oily Rockaways - is littered, nay, completely covered in rubble, so much rubble it puts the Salton Sea to shame.

There are no fish skeletons, but you can find some old horse bones.

Some of the debris is surprisingly in tact, beckoning scavengers to come and collect treasures from the last two centuries - mostly glass bottles and jars, but also industrial waste, toys, shoes, and bathroom fixtures.

There are at least two boats buried in the sand, revealed by the low tide.

All the glass is fairly well-preserved despite the water's rush over it (and their tinkling together as a result of the incoming tide), but many of the relics have succumbed to rust.

Much of what we found had been or was being reclaimed by the sea and by nature, overtaken by plant life and mussel shells and a multi-colored variety of God-knows-what.

On the south end of the bay, we came across an area that smelled not rotten, but burnt, a practically volcanic blacktop tar ooze having dripped down into the ocean, still soft underfoot.

On the north end of the bay, we found huge piles of rubble - red brick, schist, and other types of rock and stone....

...and an artificial surface rendered dark brown and mushy from tide after tide washing over it. It squished underfoot and attracted a few expected beach-dwellers, like ducks and shells.

Walking along the beach, my sneakers couldn't help but shatter the glass underfoot. My inner environmentalist wanted to recycle all of the glass. My inner urban explorer wanted to leave it just as it is, to not disturb a single thing, and simply document it. Both of them find it appalling that it's still possible that a part of the city can be left to rot, its filth and stench so embraced by the National Parks Service (which operates the Gateway National Recreation Area's Jamaica Bay Unit, of which Dead Horse Bay and Floyd Bennett Field are a part) that they even host a walk through its "treasure-laden beach."

More on Dead Horse Bay from....
Atlas Obscura
Nathan Kensinger
Underwater New York
The Kingston Lounge
The Brooklyn Rail
The New York Times

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1 comment:

  1. I was so inspired by your post, I checked out the Gateway tours, and they were giving a tour yesterday - so we went! We got a lot of the same kind of pictures you took. That place is amazing. And our tour guide thought that the smelly black asphalt was from when they tried to pave the piers back in the 40s (?) to keep the wood from rotting.