Friday, June 12, 2009

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay Triptych, 2008

One overcast spring afternoon when there was still some chill in the air, Tim Connor and I spent a few hours scouting the beaches and salt marsh along Dead Horse Bay at the Southern edge of Brooklyn, New York. It's the kind of lonely place that thousands of people ride past every day, but barely notice. (A friend of mine who grew up not far away and kept his boat at a nearby marina for decades didn't even know about Dead Horse Bay.)  

During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, this is where they hauled dead horses from Manhattan and the other boroughs. Hence the name.

The supply of carcasses was so bountiful in those days that more than two dozen rendering plants and factories making glue, fertilizer and other products came to be located here. What the factories couldn’t render into something marketable they dumped into the bay. You can imagine how it must have smelled.

Over the years so many boiled bones, other industrial leftovers and other trash were disposed of here that Dead Horse Bay became more of a thick organic stew. In 1907, the whole place literally blew up when pent-up methane gas uplifted decades of wet, rotting matter and spewed it across hundreds of acres of water and land. 

Fast-forward a hundred and one years.

Tim and I weren’t interested in wet, rotting organic matter. But we were hoping to find industrial ruins, and perhaps outcroppings like that Statue of Liberty that juts out from the sand at the end of Planet of the Apes.

It turns out the factories had been demolished long ago and the whole area filled and built up with dredge spoils. What we found were sandy beaches covered with old shoes, bottles, bones, pipes, porcelain, tar, fabric, crockery, mechanical parts, broken boats and evidence of formerly live aquatic life forms. (You couldn't tell what some of them had been, only that they'd once been alive.) Erosion of the shore line exposed various strata of debris between the layers of dredge fill. The interior of the area was the kind of desolate place where you’d expect made guys to dump mokes who couldn’t pay their vig.

In a city with millions of other stories to tell, where else would a couple of determined photographers find entertainment but in a dump?

You can see forty seconds of Dead Horse Bay video Zen here.

The still photo series is here.

1 comment:

  1. Must be how it feels for an archeologist to come upon an interesting site. You could sift through all that for a lifetime, I'm sure! Fascinating!