Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Bottle Beach at Dead Horse Bay
August 26, 2013 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Dead Horse Bay was the site of a 19th-century horse rendering plant on the far edge of Brooklyn. It was also a massive landfill that was capped in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the cap burst. The organic debris rotted away, but the remaining glass, ceramic, and metal spilled onto the beach. At low tide, the sand is covered with a dense layer of bottles, broken dishes, and other hundred-year-old detritus. More is washed free every day.

Today, relic hunters take the 2 train to the last stop and hop a bus to Floyd Bennet Field. From there, it's a short walk to the beach, and a small army of bloggers have made the trip in search of treasure.
posted by nonasuch (46 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm surprised at how many bottles are intact. I guess it doesn't have the strong waves that break and polish the glass at Glass Beach on Kauai.
posted by tavella at 2:38 PM on August 26, 2013


You can camp at Floyd Bennett Field too. Too much nature out that far. Jelly fish and Horeshoe crabs and all kinds of strange prehistoric looking creatures live there, best not to disturb them.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:40 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oddly enough, this same exact history was shared by Spectacle Island in Boston, where I went for the first time last weekend. The shore is littered with fascinating chunks of glass and crockery of all kinds, but because it's a national park, you're asked not to take anything. And I didn't, except pictures, though it was mighty hard because it was just loaded with cool 19th century pottery shards and rare colors of beach glass...blue, red, amber, turquiose.
posted by Miko at 2:41 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Modern day mudlarks!
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:42 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The guy who does all the amazing glass salvage mines from there I think, the iradesidscent bottles are beautiful.

Jelly fish and Horeshoe crabs and all kinds of strange prehistoric looking creatures live there, best not to disturb them.


You could say it was infested with mirelurks and I'd belive you.

Isn't Greenpoint sitting on top of one of the biggest urban oil spills ever?
posted by The Whelk at 2:42 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been there, it's pretty fascinating how they just bulldozed apartment buildings and dumped everything there.
posted by mathowie at 2:43 PM on August 26, 2013


What a terrible name for a bay.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:43 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting to check out pictures of the various glass chunks on the different beaches. The Hawaiian Glass Beach looks like there are small, but bumpy, lumps of smoothed glass. Fort Bragg has what looks like smaller, rounder "pebbles" of glass, while the one picture of Benicia's Glass Beach looks like they're fairly large chunks.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:43 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The name comes from there being a glue factory there to dispose of all of manhattan's dead horses 100 years ago.
posted by mathowie at 2:44 PM on August 26, 2013


filthy light thief, typical glass beaches contain glass transported there, so it tumbles and smooths out. This glass in NY was just dumped there so there is minimal weathering.
posted by mathowie at 2:46 PM on August 26, 2013


tavella: I'm surprised at how many bottles are intact.

Looking at Google maps, it looks like a pretty well protected bay, compared to more open Hawaiian Glass Beach or the rocky beach in Fort Bragg.

mathowie, good point.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:47 PM on August 26, 2013


Recycling is robbing future generations of such finds. Tsk, tsk, when will we learn...
posted by maryr at 3:00 PM on August 26, 2013


What a terrible name for a bay.

Look on the bright side. Maybe it was a bad horse?
posted by yoink at 3:03 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been there too! I brought some wildlife home with me, in the form of ticks. Don't go through the weeds and shrubbery to get there.
posted by moonmilk at 3:03 PM on August 26, 2013


What a terrible name for a bay.

You keep bringing this up, but the situation is not going to change.
posted by box at 3:28 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The beach that birthed a million craft projects.
posted by zzazazz at 3:38 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


More info at Under Water New York. Interesting:
At its height during WWI, it took in all of the household trash of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, and the daily remains of all five borough’s animal dead. This refuse was sorted and rendered and converted to major profits as glycerin, fertilizer and glue by a community of immigrants–mostly Polish, Italian and Irish, with a small population of blacks–who lived on the island and worked its factories. Tasks were sorted according to social rank, with black families getting the worst job, converting daily tons of dead fish to fertilizer. Second to that was the job of rag-pickers, who used their bare hands to feel for and sort out valuable fabric from the garbage; comparatively less horrifying were the jobs of sorting bone and scavenging metal and paper. The smell from the island was so intense that at one point a group on mainland Brooklyn calling itself the Anti-Barren Island League held considerable sway in city politics, continually proposing legislation to close down the island or somehow curb the stench.

Residents of Barren Island were completely separated from mainstream life in the city, and their daily reality was as distinct as if it were another country: at the turn of the last century, the island had no electricity, no post office, no doctors or nurses, four saloons, five factories boiling vats of garbage day and night, and a one-room schoolhouse. School let out early so children could help their parents sort garbage.
posted by unliteral at 3:48 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


You really can't beat this bay's name!
posted by srboisvert at 3:49 PM on August 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Out of curiosity, anybody know of similar "treasure" hunting areas in the Seattle/West Seattle area?
posted by stenseng at 3:51 PM on August 26, 2013


Derail, but:

What a terrible name for a bay.

I disagree - it's evocative, in its day bluntly descriptive, and left us a useful record of what happened there in the past.

I've been researching old place names in D.C. for a while, and hugely prefer the blunt-to-macabre (e.g. "Death Lake", "Bloody Hill", "Buzzard's Roost") names to the flowery or striving ones of real estate developers or people fawning over a great man. The Post has weighed in on this a few times, and puts it nicely:

There is no other way probably in which people put themselves on record in a more spontaneous way than the names they give to the things around them. So it happens that the residents of many new towns sum up many of the picturesque, unhappy, ludicrous, or grotesque incidents and conditions of the early days by the names which they give their cities, streets, buildings and environs. - 7/28/1899

There were neighborhoods . . . whose patronymics have passed entirely from the informal nomenclature of the city. The names they bore were not the artificial designations bestowed by real estate speculators . . . but were highly descriptive appellations springing instinctively into use, whimsical nicknames, full of that Anglo Saxon genius for apt caricature, smacking deliciously of the soil. - 10/15/1923
posted by ryanshepard at 3:53 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


What a terrible name for a bay.

And are we even sure it was a bay? It could have been a roan.
posted by yoink at 3:59 PM on August 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


And are we even sure it was a bay? It could have been a roan.

Quick! Somebody bet on de bay!
posted by Floydd at 4:08 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thisclose to eponysterical, Floydd.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:27 PM on August 26, 2013


Buenos Aires has a riverbank that is basically chunks of brick, tile and clay pipe. I'm having trouble googling it, but I remember it being a pretty amazing sight.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:27 PM on August 26, 2013


The Brooklyn Eagle; October 09, 1887. Utilizing Dead Animals [PDF] - Their progress from the street to Barren Island. Here are some excerpts that caught my eye:
The flesh from along the back of the neck and to which the horse's mane is attached is boiled separately from the other part of the horse meat; this portion yields an oil of superior quality and is sold for the manufacture of a hair restorer of the kind recommended by the bald headed barber to his often too credulous customer, who is desirous of increasing the growth of that part of his personal adornment.

In addition to our contract for removing the dead horse, we also have the contract for removing the cats and dogs from the dog pound. The flesh of the cats and dogs is treated the same as that of the horses, except there is no oil pressed from the cats. The oil from the dogs, or dog grit, is largely used as a cure for rheumatism, and the skin is used for making dog skin gloves.

The Indian title to the island was relinquished on May 13 1664 – "Know all men, etc that we, Wawmatt Tappa and Kack-a-washke, the right and true proprietors of a certain island called by the Indians Equendito, and by the English Broken Lands, lying. &c., &., in consideration of two coats, one kettle, one gun, one new trooper coat, ten fathoms of wampum prage(?), three shirts, six pounds of powder, six bars of lead and a quantity of brandie wine."
posted by unliteral at 4:28 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


they just bulldozed apartment buildings and dumped everything there
No, there was still a community there when it was a rubbish dump. The inhabitants and their cottages were evacuated and bulldozed when Marine Park Bridge was built. An article and some great photographs of detritus at Discard Studies.
posted by unliteral at 4:34 PM on August 26, 2013


You really can't beat this bay's name!

He's dead, Jim. No point.
posted by Jilder at 4:43 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find the same sort of stuff when I dig holes at certain spots in my back yard: china shards, old medicine bottles, flatware. I have a small collection of intact bottles in the kitchen. The house has been here since 1890, but this stuff could be older. Makes me wonder why people threw these things away on the property instead of at the dump.
posted by caryatid at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2013


The name comes from there being a glue factory there to dispose of all of manhattan's dead horses 100 years ago.

Yeah I know but like, Taiji isn't called "Dolphin Massacre-ville".
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:20 PM on August 26, 2013


You keep bringing this up, but the situation is not going to change.

In...all the other threads about Dead Horse Bay?
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:21 PM on August 26, 2013


caryatid, you might be digging in spots where the house once had a privy. People frequently threw their trash away in the outhouse, before indoor plumbing and regular garbage collection, and there are actually hobbyist bottle collectors who dig up old privies for that reason.
posted by nonasuch at 5:22 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up right across from there. New York City's Rockaway Inlet, Where The Debris Meets The Sea!
posted by KingEdRa at 6:14 PM on August 26, 2013


The eternal legacy of 20th-century man.
posted by Twang at 6:23 PM on August 26, 2013


What a terrible name for a bay.

Believe it or not, there was a time when attracting new development wasn't the first thing on people's minds when they named places.

Makes me wonder why people threw these things away on the property instead of at the dump.

Probably because there was no dump. Collectively funded municipal hygiene - the idea that not throwing crap in your yard could protect the water resources and reduce infectious disease, basically - was pretty much a Progressive-era thing, not all that popular or widespread until at least the 1870s.

Also, totally right on about the privy. Privy archaeology is an awesome field. But even outside of privies, people did just have garbage middens on their properties.
posted by Miko at 6:56 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm working on an environmental remediation project in that part of the US; the site is covered by several feet of fill taken from late 19th century demolitions: bricks, bottles, dog(?) bones, clay tile, the occasional chunk of wrought iron. Quite frequently however I come across a piece of architectural marble or other dressed stone, sometimes even with some manner of engraving still in it (maybe part of a street number or building name?) I have also found extended sections of honeycomb or skip-square ceramic bathroom tile on plaster backing, and in one area a concentration of old terra cotta pots.

Plays heck with the core logging I tell you. We have one fairly literal minded geotech to whom we've tried repeatedly to explain that we don't really need color gradation and grain size analysis on old halfbricks.
posted by hearthpig at 7:07 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


You keep bringing this up, but the situation is not going to change.

In...all the other threads about Dead Horse Bay?


In all the other threads, and in your letters to the editor of the Paddock Buzzard, and your posts on the Equus Mortis forums and in the alt.horses.dead newsgroup, and at DeadHorseCon '99, and, most egregiously, at that Thomas Friedman book signing.
posted by box at 7:08 PM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pig bones are super common in city fill because they were a very common food to raise in urban settings, and also because before WWII or so, Americans ate way way more pork than beef. You're probably seeing pig rather than dog bones.
posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on August 26, 2013


Now we know where pb sends all the ponies that he doesn't grant.
posted by arcticseal at 8:21 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's amazing that dead urban horses were a Thing within living memory, so you needed a whole infrastructure to cope with their removal and processing, and you had specialised uses for different parts of the carcass. Then poof! cars replace horses so the horse-removalists lose their jobs, and the rendering plants close, and the barbers have to find a replacement for horse-oil in their patent nostrums. It's like someone took a chunk out of the world.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:26 PM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


We're still in the aftershock of the technological boom from the first bit of the 20th century, let alone the other ones. That "dairy" in Central Park used to be a literal one (For city-provided milk, cause it turns out the free market is crap at providing pure milk when adulterated milk is so much cheaper to produce and you end up with a lot of poisoned kids.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:30 PM on August 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Out of curiosity, anybody know of similar "treasure" hunting areas in the Seattle/West Seattle area?

any beaches that once held piers associated with late 19th century industry or transport, which is roughly all of them. find the pilings, then walk the beach. I have awesome lids of old crockery, fragments of stoneware mugs, old signs... there were less folks here than there but they just chucked anything and everything into the drink.
posted by mwhybark at 10:03 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I finally got a chance to scavenge the shore at Dead Horse Bay a couple years back, and it was great fun, although the bulk of what's on the sand is really not that old. (Maybe the trash out comes in period waves?) I saw scads of 1950s-era pop (painted label), hooch and nail polish bottles. It's also a good source for pottery shards.

The scores at Bottle Beach on the Oakland / Berkeley border skew several decades older, but an unbroken bottle is pretty rare. In Dead Horse Bay, you'll (gently) toss back plenty of fine specimens when it's time to lug your catch back to the road.

These places scratch a very profound hunter's itch. Every tide's leavings are different, with each step you know you may be crunching a wonderful bottle beneath the sand, and some treasures are coated with muck and hide in plain sight. I don't know how folks who live closer keep away!
posted by Scram at 10:09 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Today's dumps will yield lots of un-decomposed plastic and shreds of disposable diapers, yechhh. My family's old cottage had a bone, bottle & can dump. Food waste was composted, and paper and cloth were burned. The cans rusted, but the bottles mostly stayed intact.

Living in Maine, I occasionally go to the beach at low tide and 'plant' future sea glass at a beach that used to be used for waste. I suppose it could be called littering, but someone will like the blue and other nicely-colored glass some day.
posted by theora55 at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2013


I've definitely noticed that since we ended most things like ocean dumping, there's a lot less seaglass available on the Jersey Shore than when I was a kid, when it was easy to find just mounds of it. The hunt is maybe a bit more fun now, because it's harder to find, especially good pieces (non-clear).
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on August 27, 2013


Huh. The same goes for Australia: as a kid I used to see lots of it, but last time I went to a beach I had to walk for ages to find a small scrap. I don't know if we ever had ocean dumping here, though: I suspect the changes are due to less littering, fewer glass bottles, and thinner walls on the remaining glass bottles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:07 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


theora55, and in the meantime people have even more broken glass to step on? Sheesh. The beaches do not need you dumping trash.
posted by tavella at 6:19 AM on August 28, 2013


« Older "New research has uncovered the reason why some pe...  |  John Scalzi responds to a trol... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments