February 14, 2012

Message in a Bottle Beach

Howard Warren tells the story of a huge 1950s time capsule that's slowly disgorging its contents.

Adam Rosen

It’s true: old Brooklyn is washing away. This is not an allusion to the borough’s rising crop of gourmet condiment shops, but to Barren Island, Brooklyn’s most remote seashore and, for now, the resting place for a discarded cache of Americana. Located in the far southeast corner of the borough in between Jamaica and Dead Horse Bays, Barren Island served as an ad-hoc landfill for New York from early March through the end of April in 1953, when the dump was sealed. Like so many other city legacies, the whims of Robert Moses are to thank for the landfill’s short but intense existence; in addition to ordinary household waste, byproducts of Moses's many mammoth construction projects went to be buried at Barren.

Despite its name, by 1953 Barren Island was actually no longer an island. It became a peninsula in the late 1920s, affixed to Long Island proper by six million cubic yards of silt and sand in order to create Floyd Bennett Field, New York’s first commercial airstrip. The construction of Floyd Bennett not only destroyed the island’s topography, but also laid waste to a small village of islanders, all of whom were forced to leave their homes and employers. (The most conspicuous of which was a horse-rendering plant, inspiring the name of the adjoining bay.) What they didn't take with them was entombed in sand.

Since the closing of Floyd Bennett in 1971, though, the detritus of the landfill has slowly started to reemerge. In the early 1990s, glass bottles, dentures, water pistols, bottles, and other bric-a-brac discarded in 1953 begun appearing on the beaches of Dead Horse Bay. The man-made time capsule has become exposed.

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Barren island mike

No one should be collecting from that beach. I've been part of barren island marina since I was a young boy in 1981. I've collected marine fish for education there since. The early 50' s were the worst and most dangerous practice's in U.S. history. Mercury , lead and other grant metals are abundant and leaking into Jamaica bay.

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