New York day trip: Dead Horse Bay

I remember hearing about Dead Horse Bay ages ago and thinking it sounded interesting. Then this past Friday I followed a link from somewhere and ended up here, at which point I said to myself, Self, you should go there and see what that’s all about. So I did.

Dead Horse Bay is out on the far eastern edge of Brooklyn, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was home to a number of horse-rendering plants, where dead horses were taken to be turned into glue and fertilizer and whatever else one can turn a dead horse into. Post-processing, the bones were just dumped in the water. Once automobiles became more popular and there were fewer horse corpses to go around, the area was used as a landfill. The trash heap was capped in the ’30s, but exploded onto the beach a couple decades later and because of whatever tidal oddities go on there, a lot of it remains to this day.

It’s actually pretty easy to get there: take the 2 train to the last stop, then pick up the Q35 bus right outside the station. I asked the driver to give me a head’s up when we got to the last stop before the bridge, which he was nice enough to do after double-checking that I knew where I was headed. The trail leads off right from the bus stop and it’s about a ten-minute walk before you hit sand. I’d checked the tide tables beforehand to make sure I’d arrive around low tide, since there didn’t seem to be much point if everything I wanted to look at was under water. There were a handful of other people walking around, but few enough to really feel like I’d somehow managed to remove myself to a different place and/or time entirely.

Early on in my wanderings, I met a mysterious old man who gave me this clay pipe he’d just found. As I mentioned on twitter yesterday, there’s pretty much no way it doesn’t have magical properties.

Oui! C’est une pipe!

I’d read accounts of other visitors finding horse bones on the beach, but this was the only evidence of that part of the area’s history that I came across:

I did find a fair number of intact old bottles in the midst of all of those shards, but honestly, I don’t really have any use for old bottles. So the only things I brought home with me were the pipe and an interestingly calcified clam shell. I don’t know that I’d necessarily be in a hurry to return, but I’m glad I went. It was a fascinating glimpse into a little-known piece of New York history, as well as its potential future (hundred-year-old glass on the beach has a certain kind of charm; this much modern garbage decidedly would not), and gave me a chance to explore a part of Brooklyn I’d never visited. If you do decide to take a trip out there, wear your absolute sturdiest shoes. I was wearing hiking shoes and was fine, but I think walking over that much broken glass would have ripped normal sneakers to shreds.

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