Only a thin and littered strip of beach shows at high tide. At first it seems an unremarkable slice of forgotten sand, nondescript, sloping gently down from the bank of shrubs and grasses and low trees that stands behind it. But countless shards of deep blue glass and rings of bone worn to the color of wood suggest deeper secrets. As the tide recedes, mysteries are revealed in glittering and unlikely excess. The shallow waters are thick with old glass bottles and bottle fragments, pieces of china and porcelain and pottery, remnants of toothbrushes and shaving brushes and hair brushes, vinyl bottles of spray deodorant with names like ‘Odo-ro-no’ and ‘Stopette,’ nail polish still blood-red in its bottles, linoleum flooring and shower curtains, roller skates, dentures, car parts, bricks.
These are the hauntings of Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay, once home to the world’s largest concentration of rendering facilities and later the dumping ground for a cache of haphazardly collected and carelessly buried ruins. But the Noxema and Milk of Magnesia and Clorox bottles, the seamed nylon stockings, the leaf springs, the clothing irons, the shoes – so many, many shoes! – aren’t discards. They were never thrown away. Rather, they were left behind. Families forced from their homes in the city’s frenzy of urban renewal and highway building projects in the 1950s abandoned these now jumbled, barnacled bed frames and wooden barrels and push mowers and frying pans, the mundane goods that had adorned their days and then were lost. Now these objects adorn a V-shaped beach on Jamaica Bay, unexamined artifacts that speak eloquently of an era not so far in the past but so different from our own.