Brooklyn's Dead Horse Bay Attracts Urban Explorers

By Ben Fractenberg on May 9, 2012 10:41am 

Glass bottles and other objects started to appear on the beach in the early 1990s.
Glass bottles and other objects started to appear on the beach in the early 1990s.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MARINE PARK — One person's trash-filled beach is a treasure trove for urban explorers.

Dead Horse Bay, a hidden stretch of sand tucked between Marine Park and Jamaica Bay, is covered with items like old glass and apothecary bottles after a 1950s era landfill slowly eroded, filling the beach with objects of our city's past.

Howard Warren, who teaches science at Trinity School in the Upper West Side and takes his students to the beach each October, said he first started noticing relics there in the early 1990s.

"I didn't realize what I was finding was part of a landfill," said Warren. "Every year more and more artifacts came to surface."

Unsurprisingly, the beach has become popular with urban foragers looking for an interesting trinket to decorate their apartment or use in their jewelry.

It's something Warren detests.

"It's federal property," he said.

"Those artifacts belong to everyone in the United States. It's out-and-out-thievery.

"I tell people in no uncertain terms. Someday I'll get punched in the face with a 1953 7Up bottle."

A spokeswoman for the National Parks Service said they "discourage" people from taking items from the beach, but did not say people are in any kind of legal danger if they do. There were also no visible signs at the bay warning people about pilfering bottles.

One person scavenging the beach on a rainy afternoon this week said she was surprised to find out you are not supposed to take anything.

"It's garbage," said Allyson Little, 26, who traveled up from Baltimore to find glass bottles for a boutique she works at back home. "This is a form of beautification."

Little said she found out about the bay through word of mouth at the beginning of the year and has been traveling up to New York every few months to scour the beach.

"It's a secret haven."

The bay's name does not have to do with the landfill or artifacts, though, but rather has a more macabre source.

Warren said around the turn of the last century the area, which was then a series of Islands before sand was dumped into the bay to connect them, was "laced with garbage treatment" plants.

Some of the plants turned dead animals into fertilizer, including a horse processing plant.

They were torn down in the 1930s to make way for Floyd Bennett Field, which was the city's first municipal airport.

Warren, who said his school has permission to steward objects of interest, and his fourth-grade class research the history of relics they find at the bay.

He recently discovered an old handgun, which he was able to find listed in a 1902 Sears catalogue.

The gun, he said, was "so cheap you could shoot somebody and throw it away."

For that, you need someplace secluded.

"Where do you get rid of it?" Warren asked rhetorically. "You get rid of it in the bay."

To get to Dead Horse Bay you can take the 2 or 5 trains to the end of the line at Flatbush Avenue. Then you catch the Q35 bus going toward Rockaway. Get off the bus just before you cross the Marine Parkway Bridge and you'll see a path to the bay directly in front of you.

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