The Weirdest Beach in New York City

The path to New York City’s weirdest beach is actually quite pleasant.

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After walking some distance along the quiet trail, the trees gradually disappear, replaced by reeds swaying gently in the breeze.

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When you finally arrive at the beach, perhaps passing a couple of bikes leaning against an old wooden bench, you might feel as though you’ve somehow been transported to the shores of Cape Cod.

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Then you step onto the beach…

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…and notice the bottles…

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…and more bottles…

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…and still more bottles…

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…and more bottles…

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…and even more bottles:

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There’s a pretty good chance no one will ever send a post card from Dead Horse Bay.

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A few weeks ago, while scouting for a post-apocalyptic landscape, I took a trip out to shoot Dead Horse Bay. Honestly, I don’t think you can do much better than the appropriately nicknamed “Bottle Beach.”

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Dead Horse Bay’s odd monicker dates to the mid-19th century when the area was was home to dozens of horse-rendering plants, which used the harbor as a dumping ground for horse bones.

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Located on the southwest shore of what was then Barren Island, the isolated area was infamous for its lack of water and sewage lines, and for the vile odor perpetually wafting in from the nearby factories, which later included fish oil plants, waste refineries, and a city dump. Below, a horse plant in 1931:

horse

By the 1920s, most of the plants were gone, and the city had begun the process of connecting Barren Island to the mainland using sand, coal and garbage as landfill. Unfortunately, one of the landfill caps burst in the 1950s, and 100+-year-old garbage has been spewing into the harbor ever since.

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While one might expect to find the beach riddled with equine bones, the most common items are actually bottles and jars.

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This includes your run-of-the-mill soda bottles, some of which you’ll recognize…

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…while others are long-forgotten. Below, a beverage called King’s, “The Crown For Fame Of Flavor.”

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The label on this one reads “Old-Fashioned Tasty Creamy Root Beer – You’ll Love It!”

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Of course, you’ll also find jugs…

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…and perfume bottles…

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…in fact, pretty much any type of bottle you can imagine…

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…all delicately deposited onto the beach without a single chip:

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The next most common items are probably shoes and leather soles…

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There are tons of these strewn about the beach…

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For fun, try and imagine a person still wearing the shoe buried upside-down in the sand! Actually, this might not be so far-fetched on Bottle Beach…

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Equally prevalent are the endless tangles of synthetic nylon stockings, found wrapped around anything they can cling to:

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Of course, you can stumble across pretty much anything, and artistic beach combers can be found here every day of the week. Someone even reportedly found a handgun from a 1902 Sears catalog. Anyone need a new juicer?

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But beyond its surreal assortment of early-1900s trash, Dead Horse Bay is easily the most haunting beach I’ve ever been to – the sort of place that would feel at home in the world of HP Lovecraft.

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Did you ever have that one nightmare, where you’re on a eerie, forlorn, and seemingly endless beach, and the sky is overcast, and you’re alone, and something just feels very, very wrong? If so, you will have an unsettling sense of deja vu when you first step onto Bottle Beach.

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One of the creepier bits is this tree…

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…to which visitors have been stringing bottles for some time:

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It’s a neat art project; it also feels like the kind of thing you’d find in the backyard of that serial killer from True Detective:

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The remnants of Dead Horse Bay’s piers poke out of the sand like broken bones:

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Near the edge of the beach is a layer of something that feels too crumbly to be rock, but too hard to be sand. Appropriately, its covered in a puke-green colored growth:

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And then there are the bits of trash that seem as though they’ve come from an alien world (seriously, does anyone know what the hell this thing is? I kept my distance for fear that a facehugger from Alien would pop out).

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There are certainly ghosts in Dead Horse Bay…

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The rusting, ragged remains of things that once had a purpose to someone, somewhere, at sometime…

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The details of which have been lost long ago to the sands of…well, Bottle Beach.

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Now that the weather has finally gotten warmer, I’m sure these pictures have made you want to dig out the bathing suit and head for a sunny day at beach! In all seriousness, a walk across Bottle Beach examining trash from a century ago can actually be a really fascinating – and intensely surreal – experience. Just be sure to bring good shoes, as there’s broken glass everywhere.

You can see the trails leading to Dead Horse Bay clearly marked on Google Maps here. A few trains can get you pretty close, but I recommend picking a nice day to bike across Brooklyn, maybe paired with a trip to Coney Island?

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Just watch out for old Cthulhu.

-SCOUT

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27 comments

  1. Wow ! There must be some collectables there . . . somewhere. And I’m sure it changes with the tides.

  2. Wow… thanks

  3. Creep factor 99/100!!

  4. I’m almost certain that alien-object is an old baseball glove… anyone else?

  5. thanks so much for sharing this eerie place, have been very close visiting breezy point but never knew of it.the perfume bottle is gorgeous, may need to go explore….

  6. Fascinating! My great grandma grew up on Barren Island, her dad worked at the horse rendering plants — but her family moved away under doctor’s orders because the environment was so toxic they all had health issues.

  7. As much as I love Colorado, there’s a very noticeable lack of amazing and fascinating places like this. I’d love to spend a whole day beach-combing. A whole different kind of urban exploring!

  8. I believe the creature you found was a dead horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus). I lived in southern Brooklyn for many years and also blogged about the “unexpected wilds” in Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay. You can read that post here: http://millefiorifavoriti.blogspot.com/2010/07/unexpected-wilds-of-new-york-city.html

  9. I wonder if the green stuff you found had anything to do with the house factory. Maybe some sort of rendered fat that floated up and mixed in with the sand. It has to have some sort of organic matter if it is hosting plant life on it.

  10. The photo of the thing you were unsure of? It may be something that was melted. They incinerated trash there for several years. I have left that beach with several pieces of melted glass bottles in tow. Also, the photo of the rusted metal frames? One of those items is a giant safe. The walls of the safe are long gone, but you can still see the wheels on the piece. You can still read the name of the company on the wheels.

  11. Could have been a scene ftom True Detectives. Each frame got creepier…have you published a book of your photos?

  12. That only came to mind because oil tends to ball up like that on the beach also.

  13. Terrence Fitchett

    I fish in the areas to the west and south a little bit , where the water is alot cleaner. I still ove to walk around that part of the part to relax

  14. Interesting piece. You had me at 1920′s trash. You lost me with the alien mystery thing. Yuck. You know, in the not so distant future, my bet is it’ll get a massive clean up, fix up and beautification and land will go up for sale and be worth a mint. It’s too close to NYC to not to. Anyway, it’s almost intruguing enough to want to add it to my ‘to do’ list. Thanks.

    • The price of land adjacent to bottle beach must be pretty cheap, with the burst landfill and everything. Could be worth a go for a 20 year investment, especially if you’re a recycling obsessive or collector who’d have a reason to head out there to check on their property anyway.

  15. Been there, extremely interesting article for urban archaeologists and bottle hunters. Very well documented, great pictures !

  16. I’ve been out to ‘bottle beach’ a lot. Found an old glass baby bottle there complete with rubber nipple, totally intact. And I recognize the item in photo 38: “The rusting, ragged remains of things that once had a purpose to someone, somewhere, at sometime‚Ķ”
    That’s actually an old floor safe, busted open.

  17. Good treatment of the dump’s history can be found in “Fat of the Land: Garbage of New York — The Last Two Hundred Years” by Benjamin Miller.

  18. We love Scouting NY and are excited to see that you visited one of our favorite spots! Underwater New York is a digital journal of writing, art and music inspired by real-life objects found in the waterways of NYC–Dead Horse Bay has been a source of some of our most amazing finds. You can read contributions sorted by genre or here, sorted by body of water: http://underwaternewyork.com/bodies-of-water. In the STREAM section of the site and in the EVENTS section, there is a lot more information, historical articles, and photographs from DHB. (And about other neat places you might like such as Coney Island Creek, New Dorp Beach, Arthur Kill…)

  19. I’d be nice to keep certain things under wraps and keep away the troves of people from such a secluded spot.

  20. I didn’t see a single “Brooklyn Whitefish”. Not surprised.

  21. The photograph of the tree reminds me of a scene from the original Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  22. I saw this post when it originally went up and finally made it out to the beach yesterday.

    My girlfriend and I had a great time looking at all the cool stuff and picking through the bottles. Thanks to a lady who had some extra plastic bags we ended up taking home about 10 bottles of various shapes and sizes.

    Our favorite finds were an old alkaseltzer bottle with partially intact paper label and, fittingly, a whiskey bottle with a horse painted on it. It’s apparently from White Horse distillery in glasgow, and would be worth a lot of money if it was still filled with scotch instead of sand and seaweed.

    I am a bit confused on the timeline of the dump, however. After getting home and doing some research, a lot of the stuff we found can be definitively dated to 1935 (liquor bottles with federal law warning) and later. Some stuff may be as new as late 1940s. Is it known exactly when the dump was capped? Could some of the stuff have come from elsewhere?

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