Video – Dead Horse Bay, A Living Museum Of Trash

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In the 1950s, a cap on a landfill burst, sending trash flowing onto Dead Horse Bay. Trash, both old and new, has continued to cascade onto the sands of Dead Horse Bay ever since.

By Jack Mirkinson and Yepoka Yeebo

At the far southeastern edge of Brooklyn sits Dead Horse Bay. The name is an evocative, and quite literal, one. It harkens back to the 1800s, when dead horses from around New York City were sent to a lonely, remote place called Barren Island to be processed and made into things like glue and fertilizer. Because of this, the water that surrounded the island was called Dead Horse Bay.

It was not just horses that were processed on Barren Island. It was a clearinghouse for all sorts of muck, filth and grime. From the 1850s onward, trash from Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx was sent to the island, as were many kinds of dead animals. The island housed a community of around 1,500 people, who lived, worked in factories and went to school there.

Follow the arrow to Dead Horse Bay.

Follow the arrow to Dead Horse Bay.

Not surprisingly, though, the mixture of animal corpses and all that trash created an almighty stench. As far back as 1899, the state legislature was debating how to curb the smell—and the processing facilities that produced it. In the late 1920s, the city shut down the factories and filled in the water that separated part of the island from the mainland with trash and turned it into Floyd Bennett Field, New York’s first airport.

In the 1950s, a cap on one of the containers for the landfill burst, sending trash flowing onto the beach that had been created when the land was filled in. Trash, both old and new, has continued to cascade onto the sands of Dead Horse Bay ever since.

Dead Horse Bay in the News

A selection of articles from the New York Times that testify to the wild and wacky place that was Barren Island. Go to Underwater New York for more information.

Legislators try to remove the stench from Barren Island.

Legislators try to remove the stench from Barren Island.

Picture 2

The mystery of the cursed knickerbockers.

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6 Responses to “Video – Dead Horse Bay, A Living Museum Of Trash”

  1. Judith M
    April 20, 2010 at 9:52 PM #


  2. Michael Aronne
    December 8, 2010 at 3:26 PM #

    I need to correct you on your reporting. The trash isn’t washing up! It’s washing out! Those small dunes are the landfill which have been broken open by wave action. When they started dredging for JFK airport 100 ft holes were dug in the ocean floor out in front of Barren Island. When those holes filled the surrounding marsh land eroded back into the sea leaving the landfill to be exposed which has only been happening a few years. I was a patron of Barren Island Marina for 30 plus years I watched it all take place. The heavy pouring out of garbage is only the last 10 years or so. Don’t get to comfortable handling it. The 1950’s were the worst for chemical dumping in our country’s history. The garbage from the 1850’s is deep in the middle under the airport.

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  4. Corrinne Whetstine
    June 15, 2011 at 10:12 AM #

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  5. Joe
    September 28, 2012 at 9:34 PM #

    Come on – the stuff that was disposed of fifty years ago consisted of routine organic stuff-bones, peels, paper, lawn clippings, cotton and wool, etc, with a mix of inorganic solids-ceramic, glass, pottery, cast iron. The organics have long since rotted away, and have contributed to the fertility of the bay. The inorganic stuff is unsightly but inert-glass is about the same composition as sand, and in other places, beach glass is sold as a gemstone! Mine this stuff and sell it on eBay! I would love to have some of that stuff. Don’t forget, we know a lot about ancient peoples from their middens. Look it up.

  6. Michael Aronne
    November 16, 2012 at 3:08 PM #

    Again I caution you. The 1950’s was one of the worst times in history with chemical dumping. mercury and heavy metals are abundant. Companies put chemical waste in the garbage and it was carted to these dumps.Ancient civilizations did not make chemical waste. I have been going to this beach since 1981. The bundles of news papers that come out from the landfill are just as they were in 1954 and I have photos. Perfume bottles still smell like perfume. It’s only from experience of this area that I caution you.

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