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.
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.