Exploring Glass Bottle Beach by Arthur Mallet

In the dog days of summer, New Yorkers like to take advantage of the local beaches: Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and the Rockaways.  There’s one beach, however, that offers a unique attraction: Glass Bottle Beach and it’s vast treasures. Located in Dead Horse Bay across from Floyd Bennett Field, Glass Bottle Beach lives up to it’s reputation.
As explained in this New York Times piece, the name “Dead Horse Bay” dates back to the 1850’s when there were horse rendering plants along Brooklyn’s southeast coast.  The carcasses of horses were used to make fertilizer, glue and other products and the leftover pieces of bone were dumped into the water. It’s the floating horse bones that gave the bay it’s name. The workforce at the time largely consisted of residents of Barren Island, which was later joined to the mainland to create Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport. Barren Island had no public water, sewage system or fire department, and was accessible only by boat. Furthermore, it stunk to high heaven.
According to Atlas Obscura,  the rendering plants began to dwindle around the turn of the century. The main reason being that the horse carcasses became much less plentiful with the advent of cars and mass transit.  The bay began to be used as a landfill, which was so full of trash by the 1930’s that it was capped.  Then, in the 50’s the cap burst, filling the bay with trash that has been washing on to shore ever since.
A beach filled with washed up trash may not sound like an appealing destination, but the distance of time means that the “trash” found here is not your standard dumpster fare.  These are artifacts from the first half of the 20th century. Old shoes, toys and especially glass bottles make up the majority of the items found on the shore.The beach is also home to horseshoe crabs and shore birds.  On a recent trip I even found a small dead shark that had washed up.
Makeshift sculptures have been assembled by visitors, fixing glass bottles to driftwood and old appliances. Many visitors come to take souvenirs. Not surprisingly, most items are far beyond usable condition, although some of the smaller bottles remain intact. The inaugural episode of “Flatbush + Main”, Brooklyn Historical Society’s new podcast, feature an interview with an artist who uses found objects from the bay in his sculpture work. The bounty of the bay continues to replenish the shore, meaning there are always new souvenirs one can take home, be it a bottle, a piece of rusted machinery or even a horse bone, to remind us of Brooklyn’s past. Check out the gallery of my treasure finds below!
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