Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ruins of New York's Industrial Past

Perhaps due to an overreaction to a recent birthday, lately I've been thinking a lot about decay. As I touched upon in an earlier post, Hollywood has given us our fair share of desolate New York City ruins. But we don't really need Hollywood; we have plenty of real-life examples of urban decay, most notably of the city's industrial past. These are, admittedly, in most cases less cataclysmic than zombie-apocalypse or sudden onset of an ice age, but they can be just as visually striking.

A few years ago, the Times ran a photo essay by Nathan Kensinger that included images of Brooklyn's industrial ruins, including an abandoned powerhouse on the Gowanus Canal known as "The Batcave" (you'll see why) and the infamous Admirals' Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I keep coming back to these photos; they expose the tender underbelly of New York's past -- spaces occupied now only by our city's most destitute.

On my recent visit to Staten Island, my friends and I sought out another industrial ruin: the Ship Graveyard, the site of dozens of scuttled vessels left to rust in the wetlands. Not much is known about the Ship Graveyard, I suspect it's because its the result of illegal dumping. Indeed, to reach the spot, you must pass through the neglected 18th-century Seguine family graveyard and down a steep hill overgrown with phragmites and poison ivy. But it's worth the effort.

Staten Island Ship Graveyard from Alicia West on Vimeo

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