I’ll be the first to admit that I like quirky, authentic, out-of-the-way places just as much as I love a good luxury trip. And I usually find out about these places in quirky sort of ways.
Last year, a friend who is very big into seaglass (it’s an actual thing!) wrote about her trip to a place called Dead Horse Bay to collect some treasures. When I read that, I became innately curious about why a place would have such a horrendous name and it led me to an article on Atlas Obscura about it that I’ve accessed probably a dozen times.
In their article, they explain that this particular area in Brooklyn was once the home of many horse rendering plants (back when we had more horses than cars) and was the resting places of the leftover horse remains, hence the name Dead Horse Bay. Once that business became defunct, the area was turned into a landfill.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to go to such a horrendous place. But it was the Atlas Obscura description and photos that attracted me:
Thousands upon thousands of bottles, broken and intact, many over 100 years old, litter the shore. Other hardy bits of trash pepper this beach of glass: leather shoe soles, rusty telephones, and scores of unidentifiable pieces of metal and plastic. The beach is usually empty, conjuring a quiet, eerie post-doomsday kind of scene that is the perfect setting for scavenging another era’s trash.
I’m a bit of a scavenger, even when I travel. I love to visit local flea markets and antique stores and, in fact, some of my favorite souvenirs have come from places like these. A trip to Dead Horse Bay didn’t just give me access to souvenirs from another place but literally from another time.
Getting to Dead Horse Bay
You can find Dead Horse Bay on a map and navigate to the area known as Floyd Bennett Field but then it gets a little murky.
It’s technically part of the National Park Service but I didn’t find anyone at the Park Service office or at the entrance gate. You’ll want to enter the park and turn into the parking lot on the right just past the office.
There are clean restrooms at the edge of the parking lot but bring hand sanitizer (there was no soap!). From the parking lot, you’ll want to walk back to the main road (Flatbush Avenue) that took you to the park and cross over to the other side. Don’t worry – there’s a button to prompt traffic to stop for the pedestrian walkway.
Upon crossing the road, you’ll see a few dilapidated signs and what looks like a trailhead.
If you’re expecting a sign that says “Welcome to Dead Horse Bay!” you won’t find it. If you’re looking for a sign that says “Follow this path to the beach. Trust us – it’s the right way!” you won’t find that either. But you will see a map indicating the area is part of the Jamaica Bay Greenway that gives you a general sense of where you are. Luckily, I found tips on Foursquare that assured me I wasn’t walking into the wilderness never to be seen again.
We headed down what looked like a trail and quickly grabbed a few large sticks on the way. I was, after all, walking into unfamiliar, unmarked territory in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. I wasn’t sure if I could properly defend myself with a stick but I believe in keeping aware of my surroundings at all times.
The path veered a few times but with the help of Google Maps, I traveled in the general direction that looked like the southern tip of the land mass.
And then suddenly, we emerged out of the brush and saw…
At first glance, it was very underwhelming. It simply looked like the dirtiest, most littered beach I’d ever been on (which, in reality, it probably was). As mentioned in the Atlas Obscura article, it was eerie given the gloomy weather and light mist. I was determined to find some sort of treasure on the beach though so we combed up and down in several direction.
If I had to categorize the majority of what we found on the beach, I’d say it was mostly broken bottles and shoe soles. Who knew shoes lasted so long? Normally, I would have been a little excited about the seaglass but since this is newly unearthed rubbish from decades ago, it hasn’t experienced the year of weathering that normal seaglass has. It’s sharp and made walking on the beach a little treacherous.
Once we got past our initial reaction of the condition of the beach, we used our sticks/weapons to help us sort through the garbage on the beach to find a few interesting artifacts from yesteryear.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. The shoreline was small (although it probably would have been better at low tide) and the artifacts weren’t nearly as interesting as I’d hoped. It turns out the ABC News actually produced a short documentary about Dead Horse Bay last year and rumor has it that perhaps the beach has been “raided” by beachcombers with more serious intentions than me.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that technically I wasn’t even supposed to remove anything from the beach (it is federally owned, after all). But I’m glad I have a few memories from our brief stopover at Dead Horse Bay.
I wouldn’t recommend planning a trip specifically to the area but if you happen to be in or passing through Brooklyn, it’s a interesting trip back in time that takes only about an hour to visit.