A few weekends ago now I biked out to Dead Horse Bay for the first time. The delightfully gruesomely titled bay at the edge of Brooklyn and Queens gets its name from the former animal rendering plants that made up the area. Later, parts of the bay were used for landfill. When a cap of the landfill burst, the beach became littered with mid-century bottles, leather soles, horse bones, and pieces of ceramic tiles among remnants of industry.
It’s a sort of living testament to the detritus of late capitalism. That’s what makes it so interesting too, a gross at times interactive historical look at things sold and bought in the past century.
It’s also fascinating to observe how items were made before and how that tells a story about their survival. Plastic is almost altogether missing from the beach but glass is plentiful. The prescene of leather soles must be because rubber soles weren’t yet the standard, but I’m not positive why they survive.
I collected an assortment of small glass bottles, many medicinal looking, that I learned how to date based on markings on the bottom. If you’re looking for a bizarrely engrossing activity, look no further than dating vintage bottles. My special favorite is a small bottle that turns out is a glass baby doll bottle. Others come from as far as Illinois glass factories.
Another favorite find are cold cream jars that are milk glass white, many featuring interesting architectural details. Cold cream boomed in the later half of the 20th century as a must have cosmetic. The Ponds and Avon brands jar I collected are perfect for bathroom organizing and even making candles (like my very wonderfully industrious friend Katie taught me.)
Next time I’m going to bring a bigger bag to pack up even more of those 1940’s cold cream jars.
Go to Dead Horse Bay!
Hours: all year long.
Directions: take the 2 train and switch to the Q35, getting off before the Gil Hodges bridge.
Or ride your bike! The entrance is right before the bridge.