Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Day on Sheepshead Bay

"If you'd come here five, ten years ago," said the old waitress, "you would have seen twice as many boats, three times as many restaurants and none of these great big places. Back then the tallest building was three stories high."

She leaned on the counter, wiped her hands on her apron, and talked about the neighborhood's many vanished businesses. In recent years, dozens of mom and pop stores have disappeared as real estate developers bought up blocks, demolished the existing structures and replaced them with luxury condominiums.

Similar stories can be heard in nearly every corner of the city but the denizens of this neighborhood are a stubborn lot, and most are determined to stay put here in Brooklyn's only fishing village, Sheepshead Bay.

The Bay, named after the sheepshead (a large saltwater fish), is renowned for its abundant waters. Fishing once played a vital role in the neighborhood's economy and the area around the concrete piers on Emmons Avenue still includes several bait and tackle shops, seafood restaurants and clam bars.

While the sheepshead disappeared from these waters long ago, the piers remain crowded with dozens of ducks, gulls, swans and fishing boats. The fleet usually goes out after dawn and returns before dark. The boats are met by shoppers who eagerly swap cooking tips and snatch up the catch of the day, often including flounder, tuna, bluefish and crabs.

A bit further down the road, tucked between the yacht clubs and construction sites, are a few rusted gates. These lead to narrow alleyways crowded with tiny bungalows. Most of the alleys and cottages are what remains of Sheepshead Bay's first housing development, built around 1920 by a developer named Robert Densely.

A bit farther down the street, past the few retirement homes and "no-tell" motels, Emmons Avenue turns into an entrance to the Belt Parkway. The sand dunes begin where the sidewalk ends. The trails in the sand lead down to a quiet beach, where amateur fishermen patiently throw their nets into the water and haul their evening's meals from the Bay.

The fishing fleet on the bay  Posted by Picasa

Seagulls on fence  Posted by Picasa

The Brooklyn VI boasts a "Curtious" Crew  Posted by Picasa

The Crystal Marie  Posted by Picasa

Fisherman on deck, filling bag for customer Posted by Picasa

Entrance to Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club  Posted by Picasa

Bernie's Bait & Tackle  Posted by Picasa

Stella Maris Fishing Shop  Posted by Picasa

Sand dunes  Posted by Picasa

Brush on sand dunes  Posted by Picasa

Cottages at 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

More cottages at 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

View of Bay from 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

View from the center of Lake Avenue  Posted by Picasa

Houses on Hitchings Avenue  Posted by Picasa

Swan  Posted by Picasa

Swans and ducks near the Ocean Avenue footbridge  Posted by Picasa

Ocean Avenue footbridge  Posted by Picasa

WPA Guide: Sheepshead Bay
Wikipedia: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Alleys of Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Party Boats
NY Fisherman: Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club
The Belt Parkway

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Behind the Gates of New York Marble Cemetery

Every day thousands of people pass the thick stone walls and tall iron gates but few step behind them. New York Marble Cemetery is open to the public only a handful of days each year; from March through November, the gates generally open (for a few hours) the last Sunday of each month. However, since the Cemetery lacks both staff and shelter, if the weather is inclement or no volunteer is available, the entrance to this secret garden will remain locked.

Today was the cemetery's last scheduled opening for 2006. A stream of curious visitors came, encouraged by the open gate and the unusually mild weather. A volunteer provided literature and information about the cemetery, its founders, the current state of repair (a section of the 12-foot high walls recently collapsed) and the trustee's efforts to protect and restore it.

New York Marble Cemetery (also known as the Second Avenue Cemetery) is the oldest public non-sectarian cemetery in New York City. Established in 1831 to serve the city's gentry, more than 2,000 interments have taken place here. Unlike most American cemeteries, this half acre patch of green has no gravestones, ground markers, mausoleums, lamps, flower arrangements or monuments. Although the setting is stark, this isn't a place where the original decorations have been lost or stripped away; by design, the cemetery is simple, unadorned and restrained. The original landscape consisted of a level stretch of lawn marked only by shrubbery and white sand paths.

Founded during an epidemic when in-ground burials were forbidden, interments are 10 feet underground in solid white marble vaults, each the size of a small room. The 156 vaults are arranged in a grid and access provided by removal of stone slabs set below the lawn's surface. The numbers of the vaults and names of the original owners are on marble plaques set into the surrounding walls.

Although the most recent burial was in 1937, New York Marble Cemetery is not simply a place of historic interest; despite appearances, it is a working burial facility. Each vault belongs to the heirs of the original owners and descendants retain the right to be interred here. In fact, some have made plans to ensure that this cemetery, the last place in Manhattan where a person can still be legally buried, will be their final resting place.

Visitors at outer gate Posted by Picasa

Alley leads from the outer gate to the inner gate Posted by Picasa

Visitors enter cemetery through inner gate Posted by Picasa

Vault of publisher Uriah R. Scribner Posted by Picasa

Vault of Elisha Peck Posted by Picasa

Visitors on the lawn Posted by Picasa

Volunteer answers vistors' questions Posted by Picasa

Visitors and plaques along the south wall Posted by Picasa

View to west wall Posted by Picasa

Shrubbery and east wall Posted by Picasa

Broken stone awaits repair Posted by Picasa

  • New York Marble Cemetery

  • Cemetery Schedule and Map

  • Letter Regarding Construction Behind Cemetery