Best place to dig for the past (and live it there) (2008)

Plumb Island

During the late 1800s, Plumb Island was occupied by homesteaders who found New York City somewhat inhospitable. Because the island was outside municipal jurisdiction, alcohol and tobacco were tax free, boxing and whoring were legal, moral turpitude ran rampant, and soon, the shantytown became a favored destination for thrill seekers from across the water. In 1907 the Army was sent in to break up the party, and a former judge was given legal control over the island; opportunely, the newly instated leaseholder went native and invited the homesteaders to return with their moneymaking propositions. The wayward delights of Plumb Island were not wholly razed until the 1930s, when Robert Moses filled in the surrounding saltwater marshes to create the Belt Parkway. Still, the free spirit of the place lives on off Exit 9B: This neglected rest stop is a regular rendezvous for swingers; the surrounding woods have long served as a gay cruising spot; full-moon ravers frequently invade the beaches. This summer, artist Duke Riley re-created a 19th-century saloon out of detritus unearthed from the eroding landfill. (As is the custom on Plumb Island, the fuzz broke up the party before Riley could hold an unsanctioned boxing match.) Visitors to Plumb Beach will discover physical remnants of the island's long history—twisted pieces of rusted iron, ancient perfume bottles, old tin cans, and horse bones washed up from Dead Horse Bay, where rendering plants used to dump carcasses—but since the beach is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, you are supposed to leave with nothing but memories. A bike path found at the end of Emmons Avenue and Knapp Street leads into Plumb Beach, Brooklyn.


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