This Halloween, Take a Haunted Canoe Ride Down the Fetid, Radioactive Newtown Creek


It can be hard to recapture the terror of Halloweens past, can’t it? The simpler time when the holiday was about extorting as much candy as possible out of your neighbors, then rushing home as fast as you could, fully convinced that a multitude of ghosts and demons were about to claw their way out of area graveyards to feast on your brains? Was that just us? Too many rhetorical questions? In any case, making Halloween scary again might be as simple as taking a paddle down the Dutch Kills, part of the incredibly polluted, quite possibly haunted Newtown Creek.

For the second year, the North Brooklyn Boat Club is offering a Halloween-night mile-long haunted canoe ride down the Dutch Kills, for those brave souls willing to set foot near a waterway the New York State Department of Health has dubbed probably fine as long as none of it gets anywhere near your mouth. A review by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Newtown Creek, like the Gowanus Canal, its toxic neighbor farther south, is just a tad dirty after hundreds of years of being used as a commercial waterway. The agency’s report notes “biological hazards are likely present at all times” in the river, including metals, semi-volatile organic chemicals, highly toxic PCBs, and, of course, delicious fecal bacteria.

“We thought about safety a lot,” says Jens Rasmussen reassuringly. “People sit very low in the boat.”

Rasmussen is a founding member of the North Brooklyn Boat Club, and one of the canoe guides who will take guests down the Kills on Halloween night. He stresses that the inaugural event last year went off without a hitch, with no inebriated boaters falling into the water and immediately sprouting 17 sets of gills.

“Guests don’t paddle,” Rasmussen says. (Due to safety protocols and state laws, only licensed canoe guides can paddle the boats.) “They keep their hands inside the boat. There’s not even an opportunity to get splashed.”

Your job, then, is to sit still and get a little creeped out. Rasmussen says they’ve also upgraded the canoes a bit to make the possibility of falling into the water even slimmer. “Last year we had people sit on the floors. But last year, we were using regular-sized canoes. This year we’re taking people out in our big canoes, which are even more stable and virtually impossible to capsize. They sit inside and they are assured — and it is true — that no one will touch them. We had no mishaps last year and we don’t anticipate any mishaps this year.”

Rasmussen says the ride is less full-on terror and more subtle creepiness, an aesthetic he describes as “somewhere between Twin Peaks and American Horror Story.”

“This isn’t, like, the aquatic version of going to the hay maze out in the countryside where you walk around the corner and somebody chases you with a chainsaw,” he adds. “It’s much more atmospheric and trippy. You’re paddling along these parts of the abandoned waterfront and it already has this sort of surreal experience. It’s desolate, it’s crumbling, and of course everybody knows the waterway is a Superfund site. So it’s really kind of wonderful.”

The exact nature of the creepy thrills on the ride is still being planned out — as Brokelyn noted last week , the Boat Club put an advertisement on Craigslist seeking interesting performers who also have a yen for scaring people: “If you are an aerialist, fire-dancer, contortionist, actor, or just daring, creative, and playful, we would love to hear from you.”

The details: The event is Halloween night from 8 to midnight, with boats going out every 15 minutes. If all the rides sell out, the Boat Club will consider adding more hours. It’s $25 for adults, $15 for children 12 and under, and tickets are available here. You can bring your kids — “We have life jackets that go pretty small,” Rasmussen says — but this is not an event for toddlers or infants. Wear practical shoes, something you can climb down a ladder and into a boat in, and a costume that will allow you to fit a life jacket over it. Do not be drunk. We repeat: Do not show up drunk.

“We’ll have a bar,” Rasmussen reassures us. “People can drink afterwards.” You’ll probably need it.