“Time Capsule, ” by David Owen. The New Yorker, 1/15/2018, “The Talk of the Town.”
Barren Island hangs down from Brooklyn and is not an island in the conventional sense. It is a desolate area with an abandoned airfield (Floyd Bennett Field, but still used as a helicopter base by the NYC police) and filled with debris from a neighborhood that Robert Moses leveled for a highway project in 1953. (Some call the island “the Scrotum of Brooklyn.” Ugh!)
Barren Island was named from the Dutch word for bears, not for its desolation, but “barren” is appropriate.
Author Owen describes an NYU field trip to Glass Bottle Beach on Barren Island, named for all of the glass bottles exposed at low tide. The beach regulars are either illegal scavengers who sell what they find on eBay, or, as on the field trip, preservationists who see it as an archeological trove of early 1950s artifacts. (The beach faces aptly-named Dead Horse Bay, so there are no vacationers.)
Those on the field trip find many shoes half burred in the sand, all leather and showing wear, but virtually no sneakers. There were also discarded adjustable metal roller skates, the kind that clamp onto a leather shoe sole (that kids don’t wear, anymore) and tightened with a skate key, very familiar to anyone of my generation.
Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates,
You got a brand new key.
I think that we should get together and try them out, you see.
—Pop song released in 1971. Sung in a child’s voice by composer Melanie, who is now 71.
The leader of the field trip once found a bottle of Stopette deodorant, one of the first deodorants and a sponsor of the TV show “What’s My Line,” also very familiar to me.
Being a responsible preservationist, she left the Stopette bottle where she found it.