Brooklyn, Lost and Found

Photos by Will Ellis

The refuse that clutters Brooklyn’s neglected parks, vacant lots, and forgotten shorelines is typically considered an eyesore if it isn’t ignored altogether. But a closer examination can yield surprising rewards.

When you adopt the perspective of an archaeologist, the experience of walking down a litter-strewn street can become a kind of treasure hunt, where puzzling relics of the city’s past await you in the most unexpected places. We can search through the urban rubble with the same fascination as the excavators of ancient civilizations, making discoveries that connect us to a more immediate ancestry. Decaying dolls and peeling lawn ornaments take on totemic significance as emblems of an imagined urban mythology. Busted tennis balls and discarded photographs become omens and auguries of an uncertain future, or enigmatic artifacts of an unknowable history. More palpably, each object holds a fleeting connection to the lives of the anonymous masses — everyday New Yorkers who, in losing a wallet or dropping a slip of paper, contribute to a stock of materials that boils down to the very essence of the city… Or maybe it’s all just garbage.

Here’s a small sampling of finds from the forgotten corners of Brooklyn.

Found on 5th Ave in Sunset Park.

Found on the N line in Dyker Heights.

Found in McCarren Park, Williamsburg.

Found in a squatter settlement inside the Gowanus Batcave.

Found on the beach at Dead Horse Bay.

Found in the woods at Owl’s Head Park.

Found on the streets of Gravesend.

Found inside the pocket of a winter coat in Four Sparrows Marsh.

Found on the Williamsburg waterfront.

Found under the Marine Parkway Bridge.

Found inside an abandoned Navy barracks at Floyd Bennett Field.

Found on the shores of the Jamaica Bay in South Brooklyn.

Found in the aisles of an abandoned movie theater in Borough Park.

Found strapped to the front of a shopping cart under the Gowanus Expressway.

Found at Plum Beach.

Found under an overpass of I-278 in Bay Ridge.

Found in a junkyard on the Gowanus Canal.

Will Ellis is a freelance photographer and the founder of AbandonedNYC. He lives in Sunset Park.

Also in this issue


Hurricane Sandy swept away a wood jetty from Coney Island’s heyday. But Steeplechase Pier, which has seen devastation before, can’t be kept down. By Oksana Mironova and Ben Nadler

Q&A: Tupper Thomas of New Yorkers for Parks

The dean of New York’s parks on the uproar at Brooklyn Bridge Park, parkland access, and why she couldn’t stay away. Interview by John Surico