Through all of my travels in New York City’s neglected parks, waterways, and abandoned buildings, I’ve picked up a few souvenirs. Most of the time, I abide by the “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures” rule, but some objects I come across are too fascinating, too mysterious, or too grotesque to leave behind. You don’t find treasures like these on the bustling streets of Soho or Times Square, but out in the far-flung corners of the outer boroughs, or deep in the recesses of a long-abandoned building, things have a way of piling up and sticking around. These are a few of my favorite finds from an ongoing collection I call New York, Lost and Found. (see the rest here)
You wouldn’t expect to find doll parts in a Navy barracks, but somehow this misfit toy ended up in a crumbling hallway at Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport. She’s got more to offer than an incredible hairstyle and a terrifying expression. Press the button on her navel, and those scaly arms come to life!
A stolen wallet lingered on the tracks of an abandoned railroad line in Queens for 25 years before I came across it. I attempted to track down the owner, but my search came up empty. (The credit cards expired in 1986.)
A dapper young man poses for a senior photo in this wallet-sized portrait I picked up in a junkyard on the Gowanus Canal.
I came across this little card in an overgrown section of Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. “Please pardon my intrusion, but I am a DEAF-MUTE trying to earn a decent living. Would you help me by buying one of these cards.”
The quarantine hospital at North Brother Island has fewer artifacts than you might expect, but a maintenance building still held a nicely organized matrix of keys. I pocketed a handful of them, unable to resist their attractive sea foam patina. They’re pictured here with a raccoon bone, raccoons are the only mammals present on the island.
I spent several summers teaching animation and filmmaking to kids and teenagers in a repurposed chapel on Governors Island. A few years back, we had to vacate our beloved space when the building was slated for demolition, but I salvaged this hand-painted sign above the donation box on my way out. As far as I know, the Our Lady Star of the Sea Chapel is still standing, filled with old animation sets and crude clay characters from three summers ago.
This photo was taped up in a bedroom of the Batcave squat in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The building’s inhabitants were evicted in the early aughts, but many of their belongings remained until recently—the structure is currently being renovated into artist studios. From what I can tell, the photo depicts the entrance to the Batcave, taken from the inside. It might not look like much, but the abandoned power station was home sweet home to many.
The fanciful Samuel R. Smith Infirmary was one of Staten Island’s greatest architectural treasures until the hospital met the wrecking ball in the spring of 2012. I found this old chair leg while touring the structure only a month or two before its demolition.
This wormeaten music book was left behind in a book room of P.S. 186 in Harlem that I didn’t notice until my second visit. Supposedly, the long-abandoned school is being renovated into affordable housing and a Boys and Girls Club.
The pristine stretch of wilderness at Four Sparrow Marsh is concealed by a thick barrier of trees and overgrowth dotted with homeless encampments. Some spots are still occupied, but the individual who left this button behind was long gone. I found it pinned to his winter coat.
Beautiful ceramic mosaics are the most striking feature of the abandoned Sea View Hospital complex on Staten Island, located just across the street from the New York City Farm Colony. These seashells are used as design motif throughout the building.
The warehouse at 160 Imlay St. is currently being renovated to luxury condominiums, but back in February of 2012, it was free to explore. This was the building that started it all for me; I walked in on a whim, and from then on, I was hooked. This rusty fire nozzle has sat on my mantle ever since.
The eerie office at Machpelah Cemetery was neglected for decades before its demolition earlier this year. The place was pretty thoroughly ransacked when I visited, but I did find this coin bank in the back of a safe deposit vault. The bank itself is a souvenir from the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but the pennies inside date to the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. A coin minted in 1989 was the most recent addition, and likely coincides with the last year the building was occupied.
Waterlogged family photos were a tragic and ubiquitous sight in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. This was found several months after the disaster in a storm-ravaged park at Cedar Grove Beach, Staten Island.
This tiny plastic shoe was found washed up on Dead Horse Bay in south Brooklyn, one of the best places in the city to find old things. The marshy area was filled in with garbage in the 1920s, but at some point, the landfill cap ruptured. Today, the shore is covered with old glass bottles and early plastic toys.
Another find from Dead Horse Bay. These “Lucky Joe” banks were manufactured by Nash’s Prepared Mustard in the 20s and 30s to celebrate the boxer Joe Louis. The container included a slotted lid that converted the jar to a coin bank once the contents were used up.
No bag of souvenirs from Dead Horse Bay is complete without a few horse bones. These are fairly commonplace and may date back far earlier than most of the garbage. They’re remnants of the area’s industrial age, when dead horses and offal were processed into glue and fertilizer.
In 1976 I was on Plum Beach after a storm and found an old Procter & Gamble ink bottle, and a small blue noxema jar that dated from the 1920’s. The P & g bottle has a most lovely iridescence to it as well. I love your site as I used to live on Luquer Street in Red Hook during the ’70’s in a haunted apt (yes, that’s right) which I had to move out of because of the activity of the ghost who appeared as a small older man dressed in the classic tan rain coat & hat uniform of the 1950’s. He had glasses as well. My cat would see it as well. It was wild in those days and I am sad to see via Google the way it has been destroyed. Atlantic Avenue was great for furniture finds as well.
I now live in So. California, but wish I’d never left Brooklyn.
Thank you for a wonderful site! A friend of mine, Robert Malik who used to report for the Bklyn Hgts Press, was one of the people who found the opening for the train left behind from the Bklyn Bridge construction when they went down a manhole on Clark Street all the way to Borough Hall and found it. Oh, so much in those days went on!
Best regards, Mary Ault firstname.lastname@example.org
On Sun, Dec 29, 2013 at 4:26 PM, AbandonedNYC
It really disappoints me to know that you have removed things from abandoned places you have visited. You are diminishing the experience for future visitors who, because of you, will not be able to experience the same level of things that make these places so fascinating to the majority of us. I am sorry that you feel the need to take “souvenirs” and whilst I do enjoy reading of your adventures, this taints it a little bit for me. I hope on future excursions you think twice before taking anything else.
Sorry to disappoint, and I totally understand your point of view! It’s a complicated issue. In New York, these places are disappearing so fast, I don’t always see the harm in salvaging something from a site you know will be gone in the next year. Keep in mind that only a handful of these objects were actually found in abandoned buildings, and most of them have since been demolished or renovated. I use my judgment and tend to take things that there are multiples of (the keys, or books, for example). Trust me that I always think twice before taking something home.
My co-worker found a cache of old pharmacy bottles (intact) while dangerously exploring an excavated site on W.57th Street in Manhattan. The entire area must have been an old landfill/garbage dump. The bottles were c.1860 as I recall. I should have called city officials but I wasn’t sure who to call. My former pal did not give me even one though I played lookout for him. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if the construction actually took place. It may still be vacant, between the WSH and 11th? avenue. P.S. I know I contacted you before but can’t think of anything old, abandoned and forgotten at the moment. Good Luck and I enjoy your photographs and commentary.
You might enjoy Found Magazine. I like your collection, and of course your excellent photography.
Thanks so much for your new post. It has been awhile and I check every day for a new one. You have outdone yourself with this one….it is truly fascinating!
Thank you Frank! Glad you enjoyed, and sorry to keep you waiting. If you like, you can subscribe (there’s a link at the top of the right column), that way you’ll get an email every time a new post goes up.
Thank you for all your hard work. I wish people could understand all the history we are losing as a nation by demolition and neglect.
Very interesting! I loved the photos. It’s amazing how objects will remain, hidden, for years before being discovered. Parts of people’s lives. Thanks for the post!
The “What Part Of No” button was probably a woman’s.
It’s possible that the “What Part of No…” button belonged to a man. I had (and still have) many male friends who were feminists and would’ve worn the button.
Will, you have an amazing eye. You see what others never notice. You are amazing. Your written word brings your images to life. WOW! Be careful but keep sharing your vision. Love ya!
On Sun, Dec 29, 2013 at 7:26 PM, AbandonedNYC
I, for one, love that you have collected little bits and pieces from your meanderings. I have been fascinated with NYC since a high school field trip in 1969. I appreciate your collecting and sharing those little bits very much. Otherwise, no one else would have the opportunity to see and appreciate them.. If I ever have the wherewithal to have an extended stay in NYC, I would for sure want to see some of the places you have uncovered. So, thanks, Will, for your site and your pictures. It’s almost as good as being there. Well, maybe not quite, but thanks for the little window.
Thank you Dianne! Hope you get a chance to visit again soon.
I have no problem with the removal of some small objects; you give them a new place to hang out in!
I am curious as to what the name is in the wallet. It looks to me like Gorecki and if that is the case, there is a Gorecki family that are from that area. Two of the sons Ryan and Reid play baseball and although I am not too familiar with baseball, I do know that Reid was playing for the Atlanta Braves in 2009. His father is a coach as well named Ronald (Ron) and I believe his mom’s name is Susan. They also have a sister. I’m not sure if any of those names match up with what you have in the wallet but it would be so cool if they did! Keep us posted! -M-
Thanks M, the name is Michael Gorecki. I would love to track down the owner!