Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

From the Tip of Hog Island Looking North


Photographer's Diary: How is it that as a child growing up in Manhattan I never got to Hog Island? I am standing near the southern tip of Hog Island looking north. Nearby the East River is flowing around me on both my right and left. Just behind my left shoulder and but a short row across the East River is the iconic UN Building where the world's business is being conducted. Hog Island abounds in paradoxes.

I never could keep those East River islands straight, but I knew there was an especially long one that stretched from up near Gracie Mansion down to near the UN that I saw whenever we rode down the FDR Drive. When I asked, sometimes they told me, "That's Welfare Island," and other times they said, "Roosevelt Island." Once they told me that it was Blackwell's Island and that there was an asylum there, and I conjured up visions worthy of Dickens.

Paradoxes!

To begin, I enjoy the heady mix of not being too sure at any moment whether I'm experiencing Hog, Blackwell's or one of the other incarnations of the place or if all the ghosts are coming at me at once.

Second, it is a place of serene quiet right in the center of one of the noisiest, busiest places in the world. Although the roar of the city surrounds me, here I can tune it out.

All around it people are moving and going places. Cars whizz up the FDR and across the towering bridge, subways tunnel through granite beneath, boats and barges pass on both sides, helicopters shuttle endlessly overhead, and yet getting here is very difficult, and there are more wheel chairs than automobiles here.

All around it New York City is building and changing, and there are new towers rising here too, but there are also some of New York's most remarkable vestiges of earlier times.