The Bronx Swamp

August 31st, 2009 -

The Bronx Swamp is an abandoned, flooded railroad line below the streets of Mott Haven. Its waters are a bright and unnatural green, the color of antifreeze. It is home to birds, rats, raccoons and mosquitoes, and has been used as a dumping ground for years. One local told the Daily New Yorker that "dead animals and a human body" were found in the swamp, while the Mott Haven Herald reports that the "foul odor" rising from the swamp's "plastic bags, broken beer bottles, planks of decaying wood, and abandoned basketballs" has forced residents to consider moving out of the neighborhood. The city acknowledges the Bronx Swamp is a health risk - the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene regularly sprays it with larvacide to curb the spread of mosquitoes potentially infected with the West Nile Virus.

The railroad line underneath the waters of the Bronx Swamp was "formally abandoned" in 2004 by the CSX Corporation, according to the NY Daily News, but - as one resident stated in The Epoch Times - "I've lived here for 17 years and the water's been there just as long." Today, the swamp is scheduled for a major cleanup. It is currently being drained of "more than 150,000 gallons of stagnant water," according to the NY Times. After draining, bulldozers will remove its assorted debris. However, the city has been unable to locate the current owners of the Bronx Swamp and so, as the NY Times states, "the fate of the land remains unclear."

Above the Swamp

Backyard Access

Looking Down to the Cut

Antifreeze Green

At the End of the Swamp

Abandoned Railroad Property

Down in the Swamp

Tunnel Vision

The Bronx Swamp

The Hole

August 25, 2009 -

Locals call it The Hole. But few agree on where The Hole is located. Some say The Hole is in Howard Beach, others say it is in Spring Creek or Ozone Park, or maybe East New York or Lindenwood. Residents do agree on one thing - The Hole is famous. Mostly because of the bodies. Or maybe the horses.

The Hole is a small triangle of land divided in half by Brooklyn and Queens, and is located west of the intersection of Linden and Conduit Boulevard. The Hole is literally a hole. It is "30 feet below grade," according to the NY Times, sunken down from the busy roads around it. The neighborhood floods often and is only a few feet above the water table, so its homes are "not incorporated into the city sewer system. They all have cesspools." Streets are threatened by reedy marshes, and many residents keep a boat parked in the driveway.

Marshes, Reeds & Road

The Hole is well known for its holes. The New York Times has called it a "reputed mob dumping ground" while Wikipedia refers to it as "an infamous mob graveyard." People living in the neighborhood tell stories of how "200 dead bodies" were found up the street in a now-abandoned development, or how bodies are frequently "found by the side of the road." These stories are rooted in truth.

In 2004, the FBI descended on the neighborhood, searching for the bodies of up to four men believed to be buried in an empty lot. They began digging in the same location where - 23 years earlier - "the body of a Bonanno crime family captain" was found dead, wrapped in a "yellow carpet," according to the NY Times. Investigators sifted through the soil "like prospectors panning for gold," said the NY Times. Eventually, they discovered what may have been the remains of "two mafia captains" from "the Bonanno crime family" that were buried by "several members of the Gambino family who were close to John Gotti," said the NY Times.

"200 Dead Bodies" Development

Other residents of The Hole reminisce about how it was once populated by vast fields of horses. Many belonged to The Federation of Black Cowboys, who hold an annual rodeo nearby. It was "the closest thing New York has to a border town" with "all the characteristics of a frontier town in the Old West.... dusty streets, stray dogs, ramshackle corrugated tin structures and even a few cowboys," according to the NY Times. There are no longer any horses in The Hole. Beginning in 2002, "about 100 horses" were evicted to make way for a new development, according to the Village Voice. Forty horses still live nearby at Cedar Lane Stables, but there is no evidence that the horse-pasture-development ever happened. Instead, an abandoned house sits at the center of The Hole in a huge empty field. As one local said to The Voice, "It's tough being a cowboy in East New York."

Empty Fields

Today, the neighborhood has been torn apart by failed development schemes. Besides the empty horse pastures and abandoned houses, the edges of the The Hole are dominated by two large, apparently abandoned real estate projects. At the western edge is a trash strewn, boarded-up row of new homes, and towering above the eastern edge of the neighborhood is a stalled development once named "Cobblestone Estates." Construction here stopped in 2007, according to the NY Times, and the remaining mountain of debris has given neighbors below in The Hole "nightmares about avalanches" and a "constant fear of a rockslide."

Flooded Lot For Sale

Western Development

"Cobblestone Estates"

Although the future of The Hole is uncertain, it still stands - like The Iron Triangle  and Edgemere - as one of the most unique neighborhoods in New York City. Satan's Laundromat once enthusiastically called this area "the most obscure neighborhood in New York" and according to a 2005 article on the area in Forgotten New York, "this is the true New York, this is NYC with pretense and artifice stripped away."

These photos were taken in collaboration with Nate Dorr of Impose Magazine, who says of The Hole "few spots in the five boroughs... feel further from the crowds and activity of Manhattan."

Since the publication of this original photo essay in 2009, which established the history, borders, and proper name of The Hole, many other articles have featured the research, writing and photos included in this work. These follow-up articles on The Hole include pieces in The Village Voice (2009), Gothamist (2009), Curbed (2009), Brownstoner (2009) and The Brooklyn Paper (2010). In 2010, this coverage of The Hole led to at least two documentaries being made about the area: "The Hole: A Border Between Brooklyn and Queens" (2010) and "The Hole" (2010). Additional references to this photo essay have also been published at Bldgblog (2011), Architizer (2011), Reddit (2013), Curbed again (2014), Newsweek (2015), The Independent (2015), the Daily Mail (2015), and Gothamist again (2015).

At Home in The Hole

Dead End

Neighborhood Guard

White Truck

Runic Grafitti

Abandoned in The Hole

Living Room Ruins

Pink & Boards

In the Kitchen

Whirlpool at the Center of The Hole

Above The Hole

"Nightmares About Avalanches"

Escape from The Hole