Undiscovered New York: Life and death in the graveyards of Staten Island

Staten Island. It’s a name many New Yorkers invoke with disdain. And tourists? The city is lucky if they venture beyond Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn. But despite this poor reputation, there are plenty of reasons to visit New York City’s fifth borough.

True, it’s never going to offer the glitzy shopping and haute cuisine of its ritzy neighbor Manhattan to the north. But urban explorers, history buffs and adventurers take note: what the borough lacks in picturesque vistas, it more than makes up for with “edgy” character and quirky sites of interest. My favorite? The Staten Island boat graveyard.

For those that do not know, Staten Island is home to what used to be the world’s largest trash heap at Fresh Kills. For years, the city of New York dumped thousands (if not millions) of tons of garbage on this site, creating one of Staten Island’s more imposing geographical landmarks. Gross, right? While even an adventurous traveler like myself might skip a site filled with old diapers and decaying chicken bones, all that trash has provided an interesting side-attraction in the form of huge fleet of half-sunken abandoned boats. Want to know more? Click on through the link to continue.Rather than sink the vessels elsewhere, the city of New York has chosen this sliver of water between the island of Staten and the coast of New Jersey as the final resting place for dozens of ships. The many boats sit half beneath the surface, silent sentinels to formerly productive seafaring lives.

As these old relics of wood and steel are ravaged by the salt and air, their decay leaves behind some strangely beautiful works of art. As wood rots away, rusty metal skeletons emerge and decks lie at odd angles, half submerged and half afloat above the murky water’s surface. Just beyond lies the hulking mass of the former landfill, gently sloping off in the distance. Needless to say the atmospheric surroundings make for an awesome setting for photography buffs.

Perhaps even more intriguing is that this isn’t the only graveyard in the area. Yet another forgotten Staten Island graveyard lies within easy view, but a graveyard of a very different sort. At the edge of the salty marshland leading to the boats is a small cemetery called the Blazing Star Burial Ground. The cemetery houses the final remains of Staten Island residents dating back to the 1750’s when the area was the site of a popular ferry crossing and roadhouse. As you stroll among the small plot of ancient gravestones it’s hard not to wonder about the inhabitants who made this once-pristine vista their final resting place. Could anyone have imagined how drastically their view would change?

So how does one find this hidden gem? Well, first you need to find a way out to Staten Island. Although it’s not impossible to use a combination of mass transit with ferries, trains and buses, a car is much preferred in this case. The site is located near the town of Rossville, on Arthur Kill Road. Not to be a tease, but that’s all we’re giving away. That’s what Google Maps is for, right? This is supposed to be an adventure after all, and any good adventure is not without its intrinsic risks and uncertainties. Happy exploring!