It’s up to you, New York, New York, to keep your surroundings clean. For a city that never sleeps, and houses over eight million people, the Big Apple does a pretty good job at picking up after itself, but until humanity perfects a flawless waste disposal system, things will still get a little messy.
Humanity’s cast-off possessions aren’t great for the environment, but they do have one upside: they provide a historical glimpse into past lives. What’s more, weird garbage can tell interesting stories, and there’s no garbage more interesting — or mysterious — than the stuff that washes up on NYC’s shores…
Down in Coney Island Creek, one DIY submariner found out why it’s best to leave underwater exploration to the pros. A homemade vessel, intended to explore the wreck of the ship Andrea Doria, launched wrong and immediately got stuck in the river mud, and still lies there to this day.
Most everyone’s seen an ice cream truck driving around in the summer, but where do they go when it’s time to retire? In 1969, several Good Humor trucks were deposited near Atlantic Beach to provide an artificial reef for oysters and other marine life.
Photo by Walter Leporati/Getty Images
Scavenger Jeff Woodbury was used to finding driftwood and random trinkets washed ashore, but this engine block covered with algae that the waves returned at Oakwood Beach on Staten Island was a rarity.
In 2017, one of NYC’s beloved CitiBikes, rentable bicycles anyone can check out and ride, fell off a pier into the Hudson River. But in February 2019, it was found, checked back into a dock — and covered with barnacles from its river adventure.
Jen Chung / Gothamist
Subway trains… underwater? As strange as it sounds, over 2,500 retired NYC subway cars were deposited into the Atlantic Ocean, and they’ll lay there forever, providing a new home for fish and coral.
Do you fancy a little underwater tickling of the ivories? Accomplished pianists and divers are welcome to try their hand at playing the grand piano that lies under Lower New York Bay, but there’s no guarantee it’ll make any sound.
We dread to think of our phones slipping from our grip and landing in murky water, but imagine losing your actual hand. A prosthetic hand was found on Staten Island at the Great Kills Park shore, likely missed by its owner.
Not one, but two shipwrecks were found on top of one another — a double-decker catastrophe. In the Hudson River, up near Yonkers, NY, a cabin cruiser found her grave smack on top of a previously sunk 19th-century vessel.
In more macabre news, a corpse with concrete shoes was found washed up in Brooklyn in early May 2016. The deceased was 28-year-old Peter Martinez, suspected to have been a gang member, and judging by concrete on his feet, it’s clear his killer intended him to stay underwater.
New York Department of Corrections
Don’t worry, though; not all flotsam and jetsam is homicide-related. A child’s toy, found in Dead Horse Bay, was adopted by Underwater New York treasure hunters as the group’s official mascot. Lovingly dubbed “Kangamouse,” its missing ear only adds to the charm.
A vintage silver baby’s rattle was also found washed up at Dead Horse Bay. We can only pity the poor parent who had to find a way to calm their youngster after the spry youth did what youths do — throw their toys, in this case overboard.
bestnevrest / eBay
Commercial diver Lenny Speregen once saw an antique dining table in the East River. “It’s standing upright, totally free and clear. It makes me want to go down there with teacups and set it up,” he said.
Some things found under NYC waters are, though strange, meant to be there. The Underwater New York scavenging group discovered a sonar surveillance system placed in New York Harbor by the U.S. Coast Guard, meant to discourage swimming. Yikes.
If you feel lucky, train to be a professional diver and explore the waters between Staten Island and New Jersey. In 1903, a ship carrying 1,600 silver bars capsized there, and most of the bars, estimated to be worth $28 million, are still lying on the riverbed.
VISIT FLORIDA / YouTube
It’s a good idea to be sure the drawbridge is closed before you drive a train over it. In 1865, one freight engineer forgot this obvious step and didn’t stop in time, plummeting a train full of baggage into the Hudson River.
One watery discovery was lost, but lived to tell the tale! In 2003, a harp seal became injured and swam into the polluted Gowanus Canal. Luckily, NYC’s Riverhead Foundation rescued her and helped her back to health, naming her Gowanda. Aww.
katie honan / Vine
A colossal find occurred when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged up a dead giraffe in Lower New York Bay. It’d likely been there since the 1980s, and sadly drowned while either being transported to a zoo, or fleeing a circus ship — though no one knows for sure.
In 2009, crews off of Coney Island pulled the Dreamland Bell out of the water. When it was used during the Dreamland Amusement Park’s short tenure from 1904-1911, it rang to announce ferry arrivals at the Coney pier, but sank when the park burned.
Dead Horse Bay go its name for a reason. Between 1850 and 1930, hundreds of horse corpses washed ashore at this part of Barren Island. Where they came from is no less gross: they accidentally drifted away from a nearby glue factory.
Bronwen / Public Lab
That’s not all Dead Horse Bay is known for, unfortunately. Developers tried to extend the marsh next to it, which was being used as a landfill, into a peninsula. However, the topsoil eroded, and glass bottles and other trash can now be found on the beach.
Adel Souto/Underwater New York
And away from the Big Apple, oceans and rivers aren’t untouched by human devices. It was impossible to tell how or why some of these unusual objects washed up on shore, but they all made for one heck of a unique story.
PA3 Kelly Newlin
On the Dutch island of Terschelling, citizens were startled early one morning when they discovered thousands of running shoes covering the sand. Apparently, a cargo ship lost one of its containers during a violent storm, turning the beach into an outdoor Foot Locker.
One afternoon, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, someone came across a piano. Although the body was perfectly intact, it no longer played. No one ever found out who it belonged to.
Back in 1992, a massive shipping crate full of hundreds of thousands of rubber ducks fell overboard in the middle of the ocean, and still to this day, massive amounts of these bath-time toys still occasionally wash up on the shores of various countries.
Not much is known about the Dutch painter and sculptor who calls himself Ego Leonard other than he works with large-scale fiberglass LEGO art. These oversized toys occasionally find themselves on shores all over the world.
A Siberian beach was found blanketed in perfectly formed snowballs in 2016. This was due to an extremely rare phenomena causing pieces of ice to roll up and then become smoothly polished by the elements. Did someone say epic snowball fight?
In 2012, someone came across a giant eyeball while walking along the shore in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. People naturally wanted to believe it came from some kind of undiscovered sea monster, but scientists determined it belonged to a massive swordfish.
One afternoon, a person thought they saw a lifeless body floating in the shallow ocean water. Upon further inspection, it was actually a life-sized doll of E.T.! Talk about discovering something alien!
In 2007, six enormous crates of bananas fell overboard from a ship traveling to Cuba. Almost all of them somehow made the long journey to the shores of Terschelling in the Netherlands. Yep, that’s right. The same place that was the recipient of those thousands of pairs of running shoes. Weird…
While people were taking a stroll along a beach in Oakville, Ontario, they came across a stack of rocks with inspirational and personal messages inscribed on them. Did whoever wrote them ever find their soulmate?
Someone dropped a mechanical prosthetic hand into the water near Staten Island, New York, and it quickly washed ashore. Who did it belong to? Apparently, one very clumsy robot.
On the beach of Elbow Bay in the Bahamas, people were in shock when they found massive chunks of metal lying in the shallow waters. Where did they come from? They were pieces of one of SpaceX Falcon 9’s crashed rockets.
This ship, called Navagio, is a tourist attraction in Greece. It was built in 1937 and was used to smuggle cigarettes. After it was destroyed in a massive storm while trying to flee the Greek Navy in the 1980s, it eventually washed ashore on a beach in Navagio Bay.
Throughout 2015, about a billion of these weird gelatinous blobs of jelly called velella washed up on west coast shores of the United States. As dramatic and bizarre looking as the incident was, marine biologists actually said it happens roughly once every three to six years.
On the beaches of North Carolina one morning, a massive shipping container full of Doritos washed ashore. Thousands of bags of the popular snack were strewn all over the sand, much to the delight of the hungry beachgoers.
In 2012, off the coast of Alaska, a cargo ship lost several crates of flyswatter with college sports teams’ insignia printed on them. Insects beware, Notre Dame is coming for you…
After a devastating tsunami hit Japan in 2011, one man’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle was swept out to sea. Incredibly, it was found 5,000 miles away on a beach in British Columbia!
Roughly 6,000 deceased waterfowl washed up on the shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. Scientists believed they all consumed botulism-laced fish, and although die-offs of large numbers of birds isn’t extremely unusual, the number of waterfowl had scientists quite startled.
When one family came upon this mystery object at the beach, they initially thought it was some kind of buoy that made its way onto the land. In reality, however, it was actually a World War II-era mine!
Early one morning in August 2017, beach walkers in Norfolk, England, were greeted with massive sections of metal pipes. Some of them were as long as 1,500 feet and eight feet in diameter! They had reportedly broken off a Norwegian tug boat after it collided with an Icelandic container ship on its way to Algeria.