The roots of my intense love for graffiti and decaying urban landscapes can be easily traced back to the many abandoned spaces scattered across Staten Island, NY, “The Borough of Parks,” and the innumerable hours I’ve spent exploring and rambling through them. Places like the Farm Colony and the old Seaview Hospital are where the darkest secrets and gnarly closeted skeletons of the Island and NYC’s histories are systematically left in place, to be forgotten, covered up, overgrown and reclaimed by nature herself.
But with a light foot and an attentive ear, it has always been quite easy for the bravest and most curious Islanders to seek out the evidence of hiSTORY, and to interpret the puzzle pieces for themselves. Even easier still, people have been known to accidentally stumble across the ruins of these various old hospitals, nursing homes, and “poor houses” while on recreational hikes through the healthy, mature, and diverse forests of Staten Island’s Greenbelt, NYC’s second-largest contiguous piece of parkland.
(I took all of the photographs in this posting at the Farm Colony, on a single day about 5 years ago, when I thought this adventure would be the perfect activity for a first date! Romantic, right?!?)
This is the scene, without exaggeration; Rusted nails, crumbling facades, mounds of dusty asbestos, spent bullet casings, crumpled Steel Reserve cans, jagged shards of glass, oxidizing and deteriorating metal frames, empty drug baggies, scattered blunt wrappers, flood damage, pentagrams & animal bones, discarded spray paint cans, soiled yet freshly slept in bedding, new and old eerie-as-fuck graffiti…
For many, I may have just painted the picture of a scary and dangerous place that needs to be razed to the ground and rebuilt with shiny new condos. Even I can see the value in transforming a place that is commonly used for illicit activities, into affordable living space in an extremely population-dense city.
But a girl can mourn, right?
Our trips through the woods were always borderline ceremonial, like pilgrimages to our sacred places, with our closest friends and confidants. They were always activities in team-building, group-movement, and orienteering, reminiscent of covert military exercises to be carried out in the dark of night and almost complete silence. In what other scenarios can you think of where city kids have the opportunity to get lost in the woods, but still be close to home?
The holes in the walls and cave paintingesque markings were constantly screaming mirrors of existence at me. While on the one hand the Farm Colony was abandoned and falling apart and hidden away in the woods, it also showed vast evidence that NOT EVERYONE had forgotten it. This space that the majority of people would deem unfit, ugly, worthless, and invisible, was actually LOVED by a deviant few in our community.
If this doesn’t call to your teenaged angsty self, then you and I are extremely different animals. It spoke so deeply to my own issues of feeling damaged and unlovable, yet hopeful for transformation, that I will always harbor a known bias in favor of these spaces remaining lost in time.
For myself, and many others on the Island, abandoned places represented a sense of solace and freedom. Seeing as the walls of society were literally falling to the ground, there was certainly room for countless dark and dangerous activities, but there was also room for you to let your guard down, to be yourself, to think your own thoughts, and to relax, since everyone was purposely looking the other way. We tend to turn our backs on our own shadows rather consciously, causing a forced forgetfulness of our potentially dishonorable-even shameful-pasts.
Let me try this again- This is ALSO the scene, without exaggeration; Hidden treasures amongst the rubble, powerful ARTistic expressions on the walls, new life and vegetation growing from the debris, nature displaying the healing strength she has, a strong and active presence of wildlife, young people spiritually connecting with the outdoors, an expressed interest in investigating the stories hiSTORY tells…
Now back to that whole mourning thing!
After decades of decay and disrepair, a 46-acre section of the land was purchased for just $1, and at a cost of an additional $91,000,000, ground will soon be broken to rehabilitate 5 of the property’s 11 buildings. The above image is a current rendering of some of the future development on the site, including 300 residential units for a 55 and older community, by as early as next year. Talk about turn-around!
If you are interested in the deep history of the landmarked grounds of the Farm Colony, particularly focusing on the paranormal aspects, visit Atlas Obscura’s article entitled “Satanic Insanity”. There are some outstandingly vibrant photographs by Hannah Frishberg which do a great amount of justice to the surroundings, within and without the buildings.
Visit this NYTimes Article and learn more about the future of this historic site, to be called the Landmark Colony.
In the meantime, while caught in a nondescript time-space between the past and the future, the legacy of this especially forgotten place will have to simply live on in my photographs, my memories, and the memories of my clandestine counterparts.
But I extend a whole-heARTed and good spirited Thank You and Good Luck to the architects, builders, and planners, veritable ARTists in their own rights, on a successful restoration project! Maybe one day I will set out to visit the new site, put my hands to the eARTh, and know that although her face has changed, her heART remains always the same, despite my rampant and romanticized nostalgia.