In 2014, the bridge connecting Long Island and Moon Island was deemed unsafe and immediately shut down. The few who inhabited the island were immediately evacuated by ferry, as the bridge was not safe to drive across. As an archaeologist, I love contexts caused by disaster events. Events like fires and earthquakes, leave the entire site intact, as people were forced to flee taking only their most valuable objects with them. Perhaps most famously are Pompeii and Herculaneum, a disaster so terrible, so unanticipated that uneaten meals were left on the table and preserved by the layers of ash and dust that sealed them off from the world. Granted, these tiny Greek cities are the exception, it is rare to come across wholly abandoned, perfectly preserved sites that are snapshots into the past. Mostly, archaeology deals with very old trash. Yet walking across Long Island, peering into the windows of the dorms gave me a shiver of anticipation. Archaeology in the making.
Last week, we finally made it out onto Long Island. Jen and I headed out onto the harbor, the warm sun welcoming us. After two months of studying the island, walking across it was surreal. I was so familiar with the buildings despite having never actually seen them before. The summer months had been great for the foliage: vines, grass, wild flowers, shrubs and trees thrived; they were unencumbered by pesky gardeners trying to hold them back. Despite maintenance and only having been abandoned for three years now, Long Island is quickly being reclaimed by the earth.
The image of the peaceful buildings being overtaken by trees takes a bit of a creepy turn when considering the institutional history of the island. The morgue and incinerator have begun to crumble, their shiny, sterile interiors now dirty and dilapidated. The beds are still in the dorms, once belonging to the most marginalized of us all. The island is a perfectly preserved snapshot of some of our most shameful solutions to societal problems. A place where the homeless, sick, unwed mothers and the poor, were whisked away, to be held out of sight. The institutional architecture is a reminder of this. It gives the island and eerie almost uneasy feel to it. The island was home to all sorts of activities to be held out of sight of the city: the housing of Nazis, secret military operations, the ostracized. The island is a glimpse of a mythical dystopic future, a perfect study in apocalypse.