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Gowanus Abstract Collection >
GOWANUS CANAL Winged Foot of Hermes

GOWANUS CANAL Winged Foot of Hermes


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Oil patterns form a distinct foot on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY, caused by the coal tar and oil seeping to the surface. Sewage flowed into the canal as early as 1858, and by the 1880’s the waterway had gained the moniker “Lavender Lake” for its odorous qualities. As a tidal pool, the oil patterns would change and form fleeting shapes that became so distinct it was almost mind-blowing. I would spend hours watching the patterns moving in the tide and form beautiful shapes like this one which I have named "The Winged Foot of Hermes."

I had gained a fascination with this putrid, stinking body of water that cuts through my neighborhood in Brooklyn the first time I happened upon it. Sort of hidden from the beauty of Brownstone Brooklyn, the canal was surrounded by industrial buildings nestled in the lowlands between the gentrified neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. It was a nowhere land with a toxic history and an amazing place to explore in a canoe. Today, it is a Superfund site.

The current cost of the overall EPA Superfund cleanup plan is estimated to be over $1.5 billion, and the entire project won’t be completed until mid-2023.

And of course, since it is New York City, the developers have now taken over and high rises will line its banks, cutting off the waterway from the people who have advocated for its cleanup for decades. And no boat launches for canoes. That's a crime.

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