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Fort Tilden Revisited – one year after the Storm

A century ago, guardian of the Atlantic approach to NY Harbor.  Artillery with a range of 25-miles pointed seaward waiting for the German ships that never came – save perhaps for a handful of shadowy U-boats, seen and unseen.

A patch of sandy desolation on the fragile narrow spit of the Rockaway Peninsula, which barely rises between ocean and the Jamaica Bay.  In the distance, a proud Manhattan skyline – a mirage of a completely different world – hazy and not quite existent.

Wars of the sea gave way to wars of the air.  The big guns were traded in for the Nikes, missiles designed to knock high-altitude Soviet bombers out of the Metropolitan sky.

And then, a few decades ago – total obsolescence, abandonment, and decay.  Gutted shells, overgrown and sinking into the sand, which in turn, minute by minute, sinks into the waves.  It’s lately been a playground of the fringes – artists, photographers, graffiti, and seekers of ramshackle ephemera.

The hurricane pummelled the city, and the peninsula took a huge punch, a slap in the face of human futility.  For that night, the peninsula did not exist, but became ocean and bay – Neighborhoods near the isolated base washed away and burned.  Sand piled high like snow drifts that never melt, overturned cars, buried homes and memories.

Pieces of Tilden dissolved into the waves.  But what is already ruined is hard to ruin again.  At this former fort, a few solid walls are down, the sand mounts high, and a faint, musty, low-tide smell still faintly emits from the ground below.  But the gun battery embedded in the bluffs still stares blankly into the sea, awaiting 100-year-old dreadnoughts and battleships that will never appear.  Since the Storm, it’s become barricaded, forbidden, heavily patrolled by the authorities – a no man’s land – A silent sentinel upon the wild dunes of a wild beach on the barren coastal fringes of the City.

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