Saturday, November 17, 2018

the last book I ever read (Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, excerpt two)

from Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell:

In 1922 Long Island remained a series of small villages deep in farmland, connected by country roads along which horse-drawn carriages clopped, slowing down the shiny new roadsters. The Long Island Expressway would not be constructed for decades: the red touring car took the Fitzgeralds and Dos Passos along Jackson Avenue, Route 25A, now Northern Boulevard. Past cobbled slums presided over by the dark saloons of the previous century, they drove through rolling hills. The population of Queens gradually thinned as the land extended east, from the small working-class neighborhoods edging New York City just across the bridge, through large swaths of land unburdened by buildings. Jackson Avenue carried them into Flushing, one of the first of the Dutch settlements on Long Island, after driving through Astoria, where Nick and Gatsby would scatter light with fenders spread like wings.

About halfway between New York and Great Neck, just beneath Flushing Bay, stood the towering Corona Dumps, vast mountains of fuel ash that New York had been heaping on swampland beyond the city limits since 1895, in a landfill created by the construction of the Long Island Rail Road. By the time the ash dumps were leveled in the late 1930s (and eventually recycled to form the Long Island Expressway), the mounds of ash were nearly a hundred feet tall in places; the highest peak was locally given the ironic name Mount Corona. Created to protect the city’s inhabitants from the constant grime of coal ash on the streets, the Corona Dumps were soon piled high with all manner of refuse including manure, and surrounded by stagnant water. By 1922 desolate, towering mountains of ashes and dust stretched four miles long and over a mile across, alongside the road that linked the glamor of Manhattan to the Gold Coast. In the distance could be seen the steel frames of new apartment buildings braced against the sky to the west. Refuse stretched in all direction, with goats wandering through and old women searching among the litter for some redeemable object.

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