Friday, April 15, 2011

The Voodoo they do so well at Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook is rife with abandoned and decaying gun batteries and supporting structures. Look around closely enough, and you're bound to find pillboxes and quonset huts among the larger batteries and office buildings. Some of them are in pretty decent shape, while others look as if they were intentionally wrecked to prevent explorers from going within and possibly getting hurt.

Then there are the mysterious treasures you can only see with a ranger or an intrepid volunteer. Back in November 2009 I was fortunate to join a caravan of other curiosity seekers on a "Weird Sandy Hook" tour. We were promised entry into restricted areas, and I wasn't disappointed.

Right at dusk, we were escorted to a gate just off the main road, on the bay side of the hook. As the gate was unlocked and we drove through, our volunteer guide warned that if we chose to return to the area on our own, unescorted, we would be apprehended and arrested. The Park Service is very serious about this particular "no entry" sign. Our bus stopped at Kingman and Mills, the two bayside World War Two-era batteries that are still reasonably intact, but we weren't going there, quite yet. We had a short hike ahead of us.

Walking along the beach, an abundance of slipper shells crunched under my boots. Wood poles lined the water's edge; they were the last vestiges of the dock which once stood there. We were headed to the structures that dock served: the bunkers that held the ammunition for the nearby batteries. The sand that had once obscured the bunkers had eroded over time, leaving two brick and concrete buildings with curved roofs.  The one that lacks a door is the voodoo bunker.

Before we entered, our guide warned us that we might encounter the carcass of a sacrificed animal inside, and indeed, a several-days slaughtered chicken was decaying in the corner. But that was just the confirmation of what we'd come to see: the voodoo bunker.

Our lanterns and flashlights exposed several large pieces of spray painted artwork on the walls, all apparently done by Santeria practitioners. The creatures looked oddly pre-Columbian with a touch of Keith Haring, and undoubtedly had some sort of significance in whatever rites were practiced in the bunker. But who did them, and how did they find this isolated, virtually unreachable part of the park? Our guide posited that the artists had canoed across Sandy Hook Bay under cover of night, originating from Highlands or perhaps someplace further down the bay.  

Though the artwork was fascinating, it was also a little freaky, especially as the evening skies outside were darkening. There were probably about 40 of us inside and around the bunker, but I still had that eerie apprehension of being caught at someone's sacrificial altar.

Unfortunately my photos were less than ideal, given the lack of illumination and the difficulty in getting a clear shot with so many people milling about. These should give you at least a tiny understanding of what's out there.

As I said, the voodoo bunker is in an area of Sandy Hook that's closed to public exploration, but there's always a chance the National Park Service will run another tour. Check their events website for a quarterly schedule of activities, and call ahead for more information. There's always something interesting on their calendar!

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