It's a curiosity you won't find on any tourist maps of New York City: an accidental maritime museum, a ship graveyard where the remains of tugboats, ferries and other vessels rust in peace. This documentary offers a rare look inside a private scrapyard that has fascinated historians, artists and sightseers for decades.
The graveyard offers an aesthetically compelling portrait. Rusty tug boats sit lopsided in the muddy bank. Rotting wooded skeletons of old barges dot the shoreline. An old ferryboat leans starboard, half submerged in the murky water. Collectively, these vessels seem like haunting maritime sculptures in a massive art installation.
This documentary explores the history of the site and some of these relics of the sea while treating its audience to a tour of the graves of Arthur Kill.
The accumulation of these hulks can be traced to the 1930s with the founding of the Witte Marine Equipment Company on this site. For decades, Witte was the only commercial marine-salvage yard in New York City. At one point, the site held roughly 400 vessels, some more than a century old. Currently, less than 100 vessels remain.
The graveyard has been a source of inspiration for artists and photographers. The documentary includes a look at the sketches and paintings of John A. Noble, who built a floating art studio from pieces of wreckage in 1941. It also features interviews with Staten Island artist Bill Murphy about his paintings of the site and New York City artist Miru Kim, who discusses her photographs of the wrecks, which were incorporated in an exhibition titled Naked City Spleen.
Graves of Arthur Kill speaks not only to New York City history buffs, but also to the inner Huck Finn of everyone who can imagine living and working on America's rivers.