City Island

Connecticut is supposed to get snow later today, so on Sunday my friends and I will probably have to go back to New York City to play golf on grass. Among our possible destinations are the two golf courses in the upper left-hand corner of the image above, from Google Earth. That’s Split Rock Golf Course on the left and Pelham Bay Golf Course on the right. (Split Rock, as you can see, has more trees and narrower fairways.) The two courses are divided by a Metro North commuter rail line, and to get from the clubhouse to Split Rock you have to walk under a rusty old train trestle–shown in the photo below, which was taken the first time we played in the Bronx, six or seven years ago.

Gene, D.O., Nick, Split Rock G.C.

When we play in the Bronx, we sometimes have lunch on City Island, which is in the lower right-hand corner of the Google Earth image at the top of this post. To get there from the golf courses, you cross City Island Bridge, the first version of which was built in 1873. City Island looks like the unacknowledged illegitimate child of Nantucket and Hunts Point Avenue. A Connecticut shipbuilder named Orrin Fordham invented oyster farming there, in the eighteen-thirties. Later, the local economy was dominated by boat-building and sail-making.(Five victorious America’s Cup yachts were built on the island.) Today, City Island contains what is almost certainly New York’s densest concentration of yacht clubs (six of them) and seafood restaurants (Johnny’s Reef, Tony’s Pier, Sammy’s Fish Box, and Sammy’s Shrimp Box, among many others), yet the restaurants’ parking lots tend to be enclosed by tall, barbed-wired-topped chain-link fences, like the exercise yards of medium-security prisons, and knowledgeable seafood-loving locals often order lamb chops or steaks.

At the bottom of Fordham Street, on the east side of the island, is a tiny ferry that runs between City Island and Hart Island, a half mile to the east. Hart Island served as a prisoner-of-war camp toward the end of the Civil War and currently contains a vast city-owned cemetery, a potter’s field, which is used for the interment of stillborn infants, unclaimed and indigent people of all ages, and amputated limbs. The deceased—among them the novelist Dawn Powell, who died penniless, in 1965—are buried in long trenches, in stacked pine boxes. The burials are conducted by prisoners from Rikers Island, who travel to and from the ferry landing in blue-and-white buses operated by the Department of Correction. That’s the landing in the photo below. Hacker (real name) and I saw it one Sunday, when we decided to splurge on a post-round, mid-afternoon feast at the Lobster Box.