A mailman tries to negotiate The Hole’s largest body of standing water

Way Down in The Hole

A photoessay on New York City’s legendary Queens/Brooklyn neighborhood The Hole

The Hole is a tiny New York City neighborhood that flirts with legend. Partly, that legend lies in its history as a mob dumping ground and we’ll get to that. But visually, it’s unlike anything else you’ll see in the NYC area, too. The Hole squats right on the border of Queens and Brooklyn. Only a few blocks wide and long, its most unique characteristic is that it falls about 30 feet below grade — about 10 meters below much of the nearby land.

That’s most visible at this intersection of Emerald and Dumont Streets, what you might consider the crossroads of The Hole, where there seems to be constant standing water. From the perimeter of the area, too, you can see the significant dip in the land, which is often labeled with street signs.

Via Google Maps, you can see it’s likely the water here rises to greater heights, too, and you imagine The Hole must have been hit quite hard by Sandy. That standing water is due to The Hole’s lack of a sewer system, too. The area residents depend on septic tanks and cesspools if they have anything.

A number of vehicles approached this area carefully, but continued through the water.

At one point a mailman approached with his cart and stopped short.

He asked how he was supposed to get around and I suggested he follow the perimeter, where you could see the locals had placed odd pieces of wood and pallets to enable your passage.

Eventually, he got stuck and I helped him lift his mail cart through the mud. I asked him if he’d been this way before. He said, no, a mail truck usually comes through.

Minutes later a mail truck did come through, crossing the path perpendicular to the route he had taken. I wondered if they later crossed paths.

Aside from the little traffic, the area was eerily quiet. Almost like a ghost town. Occasionally, a resident would walk by, but I saw as many ducks and chickens in the time I was there.

The Hole gained some notoriety as a dumping ground for people killed by the mafia. Factually, three bodies have been found there — all victims of the same 1981 hit in a Booklyn social club. That year, some kids were playing in a lot, when they smelled something foul. One of them kicked at the loose soil and uncovered a human hand. They had found the body of Alphonse “Sunny Red” Indelicato, a member of the Bonanno crime family. The bodies of two unlucky fellas, Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera and Philip “Philly Lucky” Giaccone, weren’t discovered until 2004. All three were killed by the Gambino family and their execution is detailed in the Donnie Brascoe book and the resulting movie. Even if The Hole’s role in mafia lore is somewhat exaggerated — with some locals claiming upwards of 200 murderees have been found there — it’s not difficult to imagine additional bodies could be hidden in the overgrown weeds and reeds there.

The Hole features a mix of commercial buildings, houses and trailers, as well as abandoned vehicles of all shapes and sizes, some of which doubtless serve as homes for some of the area’s inhabitants.

On the late May day I visited The Hole, the temperature hovered in the high 80s and few clouds crossed the sky. Big jets lumbered low above periodically on their way to the nearby JFK airport. As you walk the area, you discover that the east end is now bracketed by a huge strip mall on the east side— which clearly necessitated that a lot of land be filled to build there — and (once you pass through a small neighborhood of slightly higher elevation) a series of high-rise apartments. As you approach these apartments, you realize you’re looking at their underground parking lots, as well as a towering staircase to take you up to the ground level on the other side. It reinforces how far down into the hole you’ve been.

All photos were taken by Robert Stribley on location on Saturday, May 28th

Watch a short documentary about The Hole on Vimeo by Billy Feldman

Robert A Stribley