About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes–a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic–their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
– From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I have been re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby lately. I am really excited about the upcoming movie adaptation of the story by Baz Luhrmann and I wanted to make sure that the story was fresh in my mind before I went to see the film.
I’ve also been looking around at a lot of background information and commentary and other resources about the book as I read it. (Book Riot is doing a big group read of the book and has been posting some great articles about it. They also posted a link to this video in which several famous actors read the opening of the book as a promotion for a play based on the story. I think it’s pretty nifty.)
Tonight, I looked up “the valley of ashes” that Fitzgerald talked about. Having lived my whole life on Long Island, not far from where the story takes place, I was curious about where and what it was. According to Wikipedia, it was the Corona Ash Dumps, where they brought the ashes from coal furnaces and other waste but then they wanted to use the land to host the 1939-1940 World’s Fair and the ashes were buried beneath several of the major highways on Long Island, including the Long Island Expressway, so they could clean the site up. The Valley of Ashes was transformed into the Flushings Meadows – Corona Park (where the NY Mets play baseball – originally in Shea Stadium and now in Citi Field and where the iconic Unisphere is located. If you have seen the first Men in Black movie, you have seen Flushings Meadows – Corona Park. )
The reason why I bring all this up is that The Great Gatsby is a major part of Long Island’s cultural heritage and since this park is such a significant part of it, I think that we should mark the cultural and historic significance of if by re-creating the iconic Doctor T. J. Eckleburg billboard with its giant eyes and glasses in the park. What do you guys think?