Eckleburg’s Lair: A Walk Through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post titled In Gatsby’s Tracks: Locating the Valley of Ashes in a 1924 Photo, detailing my search for some exact locales described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Using the novel’s text and a zoomable historical map of Queens, New York, I was able to conclude that some vivid scenes described in the book took place at the triangle where a railroad and a street converge just east of the Van Wyck Expressway and south of the town of Flushing, Queens. George and Myrtle Wilson’s auto garage would have stood at this spot, and the haunting sign for eye doctor T. J. Eckleburg would have been visible at this spot too.

This blog post has become one of the most popular pages on Literary Kicks, and since I now realize that many people share my fascination with Fitzgerald’s “valley of ashes” I’d like to show you the photos I took while I was researching this locale, which I’d never bothered to put up before.

This small industrial neighborhood that sprouts underneath the Van Wyck Expressway overpass offers a unique urban vista that few people will ever see, though it’s only a few steps away from CitiField, the baseball stadium where the New York Mets play (CitiField replaced Shea Stadium, which was in the same spot) and, slightly further to the southwest, the US Open Tennis complex that comes alive every August for one of the world’s four Grand Slam tournaments. These stadiums are part of beautiful Flushing Meadows Corona Park, my favorite park in New York City, and a longtime literary inspiration for me. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was also the site of New York’s great 1939 and 1964-1965 World’s Fairs, built on the grounds cleared after the trash-burning operation described so memorably in the The Great Gatsby closed.

The entire complex of Flushing Meadows Park is west of the Van Wyck Expressway, and west of Flushing Creek. The spot where George and Myrtle Wilson’s auto garage stood is east of the highway and creek, an uninviting and anarchic tangle of small industrial streets. Visitors to the park or the baseball or tennis stadium are not encouraged to cross into this area, and few ever do.

An auto garage stands today on Maple Avenue, just east of the railroad/street juncture, exactly where the Wilson garage might have been. The town of Flushing, Queens now has a large Asian population, and the garage is today called “Dragon Auto Center Inc.”. Call me fanciful, but I like to imagine that in 1924 Fitzgerald imagined (or saw a prototype for) the Wilson garage at this precise spot.

An oblique angle on The Great Gatsby‘s symbolism can be discovered in the fact that the triangular plot of land formed by the juncture of the Long Island Railroad tracks and Sanford Avenue now serves as New York City’s central marketplace and foundry for the manufacture of large signs and billboards. The entire triangle is occupied by a set of businesses collectively known as “Sign City”, along with a large Home Depot box store and a vast parking lot.

I can only imagine what semiotic-minded literary postmodernists will make of the knowledge — never revealed anywhere else, as far as I know — that the spot where Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway saw a sign advertising eye doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s services might have been the spot where the sign was being manufactured, not the sign’s permanent home.

Signs are everywhere in this hidden, grimy section of south Flushing, Queens. There are also big billboards permanently installed for viewing from the Van Wyck Expressway for gambling casinos in Yonkers, Capital One bank, and Home Depot (this Home Depot sign is famous to baseball fans, at least National League fans, since it has been visible for decades over the outfield at Mets games).

Here’s a view of the main road that crosses the creek, the road that Jay Gatsby, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker would have taken for their fateful jaunt to the Plaza Hotel, and for the drunken ride back to West Egg during which Daisy Buchanan hit and killed Myrtle Wilson. Today, the road is shadowed by the overpass for the Van Wyck Expressway, a busy highway that connects Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and did not exist in Fitzgerald’s time.

The CitiField baseball stadium can be seen across the creek here.

Looking further south across the creek, the Arthur Ashe stadium at the Billie Jean King United States Tennis Association complex can be seen here:

Is there literary significance to be found today by walking this industrial neighborhood, the gateway to the long-vanished valley of ashes? I think there is, because the decrepit streets offer the same contrasts to New York City’s social pretensions today that they offered in 1924, when Fitzgerald conceived his most important book. This unnamed neighborhood is the spot where civilization breaks down, where the unknown people scurry and toil. A passage through this “valley” is a passage through tawdry truth: this disarray is what underlies our proper world. And, as in 1924, it holds its own strange beauty, amidst the graffiti-strewn walls, concrete pillars, grimy factories, polluted streams, quiet walkways, winding train tracks and waving weeds.

21 Responses

  1. This is great, Levi.
    I loved

    This is great, Levi.

    I loved the original post, and this is a fantastic follow-up. Maybe it’s the History Major in me, but I’m a sucker for these kinds of ties to the past.

  2. Hi Levi,
    I love stuff like

    Hi Levi,

    I love stuff like this. It’s a kind of natural history.

    I am reminded of this website I saw so long ago. Everyone here should check it out if they don’t know about it.

  3. Levi, a very interesting
    Levi, a very interesting photographic–and almost cinematic–tour of part of The Great Gatsby. Interesting how, having read the novel a long time ago, I only recall the glamorous sides of the novel, with the lavish parties. The movie seemed to focus on those too. These images fill out so many other scenes of the novel.

  4. I once dragged three visiting
    I once dragged three visiting Dutch visitors through winding streets and back roads looking for the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. They were vaguely amused by my search, but when, while standing in some high weeds at the edge of the bay, I said, “I think I’ve found it” they were relieved that the search was over. I don’t know if any of them had ever even read Gatsby, but I was teaching it at an American High School in Holland, and I told my students about my search. Many years later, I met up with one of them, and he said that what he remembered best about his year in my AP English class was the story I told about looking for the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. I also told them that I had been born and brought up in the valley of ashes (Hempstead, Long Island) even though your blog and map shows that this could not have been true. I loved your work. Thanks. Irene in Holland

  5. I read Gatsby in highschool
    I read Gatsby in high school 42+ years ago and am just re-reading it now. The gritty industrial neighborhood immediately east of CitiField does have a name: It’s called Willets Point. The sign fabricator you mention is located in Flushing proper, as is the garage on Maple Avenue.The road next to the LIRR is called Perimeter Rd. presumably because it was the perimeter of the World’s Fair.

  6. Thanks, Andrew. A couple of
    Thanks, Andrew. A couple of clarifications I’d like to add …

    Yes, Willets Point is an extremely gritty industrial (auto parts/repair) neighborhood just east of CitiField that resembles the Valley of Ashes as described in Gatsby. And Willets Point is very close to the spot described in Gatsby. However, just to be clear, they are different spots. Willets Point is west of Flushing Creek and north of Roosevelt Avenue. The spot I’m describing as the site of George Wilson’s garage is east of Flushing Creek and south of Roosevelt Avenue.

    Also, just for anybody’s interest — that sign fabricator, aka Sign City, is now closed! Apparently the whole area of south Flushing by the creek is currently being developed and “improved” right now.

  7. Thanks for your work, Levi!
    Thanks for your work, Levi! The Valley of Ashes is so wonderfully haunting to me, too. I love when new information comes to light about subjects considered long exhausted.

  8. I work as an environmental
    I work as an environmental investigator & geologist. I use old city directories & Sanborn Fire Insurance maps to hep determine the sources of groundwater contamination, oftentimes old gas stations. The garage in the photo looks like a gas station from that era….

  9. Both this and your blog post
    Both this and your blog post from a couple of years ago were among the first things I found while searching the web after seeing the latest Gatsby flick over the weekend. I think you’re wrong about the location, though. There are online resources that clearly show the only road crossing of Flushing Creek was at Northern Blvd. You have been too quick to dismiss that location because of a few words in the novel that say the tracks approached the road and were parallel to it for a short distance (paraphrasing). Old LIRR diagrams, also online, support the idea that the (then) Whitestone branch did run parallel, at a distance of approximately 400 feet away, to Northern Blvd for about a quarter mile before curving and crossing it at just about a 90 degree angle.

    Roosevelt Ave did not cross the creek in the mid-1920s, and going south from Northern Blvd, the next vehicle crossing was in the vicinity of what is, today, the area south of the LIE and north of Meadow Lake.

    I love finding things on old maps and I can tell that you do, too, Levi. Please accept my post as constructive criticism which is the intent with which I make it. I have put in a valid email address, please respond if you would like to compare notes. It should be good for a few more blog postings.

  10. Hi Dan — well, it’s funny to
    Hi Dan — well, it’s funny to hear you say that I am too quick to dismiss the Northern Blvd. route “because of a few words in the novel that say the tracks approached the road and were parallel to it for a short distance”. But what else other than a few words in a short novel (all of “Gatsby”, really, is a few words) do I have to go on? The words are clearly written.

    But that’s not all I’m basing my findings on. There are two more things which I mention in the article:

    1) If the traveling party in “Gatsby” took the Northern Blvd. route, they would have passed directly through the town of Flushing, which was in 1924 already a populous and well-kept village. The Northern Blvd. route passes right through the center of the town. But Gatsby describes Wilson’s garage as if it were a lonely outpost, far from the center of any town … an edge settlement in an underpopulated industrial area. That cannot possibly describe a passage through the main section of Flushing, which would have taken the travelers past well-dressed people, nice houses, business offices, restaurants and stores. It seems much more likely to describe the industrial area alongside the southern route.

    2) the vista of the Valley of Ashes itself. If you drive on Northern Blvd, the most striking thing you see is the Long Island Sound, a wide body of water to the north. The presence of a body of water doesn’t seem to match Fitzgerald’s description of a vast unbroken land of ashes. And, as you see on the photo, the center of the Valley of Ashes is the southern passage. Northern Blvd. did not go through the Valley of Ashes, but rather stood north of it.

    But, now, there is some validity to what you say about the possible absence of a southern road crossing, and I already acknowledge it in my original article. It’s not clear that the southern passage was a road crossing at all. It’s clearly a railroad crossing, and there’s a curious convergence of a railroad and a driving road that may or may not indicate a drawbridge that can hold both trains and cars. I wish I knew whether or not it was possible to drive a car across this bridge. It does seem likely that, as you say, this was not a road crossing at all, in which cases the drivers would have crossed on the bridge below Northern Blvd. by car and taken Willets Point Blvd. south until they reached the southern passage through the Valley of Ashes.

    This is possible. However, in this case the passage described in the novel clearly departs from reality, because the Willets Point northern passage is clearly not a convergence of a railroad and a road for cars. But let’s remember the primary question I’m trying to answer: where is George and Myrtle Wilson’s garage? If it’s true that Fitzgerald imagined a car passage that doesn’t exist, the purpose is clearly to allow his characters to drive through a territory that would have been familiar to Fitzgerald from taking the train across the southern passage. We can easily imagine that Fitzgerald got to know the area by looking out the window of the train, and possibly exiting the train at the station (as Carraway and Buchanan do in the novel) and walking around. I think the only thing that’s completely clear is that here, where the train went through and stopped at a small station, is the southern passage, where the two roads converge. Therefore, this is where the Wilson garage was, and this is where Myrtle was killed by the yellow car. Do you really think it’s possible that George Wilson’s garage was in the center of downtown Flushing? I think my main point stands, even if we have to accommodate Fitzgerald’s impossible geography, that the triangle in South Flushing that still stands today (and which was, until very recently, a busy center of sign manufacturing) is the spot where Myrtle was killed.

    Let me know what you think of my logic here … thanks.

  11. Hi, Levi, I apologize for the
    Hi, Levi, I apologize for the delay in my response; my schedule has been chaotic this week.

    I did some more digging during the week and found a lot of interesting things on the web. Someone else wrote a blog entry on this exact same subject at the end of 2009 which can be found here

    About a third of the way down on that page is a map taken from a 2002 book, “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: A Literary Reference”, edited by Bruccoli. Something else for me to search out and read. The map shows several different “likely” locations for where Wilson’s mythical garage might have been located. The location that I always thought “best” was the one on the east side of the Flushing River/Creek on the south side of Northern Blvd. The author of the blog piece, though, prefers locations on Northern Blvd west of the river and says, “These blocks of Northern Boulevard are certainly the location of any real building that might have inspired Wilson’s garage.”

    Here are a few images I have put together using a mapping program I’m quite fond of

    In the annotated pictures I labeled the previously mentioned blogger’s favored locations for Wilson’s garage as A1 and A2. B1 is always where I envisioned the garage to be (that it’s also on the map from the 2002 book is coincidence). C1 is another location indicated on the map south of present-day Roosevelt Blvd (whose bridge across the river was begun in 1923 but didn’t open until 1927) and north of the LIRR bridge that crosses the river on its way to Port Washington. L1 represents your preffered location on Sanford at the corner of Maple.

    I spent a few hours on the website of the New York Public Library this week. Here are just a few of the really neat old photos I found there:

    At the end of the day I think the question, “Where was Tom Wilson’s garage located?”, has no one true and accurate answer. There are too many departures from factual geography in Fitzgerald’s text to pinpoint a putative location. All the hypotheses can’t be right. But they can easily all be wrong. Odds are Fitzgerald concocted a mashup in his head of locations in and around the valley of ashes for the location of Wilson’s garage. It cannot have simultaneously been in the many different locations people have been suggesting for it over the years.

  12. Dan — WOW! These are great
    Dan — WOW! These are great finds.

    I did not know about this ArchiTakes article, and am tickled to discover a different blog post with such a similar mission to my own (though, on first glance, his conclusions are rather different than mine). I’m going to study this stuff in detail and respond in depth.

    Thanks, and it’s nice to meet another researcher as obsessive as I am …

  13. Another tidbit of information
    Another tidbit of information I discovered, unrelated to the present topic, is the provenance of the U-Haul building on College Pt Blvd. My earliest memories of this building are from watching Mets games on TV or sitting in the stands at Shea Stadium. Back then it had a sign that read, “Servall Zippers”. Apparently it was originally built as a furniture factory for W & J Sloane. That name is clear on some of the old photos. I always thought the building off in the distance over the center field fence with the clock tower was an old Flushing city hall or some such municipal building. I guess an upscale furniture maker will have to do.

  14. First, Dan, about the U-Haul
    First, Dan, about the U-Haul sign and the clock tower … oh yes, I was also at Shea Stadium many times and I remember it well — and, yes, also on TV when the Mets were on. You know, I think my whole fascination with Flushing Meadows Park and Flushing Creek (and with the Gatsby locale) originates with the Mets. Maybe that influenced you too.

    Now … having spent some time with this ArchiTakes article and these maps and photos, it seems just as clear as ever to me that everybody is missing the obvious by locating the Wilson auto garage on Northern Blvd. That is the single presumption that everybody makes, and once you let go of this presumption, everything falls into place. The author of this ArchiTakes article takes it as his starting point that the area must be the Willets Point Iron Triangle, and he has to ignore many other features mentioned in “Great Gatsby” to hold his theory together.

    I think you’re right that there is no single location for Wilson’s garage that meets every single one of the facts about the location suggested by “Gatsby”. These are:

    1) the location is near the center of the Valley of Ashes, and offers an amazing view of the ash piles
    2) the location is east of Flushing Creek
    3) a road and a railroad track converge at this location, and a railroad station is nearby
    4) a drawbridge that allows both railroad and automobile traffic is west of the location
    5) the neighborhood is desolate and forlorn, dominated by the sight of the gigantic ash-moving operation
    6) there are billboards at this spot

    Okay — so “Gatsby” is a novel and there’s no reason to think that any actual spot near Flushing Creek matches all 6 of these features. I agree with that. But my theory — that the spot is the industrial triangle south of the town of Flushing, where DeLong Avenue and Sanford Avenue and Maple Avenue all meet — matches 5 of the 6 above facts. The only one it doesn’t match is #4, because apparently in 1924 this bridge was only a railroad bridge, and a car could not drive across it.

    The various Northern Boulevard theories, meanwhile, contradict at least 3 of the points — #1, #3 and #5.

    Regarding point #1 – Northern Boulevard is not the heart of the Valley of Ashes, as you see in photographs. Driving on Northern Boulevard, you would see the Valley of Ashes in the distance to the south, and the blue waters of the Long Island Sound to the north. I just don’t think Fitzgerald was describing an aquatic vista in his descriptions of the Valley of Ashes.

    #3 — again, my spot is exactly where a railroad and a driving road converge. The Northern Boulevard spot cannot be described in this way.

    #5 — as I mentioned in my previous comment, Northern Boulevard goes through the center of Flushing and would not have resembled the desolate, forlorn scene described in “Gatsby”. The “ArchiTakes” article really bends over backwards to deal with this problem:

    “While this section of Northern Boulevard was more populated on the 1926 map than Fitzgerald’s “three shop Main Street,” he might have pared away his garage’s neighbors to give it a Hopperesque isolation.”

    Okay, he *might* have done this — or he might have been describing the actual desolate area that did exist at the southern location I’ve identified, which was at the heart of the Valley of Ashes.

    I’ll call #6 a draw: there were billboards at Northern Boulevard. But, remarkably, there is special evidence of billboards at the southern location, because this is an industrial area known as “Sign City” where billboards are manufactured! True, I haven’t proven that this location was used for sign manufacturing in the 1920s — but New York City’s industrial zones do tend to have ancient roots, and I think it’s likely that there was a billboard manufacturer at this spot in 1924. I will try to find out (and if you can find out anything about this, please do).

    I think we are all likely to imagine these novelistic scenes where we want to imagine them. The author of this ArchiTakes article seems very intent on identifying the Gatsby location with the Willets Point Iron Triangle, which is an even worse theory because this also places the location west of Flushing Creek, contradicting point #2.

    Well, this just goes to show how stubbornly we cling to our theories, and I know I’m stubbornly clinging to mine too. But I want to mention that, when I began this inquiry, I had no preconceptions at all. I had no reason to think that the spot was or wasn’t near Northern Boulevard. I had never even heard of DeLong or Maple or Sanford Avenues, and didn’t know such a place as Sign City existed — the first time I found out that this area existed was when I went looking for the Gatsby location.

    I came to my conclusion in the most scientific way I could, purely by looking at the evidence. I found a location that matches 5 of the 6 points. No other theory matches 5 or even 4 of the 6 points. So, can’t we consider this question solved — at least as well solved as it will ever be?

  15. Ah! If you want to employ a
    Ah! If you want to employ a “best fit” methodology and score the possible candidate locations based on a fixed set of criteria, all 6 points of which I pretty much agree with (except for #4 which I only half agree with), then you are certainly entitled to that methodology. I, on the other hand, prefer a more scientific approach which entails that a single bad data point is enough to disprove any theory. In other words, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if any of the criteria is not met then the whole thing must be discarded. I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree here.

    Where is Port Roosevelt? Where is Partridge Hollow?

    “We had passed West Egg and Port Roosevelt and Partridge Hollow, where there was blue water and a glimpse of red-belted ships and now we were treading a cobbled slum lined with the dark, undeserted saloons of the faded gilt nineteen-hundreds.”

    They are nowhere and they are everywhere inasmuch as FSF dreamt them up in his head as fictional locations that served only to reflect his vision of what Nick encountered on his trips between West Egg and Manhattan. That the valley of ashes really did exist does not necessarily mean that it existed exactly as he described it, or that any of the other places did. Nor does it mean, in my humble opinion, that Fitzgerald had any particular place in mind for Wilson’s garage when he wrote about it. In Chapter 8 Myrtle’s sister Catherine is brought to the garage and, “… when she arrived she was stupid with liquor and unable to understand that the ambulance had already gone to Flushing.”

    Gone to Flushing? Were they not already in Flushing to begin with?

    I spent some hours over the last few days searching for some of FSF’s earlier material as it might pertain to The Great Gatsby. Partridge Hollow doesn’t exist just as Port Roosevelt doesn’t exist. You won’t find Partridge Hollow in Gatsby, but you will find it mentioned in one of FSF’s early drafts of the novel here

    Fitzgerald’s daughter, Scottie, donated some materials to Princeton in 1950 a decade after his death

    Princeton made some of those materials available online this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fitzgerald’s freshman year there. Putting the digitized manuscripts, letters and galeys online also coincided, nicely enough, with the new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

    I read a good deal of the early manuscript and the galleys from Scribner’s in search of additional material that might lend further clues to the whereabouts of George Wilson’s garage. I delightfully discovered the passage I quoted above – where Gatsby and Nick are driving to the City and stop for gas, and Myrtle pumps the gas! – while perusing the handwritten manuscript. I didn’t find any further clues of the sort I was looking for, but that was more than made up for by learning that FSF didn’t type! He wrote all his text longhand – with a pencil – and his assistant then would type it all up and forward it on to his editor at Scribner’s.

    On a final note, if it was me making yet another TGG film, I would fashion the locale of George’s garage in this area: The old Strong’s Causeway – which became Horace Harding Blvd and the LIE after that – traversed the southern edge of the valley of ashes, connecting Corona Ave on the west with Rodman St on the east. The bridge over the river in those pictures is about a mile and a half south of the old Northern Blvd drawbridge. Throw in a few billboards and that desolate location is exactly how I always envisioned the environs surrounding the garage. Desolate, bleak, dusty, ash heaps in close proximity, sparse freestanding buildings, a junkyard next door… of course it only satisfies one of your 6 points, but visually, for me anyway, that place perfectly captures the how I envision Wilson’s service station and the surrounding area.

    And so we go on, agreeing to disagree, in a friendly debate I trust! Peace, and check out that Princeton site, it gave me a huge dose of the “wow factor”.

  16. Dan, this is a great
    Dan, this is a great conversation and I’m really glad you’re forcing me to reconsider and justify my basic approach here. You’re a good writer and, truth be told, probably a more tireless researcher (because I get bored easily) than I am. You’re welcome to critique my blog posts anytime!

    Now, here’s the strange thing — based on your last comment, you are no longer placing George Wilson’s garage on Northern Boulevard, and we are now in general agreement about where the garage stood. Yes, as you say, the most likely locale on George Wilson’s garage is where the old Strong’s Causeway stood, south of Flushing. Isn’t this what I’ve been saying all along? I have not mentioned Strong’s Causeway specifically, because I’m not fully clear on exactly where Strong’s Causeway was, and it appears that this would have been west of Flushing Creek, which, as you say, completely contradicts many of the data points in the novel.

    Still, this general locale is my locale — south of Flushing, not *in* Flushing, an industrial neighborhood outside of town, a spot where a visitor like Fitzgerald could imagine himself standing outside of civilized society, a “wild west” right in the middle of New York City. That’s the whole magic of the site — that it’s in the middle of New York City and appears unreal and unworldly. And my point all along has been — this site must be south of the town of Flushing, south of Northern Boulevard — not *in* the genteel town of Flushing, not on the broad and well-traveled road known as Northern Boulevard.

    You’ve also provided more great evidence to back this point up with your quotation from Chapter 8 (which I had neglected to notice) that the ambulance had “gone to Flushing”. Yes, exactly! If they were on Northern Boulevard, they would have been in Flushing.

    Now, I will happily bend to meet your point that my theory is not rock solid because of its single flaw, that the bridge south of Flushing is not both a railroad bridge and a car bridge, as the bridge in the novel should be. Well, we both agree that a novel doesn’t have to represent geographic reality, and shouldn’t be expected to. I accept this point as a basic truth. However, we can and should and will look for correspondences between fiction and reality whenever we want, and on that note I’ll suggest that Port Roosevelt would be Port Washington — President Roosevelt, President Washington, get it? This is especially likely since the train through the Valley of Ashes is on the Port Washington line.

    The purpose of this investigation has never been to pin facts inside “The Great Gatsby”. The purpose is rather to try to imagine the novel as we think F. Scott Fitzgerald may have imagined it. Since he paints the scenes of the Valley of Ashes so vividly, and since we know he was traveling between Great Neck and Manhattan and passing through the real Valley of Ashes at the time, it seems relevant to me to know what vistas he had seen that inspired the scenes in the novel.

    And, the vista from Northern Boulevard through downtown Flushing would be very different from the vista of the southern passage through the Strong’s Causeway area and the DeLong/Sanford/Maple Avenue area. So I am now standing firm on my theory that the passage described in the book seems to describe the southern passage, south of Flushing, in the general vicinity of the old Strong’s Causeway — not the northern passage through the center of Flushing on Northern Blvd. And, Dan, please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that you do firmly agree with this.

    And I will agree with you, meanwhile, that this theory is not a scientific one but a suggestive one — for the reason that you said, that a scientific theory must fit *all* data points, rather than a best fit — and also for the more literary reason that a novel does not need to conform to geographic reality at all.

    Have we reached a satisfying resolution here, then?

  17. Absolutely I think we can put
    Absolutely I think we can put this to rest with a satisfying resolution.

    As for Strong’s Causeway I’ve uploaded a few images showing its location The source for my B&W overlay is this plate from the Fairchild 1924 Aerial Survey of NYC I am fairly certain this set is also the source for the NYC Map 1924 overlay layer at It’s a great resource that makes accessing the old images a whole lot easier than trying to spelunk through the NY Public Library’s online image collection.

  18. What a great exchange–I read
    What a great exchange–I read the GG today (amazing) and went on line to look specifically for the “valley of the ashes.” I’ll never find the time to “verify” the location of Wilson’s garage but it is great to know where it was in general (Shea Stadium in the hood) and to see some old and current photos of the location. Bleak indeed.

    I’d guess that Fitzgerald was pretty happy to merge together features of this landscape to create the lyrical, atmospheric, hellish space he needed to move the novel forward, but your combined work to id the actual spot is wonderful, thank you!!!

  19. It’s beautiful work.

    If you have not done so, I recommend to read Time and Again by Finney. Get an actual hard copy as the photographs are a key aspect of the artwork and it is helpful to have them in hand vice on screen.

    An interesting thing that Finney says is that he was not 100% accurate. He had HUGE amounts of research and it shows in the novel. However, he did make one change in time (moving the Dakota apartment building a few years earlier so it would work with a later event) for reasons of the story.

    With that in mind, I don’t think it’s impossible that Fitzgerald did one or two things like that. Novelists often do a little mix and match. So if he needed to send them on a different road (than normally traveled) for literary reasons, that could be the justification. After all he wants to contrast the two worlds and his literary aim is much more important than adherence to factual geography (after all he changed place names anyways).

  20. Just over a decade late to the party, but absolutely the right conclusion has been reached here. Strong’s Causeway fits the spirit of the Valley of the Ashes better than any other spot along the Flushing River.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s primary creative liberty then, as far as I can tell, is in his depiction of Strong’s as a natural and primary route between Manhattan and Long Island. In reality, Northern Avenue would’ve been the route of choice, but , as Levi mentions, this would not have resulted in the desolate wasteland that Fitzgerald describes. The ash heaps would’ve been visible to the south, but the presence of Flushing Bay immediately to the north, as well as the more populous roadside, strike me as off.

    My guess is that Fitzgerald was so taken aback by the desolate and metaphorically-rich solitude of Strong’s Causeway, nestled deep in the Corona Ash Dump alongside trolley tracks. His “leap” was to imagine this area was just a little bit north in the area that our heroes would routinely and naturally pass through on their commute from Long Island to Manhattan.

    Check out this colorized photo series from not too long after Gatsby was written that traverses Strong’s Causeway in the exact area Myrtle’s garage would’ve been located. Alongside the ash heaps and emptiness, you’ll spot a couple old gas stations and a billboard that are quite evocative (albeit without the eye glasses):

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