Behind a locked gate on 12th Street, just east of Fourth Avenue, what looks like the tortured remains of a human is nailed and shackled to a tree in an empty lot owned by the city.
However, the gruesome skeleton is only a replica, a thing some people call art or a decoration, while other neighbors think the skeleton is “inappropriate” and “scary.”
“The skeleton has been nailed to this tree for six to eight months,” said 12th Street resident Ben Lochansky on Thursday. “He is an eccentric man who considers himself an artist, but I think he is an oddist.”
The vacant lot’s neighbors know the man who took the time to enter the locked gate and secure the skeleton to one of the only standing trees in the deserted space, which has laid empty for over 10 years, but they won’t give up his identity.
Lochansky said the empty lot used to be a gas station, but it closed around 1970. After it closed, the space became a community garden through the New York City Green Thumb program and Lochansky and another man spent $10,000 of their own money to clean it up, till the soil, plant flowers and beautify the space. He even built a 20-foot wide sandbox so kids from local nurseries and schools could play in it during recess.
But, the lot was closed due to contamination from the buried gas tanks below the soil in the early 2000s, and since has become an eyesore.
“It’s inappropriate to be on city-owned property and the skeleton frightens the kids,” Lochansky said while he and his pit bull, Mieka, stared at the replica of human remains, which has a ghastly grin on its face and handcuffs bind its hands.
“It would be great for Halloween, but that’s it. It’s scary when you’re walking down the block and see this thing hanging on the tree.”
Other neighborhood residents agree with Lochansky.
Mollie Rosadeo, who was pushing her neighbor’s 2-year-old boy past the decoration, which Lochansky said was nailed to the tree after Halloween, stopped and told Patch what she thought.
“It’s not art, it’s highly offensive and definitely scares the children of the block,” Rosadeo said while the boy gazed at the “dead” man.
The city’s empty lot is in the process of being sold to the , a Catholic nonprofit organization, and will be developed as a two-story group home for mentally and physically disabled adults. However, the construction is being delayed because the gas tanks still need to be removed from the space and the area needs to be cleaned up.
Kathy Cammallere, a 12th Street resident for 42 years, said that the skeleton is highly suggestive.
“It’s certainly symbolic of a certain Christian symbol,” Cammallere said, explaining that she thinks it looks like a demonized version of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “If the nuns saw this their habits would fall right off their bodies!”
She agreed with Lochansky that this violent installation is only appropriate for Halloween, but past the holiday it should be taken down due to its graphic characteristics.
The carcass looks like it was maimed, tortured and burnt to death.
“The person who put it up is demented,” Cammallere said, who knows the man who put it on the tree, but wouldn’t reveal his name.
However, she did say that he does live on 12th Street, has a key to the lock on the fence surrounding the lot and is responsible for the other oddities in the space.
Cammallere said that if the skeleton is a piece of art, it certainly has a pretty grim message.
“Art is open to interpretation, but the handcuffs give this thing a negative connotation,” Cammallere explained. “It looks like the skeleton was burnt and evokes a symbol of slavery with the shackles.”
Lochansky said that the city comes to clean up the man’s “artwork” about twice a year, but the city hasn’t cleaned the space since the skeleton was nailed to the tree, which he said, “will surely kill the tree slowly.”
Lochansky said that when the Sisters of Mercy build the group home in the lot, they will give back the space along Fourth Avenue where he planted and manicured the garden from the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s. Lochansky said that the city closed the lot after it fell into disrepair from people dumping trash.
“As of right now, the lot is an eyesore, and the skeleton just adds to the space’s negative condition,” Lochansky said, who has lived on 12th Street since 1977.
Down on Columbia and Woodhull streets, a man took it upon himself to clean up a 35-year-old vacant lot by removing the weeds and planting grass. However, on Thursday . But, after the Housing Preservation & Development Department locked the gate, Sen. Squadron convinced them to open it again. But, Lochansky said that the man who is responsible for the skeleton is not doing a positive thing to the lot like the Carroll Gardens man was doing on Columbia.
For Lochansky, the “oddist” is not abiding by the law.
“I believe in following the laws, he has no right to be doing what he is doing on this property,” Lochansky said. “He would not like for someone to do this to his property and we want it removed.”
Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, said that whatever it is the man is doing to the vacant lot, it is not right.
“No one should have access to this place because the site was transferred years ago to the Mercy Home,” Hammerman said, explaining that the Sisters of Mercy will build the group home for mentally ill and frail adults on the site after the buried gas tanks are removed. “Whoever is doing this is likely to be a trespasser and will probably get in trouble for it.”
Although Hammerman hasn’t seen the skeleton, he does think that it is illegal to enter the space.
“I understand why neighbors are bothered by it,” Hammerman said. “No matter the intentions of the person trespassing, it is still illegal to do it."