Uncovering a Small Town (and Some Tall Tales) (NY)





Touring an archaeological dig site, you generally expect a glimpse of antiquities a little more antediluvian than a television antenna, a seven-inch single, a tailfin and a rotary-dial telephone. But an odd excavation site that recently opened to the public on Governors Island purports to offer just that: artifacts not of the Mesoamerican but of the midcentury variety, about 1954.

That is the year, at least according to Geert Hautekiet, the man in charge of exhibiting the site, that the United States Army, which then controlled the island, ordered a small, obscure civilian community there to be evacuated during the approach of a dangerous electrical storm. All of the buildings and houses in the town, Mr. Hautekiet said, were then inexplicably buried under sand by the military, which later appeared to deny that the village had ever existed.

The town, known as Goverthing — which strangely has never appeared on any New York City historical maps or been noted by a single historian — is said to have been stumbled upon during recent demolition work on the island, which New York City and New York State have jointly controlled since 2003, seeking to develop it as a recreational, historic and artistic destination.

It was then, the story goes, that a team of Belgian archaeologists was summoned to uncover pieces of the unlikely — indeed, almost unbelievable — community that, before it was evacuated, numbered only 29 residents, many of Belgian and French descent, whose livelihood centered on a small factory in town that capitalized on a once-thriving international market for snow globes.

The archaeologist credited with supervising the dig could not be reached for comment this week, and the Web site of the Belgian university where he is said to work shows no record of him. But Mr. Hautekiet, who described himself as an exhibition specialist dispatched from Antwerp to oversee the display of the site — he has a long background in unconventional guerrilla theater and sly conceptual art in Belgium — recently showed a reporter some of the more unusual items recovered.



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