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The Miraculous East River Piano

Sometimes we find unexpected beauty–like a grand piano–in surprising places.

A grand piano on the banks of NYC's East River

On the back page in every issue of Mysterious Ways, we share our favorite “Secret Spaces,” photographs of the little-known places that inspire us and open our eyes to hidden beauty and wonder in the world. Places like these bring us out of our day-to-day doldrums and get us to think about a higher purpose for our lives.

For our associate editor, Diana Aydin, that place was underneath a willow tree at her alma mater, Cornell University. For our assistant art director, Doug Snyder, it was a sculpture garden in Astoria, New York.

I have my own Secret Space right here in the heart of Manhattan–a hidden beach.

Now, Manhattan is no Hawaii. Our island is ringed by roads and docks–no soft, sandy shorelines. But every day, bicycling home from work along the East River, I pass by a strip of sand between the Brooklyn Bridge and the old Fulton Fish Market that even most New Yorkers don’t know about.

It’s revealed only at low tide, and if you didn’t know it was covered by polluted waters all day, you might be tempted to lay down a beach towel and catch some rays. I liked to stop there on my way home and take in the views of the Brooklyn skyline as the setting sun lit it up in the most majestic way.

A month ago, I was bicycling by and saw this:

How the piano got there, I’ll never know. But it attracted quite the crowd. I’d never seen so many people drawn to this secluded corner of Manhattan. The secret of this place was out.

I was fascinated. Who would bother to lug this heavy instrument all the way out here? Had it washed up on shore? Whatever its origin, it brightened my day to see it. Apparently I wasn’t alone.

As the weeks passed, the East River did its damage. Storms tossed the piano about. The lid was ripped off and lost. More and more it fell apart, sinking into the sand:

What remains of a grand piano on the banks of NYC's East River

Soon, it barely resembled a piano. The water had stripped away the glossy black paint and the currents had removed most of the keys. It began to blend in with the trash washed up by the river tides. The next few times I passed by, I didn’t even see the piano. I figured the battered remains had been washed away.

Then, yesterday, I came upon this:

A smiling red heart painted inside the remains of a grand piano on the bank of the East River

The piano wasn’t a piano anymore. It had been transformed–or rather, revealed for what it always was. A sign of love from some anonymous benefactor, who saw this tiny, ugly, trash-strewn strip of sand the same way I did–as a Secret Space where one could escape the city madness for a moment. The piano got so many people to look at this small corner of the city in that same way. It got people to stop, look, and appreciate the art of life that surrounds us.

What Secret Spaces have you discovered in your town? Has something made you look at a “regular place” in a new way? Send your photos and stories to us!

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