Spring has arrived… (whatever floats your corpse, revisited)

The following is a re-post of my post last Thursday at Write on the Water, where it received a resounding lack of comments. Perhaps the subject matter may have been a bit questionable. Judge for yourself… I felt it would be of interest.


While the calendar claims that it’s only the beginning of March, there’s no denying it’s been an unusually warm winter here in the northeast. Buds are swelling on the trees, the crocuses have been blooming for weeks, even hyacinths have been clawing their way through the dirt, reaching upward like green zombie fingers towards the sunlight, all well ahead of schedule. And this leaves me wondering: will Floater’s Week come early this year?

What is Floater’s Week? It’s a local event on the waters surrounding New York City. NYC and its neighboring communities hold the title as the nation’s largest metropolitan area, with roughly nineteen million people living in a region bordered by the Atlantic and laced with harbors, bays, vast rivers and hidden creeks. It’s a city of bridges and tunnels, over two thousand, in fact. Lots of people, lots of water, and lots of access to that water.

With those statistics, it’s a given that over time, a certain percentage of deceased bodies might eventually find their ways into said waters. Drowning victims, boating accidents, bridge jumpers, and unfortunate fatalities of criminal activity. As air in the lungs is replaced with water, a body will sink to the bottom, and so long as that water is cold, decomposition is slowed and the corpse will stay put, more or less. But once the days grow longer and water temperatures rise, bacterial activity and decomposition speed up, producing gases that make them buoyant, bringing these bloated bodies bobbing back to the surface in a synchronized resurrection.

So there you have it. Floater’s Week. Annually, that perfect mix of conditions usually arrives sometime around mid-April, though, like fishing, it varies based upon a number of factors including position of the body in question and whether or not they may have been additionally ‘weighted’, so to speak, as well as depth, current, hours of sunlight and so on. And yes, in case anyone is wondering, I have encountered a floater or three in my time on the Hudson. Around here, we see it as a sign of spring.

(And here’s a nice, upbeat song by Justin Townes Earle, titled ‘Harlem River Blues’, about taking a permanent swim in the Harlem River.)

7 responses to “Spring has arrived… (whatever floats your corpse, revisited)

  1. you know as an EMT I really could do with out those kind of floaters. They can be not so nice.

  2. Nancy, that’s what the police who sometimes docked at the marina where I worked said as well, and that’s where I first learned this expression. But these grim facts and the technical details behind them are useful when it comes to my type of writing.

  3. Sure, I’ll comment. Although as an ex-Jersey (Bergen County) gentleman who was raised with easy access to said Hudson’s waters and knew about “floaters,” I found your posting not only formative in its forensic content but rather amusing in its reassurance that, along with the popping up of crocuses, the serene, lyrical bobbing of bodies is a sure sign that winter has once again been vanquished. Bravo for you talents of observation and literary acumen.

    • I know all these kind of facts help to make your books more interesting and more real. It is amazing what kind of information we can find and some of it is actually useful. I grew up near water and spring always brought out a lot of things, Keep up the research and the writing.

  4. Thank you, Gordon, and Nancy again as well. And I did call it: with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had, reports have confirmed this particularly morbid rite of spring has come early this year.

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  6. found your website and this post when I googled Decomposed body found in Hudson River October 2012. Yours was on the third page. I check every month or so in the hopes that the body my husband and I found in late Oct. last year had finally been identified. Not yet, if ever. very sad to think about. You are so right about police not wanting anything to do with “floaters”. My husband and I bobbed about in our kayaks for more than an hour as the police of Greene and Columbia Counties played hot potato with the call. When Greene finally lost and sent a boat from Catskill, they at first thought it was a sheep. I believe this was the effect of the body being in the water so long that the adipose tissue turned soap-like – all they have said so far is male between the ages of 25 and 50. We found our first floater in June of 2011, maybe because we are further upstream, ours pop up later? that one was a missing person and was intact, quickly identified and buried by the family. Being in kayaks, we are alot closer to the water and what floats there-in than if we were in a motor boat…… I hope we haven’t begun an annual ritual, but if so, I hope we get the 2013 floater out of the way early in the season.

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