The Goat Heads of Prospect Park

The Goat Heads of Prospect Park

Uh. Looks like goat heads hanging from traffic light at 9th st. And 5th ave. in Park Slope @Gothamist @SlopeNews

— Katherine Hurd (@katiehurd) November 4, 2014

It’s autumn in Brownstone Brooklyn. Trees! Crunching leaves. Dogs going wild, sensing that the Indoor Times are coming again. Barely ambulatory children in full UNIQLO demanding more coffee. Goat heads.

This year the goat heads manifested above the intersection of 5th Avenue and 9th Street, where they dangled like old sneakers. These goat heads were notable not just for their proud location but for their presentation: hanging in a pair, fresh and skinless.

This display was four avenues away from the 9th
Street entrance to Prospect Park, the goat head capital of Brooklyn. Most recently, in March, a severed goat head was discovered on the east edge of the park, intact and covered in snow. In 2010, on the south side of the park, someone found a goat carcass in a bag; a couple days later, the head turned up on a nearby walkway. Earlier that year, small animal remains and blood stains discovered in the park led the Brooklyn Paper to ask: “Who is the Butcher of Prospect Park?” These are just the goat heads that made it to the internet, of course — there is no telling how many goat heads went un-Instagrammed.

This doesn’t surprise me — in the early 70’s my mom and I stumbled across a severed goat’s head in Prospect Park

— Guav (@guav) March 25, 2010

The consensus explanation for the remains is Santería ritual sacrifice, a controversial practice kept private in other parts of the country but complicated by Brooklyn residents’ dependence on communal outdoor space. If this is what’s going on — and it’s never really been examined, just mentioned and accepted as plausible by west-of-the-park neighborhood blogs, because of the large Caribbean community nearby — then there is sympathetic Supreme Court precedent to provide some context: in Hialeah, Florida, practitioners’ right to sacrifice animals was challenged and eventually upheld. The most the park has officially said on the matter, however, is strictly practical: “It’s illegal dumping.”

Shoe-tossing goat heads is not, to the best of my knowledge, a religious tradition. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a secular neighborhood tradition? Or is it just teens messing around, goat heads having been planted in their imaginations years before? A late Halloween prank? In any case: That particular intersection is on the cusp of so many conflicting things, sandwiched in one direction by neighborhood institutions like Daisy’s Diner and Smith’s Tavern and in the other by two craft beer bars, one with pinball machines and the other with shuffleboard. On the corners are a bodega, a Chase branch and a combination Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins. What better way to tie it all together than yearly goat heads? May they hang forevermore.