Roman naval battle in New York City

Brooklyn artist Duke Riley has a thing for recreating historical watercraft. Two years ago he sailed a wooden submarine he made from Revolutionary War designs towards the Queen Mary 2. Naturally they arrested him.

This year, he staged a whole Gladiatorial-style naval battle in the reflecting pool at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of two World’s Fairs, one in 1939, the other in 1964.

A giant “Unisphere” was built in the middle of the central fountain in 1964, along with other structures, statues and reflecting pools. (It’s near the New York Mets’ old Shea Stadium and new Citi Park.)

One of the 1964 pools became the site of this naumachia. Plumbers from the city parks department filled the pool for the first time since the 1964 World’s Fair. It provided a perfect venue for the mock Colosseum on water.

Of course, even filled the reflecting pool is just a foot and a half deep, so the reed ships and catamarans had to be designed to carry people and float on a puddle.

So he invited a bunch of friends to make 5 ships representing the five boroughs of New York City, plus representatives from museums in each of the boroughs to serve as crew on their ship.

Instead of the gladius and trident, toga-clad crew and spectators used tomatoes as weapons. The spectators were inspired to join the fray more directly, and the ships were basically torn apart.

Then for the grand finale Riley produced a surprise 6th ship modeled after the Queen Mary 2, his old nemesis, and set it joyously alight with fireworks until they flipped it over in the water to douse the flames.

Now that is what I call a great time.