In Queens, a Nautical Battle in the Roman Tradition

Duke Riley dreams big. Really big. Next Thursday he’ll be directing a mock naval battle, Coliseum style, at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. People will don gladiator gear, spectators will be required to wear togas, and in a vacant pool, 30-foot-long Spanish galleons, Egyptian river boats and Polynesian war canoes will fight to the finish.

The WSJ story by Kelly Crow detailed this intriguing event, explaining how an artist with a big money following (his tatoo-style drawings are collected by art patrons for major bucks) was able to convince Queens officials to allow him to build the big replica boats using recycled materials and invasive grasses using volunteers.

The event is called “Those About to Die Salute You,” and is modeled on the ancient Roman’s tendency to hold big events like mock naval battles in the coliseum during times of economic strife, to take the public’s minds off of the bad news. Perfect timing, eh?

Riley is described as an artist who thinks more like a dockworker. He swims late at night in the Gowanus Bay. He sells assorted maps, uniforms, scrimshaw and nautical ink drawings for large sums to avid collectors. He got arrested when he floated his homemade Revolutionary War style submarine close to the Queen Mary 2 when it was docked in NY harbor.

Many artists have flocked to be a part of this extravaganza, volunteering to help build the boats using the former World’s Fair Ice Rink as a makeshift drydock. I wish I could be there next Thursday to see the battle unfold but my toga is at the dry cleaners.