“We really don't know how this is going to end,” the Queens Museum of Art's David Strauss told reporters before the battle got underway. “Those About to Die Salute You” was the creation of Duke Riley, an artist who gained notoriety a few years ago when he built a wood-and-fiberglass submarine and sailed it in the East River. He was arrested when it floated too close to the Queens Mary 2, which was docked off Brooklyn. The headline in the New York Post the next day read “Sub-moron!”
The battle, which featured five teams representing museums from the five boroughs, was watched by a mixture of toga-clad spectators who spent the evening imbibing free wine and beer and curious soccer players who had just finished several games in the park.
As the start of the battle grew near, the crowd grew restless, chanting “Boats! Boats! Boats!” A DJ tried to entertain the spectators, but approximately midway through Black Sabbath's “War Pigs” they could no longer be sated, and boxes of tomatoes and stale bread that were stationed around the pool and meant to be thrown during the battle instead made an early appearance. Some unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves, while others jumped into the pool.
The announcer yelled at them to get out of the water, using a fair amount of expletives to get his point across.
“This is way crazier than we thought it was going to be,” said a toga-clad Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the Queens Museum, said as tomatoes whizzed over his head.
Eventually the water was cleared, and the boats made their appearance. The vessels ranged from a battleship representing Brooklyn to a cardboard ferry representing Staten Island to a dragon-headed ship made of reeds harvested from the park, which held the team from Queens. Differing in material and shape, the boats shared a common attribute: they were far from seaworthy.
Most of the boats were destroyed in 20 minutes or less, and spectators could no longer contain themselves, jumping into the waster and joining in the combat. As the battle raged, a model of Riley's Queen Mary 2 was pushed to the center of the pool by a volunteer and then set aflame as the spectators made a wild dash from the water. The boat was eventually tipped over, extinguishing the flames and signaling an end to the “exhibition.”
When the smoke cleared, nobody was too badly hurt.