Linda Mariano is front and center as Activists and community groups gather on the Union Street bridge to advocate for Landmarking and preserving the original architecture in the Gowanus Canal district.
Activists and community groups gather on the Union Street bridge to advocate for Landmarking and preserving the original architecture in the Gowanus Canal district, Linda Mariano is front and center. ©Mark D Phillips


By Brad Vogel

Grieving today for my dear friend Linda Mariano who passed away last night.

Linda was tenacious. She crackled with life. She engaged in the civic forum with a sort of streetfighting punk armor on and threw bombs to smoke out the truth. She was an ant willing to take on an elephant. She hated how power corrupts and lived the way Jane Jacobs saw the world. Many only knew her as this undaunted, uncompromising public figure. I feel lucky to have known her as much more – the Linda who laughed uproariously, gave me bottles of homemade cherry bounce, who was curious about the world, and would hand off boxes of thin mints at the antique store where she worked on the weekends.

Linda’s cantankerous “Gowanus soldier” carapace was all there in the service of protecting her other more tender self and the vulnerable things of the world – the gardener who gave me my rose of sharon and geraniums, the poet who shared her color-infused poems, the whimsical mind who loved the absurd and our oddball postcard exchanges across the canal, the aesthete who brought me leaves of grass from Monet’s garden in France, and especially the appreciator of organic urbanism who instinctively knew when the things that made her neighborhood special were at risk. She valued the fragile and special and did her best to shield it from the brutality of the world.

Linda Mariano and Brad Vogel at the Gowanus Canal
Linda Mariano and Brad Vogel at the Gowanus Canal. Courtesy Brad Vogel

Linda and I served on the Community Advisory Group together (she helped get Gowanus designated a superfund site in 2010). We helped get city landmarks designated as part of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition. We pushed to save archaeological artifacts and Gowanus Station together. We fought the Gowanus rezoning together. As a fellow fan of Walt Whitman’s poetry, she was a core part of the annual Centenarian’s Story reading along the Canal. She lived robustly.

We would talk about birds, trees, political shenanigans, history, and music. She gave me paint and a little American flag to help with our neighborhood pandemic response efforts when she couldn’t leave the house (the flag ended up aboard a canoe in the harbor welcoming the USNS Comfort). At several points in the pandemic, I visited her from her sidewalk while she stood on her stoop. One time she asked me if I could send some mail for her, and I did – only to find out that I had mailed myself a postcard from a mailbox 200 yards from my home!

Linda Linda Linda Linda. Boy, will I miss you, my friend. Boy oh boy.

It is hard to believe that she had just found the light again in February after her husband’s death in the fall – and sent me a buoyant, funny postcard on March 4…only to have cancer strike with full force. I received one beautiful text and kept sending her texts back with little notes and her own poems read aloud until it stopped. Not even one month. Life is fragile and rare and all the more meaningful for being so.

Last night, I ended up looking out on a series of long puddles on a rooftop near sunset. The wind was doing crazy things – not the normal sheet blowing across the whole surface but a strange dappling, as if multiple minds or fingers of wind were playing the puddle like an instrument. Ripples spread out from multiple independent points in the water simultaneously over and over again in a kind of scherzo. After a very long time I came back around and realized I had gotten completely mesmerized and lost in it. And I learned later last night that Linda had passed right around that same time, 6 pm. It’s the kind of impression that Linda and I definitely would have talked about, mused about.

It reminded me to smile. And it made me think that somewhere out there, even if only in our mind’s eye, the Linda I know is chuckling and smiling, secretly pleased in her puckish way, that she died on April Fool’s Day. Even the all-encompassing elephant of death could not be sure in the end if it had actually won against the grinning, vital, feisty, unconquerable little ant who meant so much.