The Newtown Pentacle

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Adventures upon the East River 2

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The tug Pegasus by you.

The Tug Pegasus, doing Tourist duty- Photo By Mitch Waxman

From the Tug Pegasus Preservation Project website (be sure to check out the blueprints)

“The tugboat Pegasus was built in 1907 as S. O. Co. No. 16, for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, by the Skinner Shipbuilding Yard of Baltimore, Maryland.

The Skinner yard had a long history. There had been shipbuilding on that site at the foot of Federal Hill since 1783. Zachariah Skinner established his yard there in 1832 to build small schooners for the Bay and coastal trades. By the 1870s, the yard had produced some of the finest steamboats operating on Chesapeake Bay.

The yard survived into the 1980s, at the end under the ownership of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Bethlehem preserved most of the Skinner plans from the early twentieth century, including many for No. 16 and her sisters. These plans are now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.”

Interesting how Standard Oil, so long after its day, is still on the river. John D. Rockefeller is still one of New York’s influential citizens.

Battery Park from NY Harbor, Fireboat by you.

NYFD fireboat, which (I’m fairly sure) is the Firefighter- Photo By Mitch Waxman

The Firefighter is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1938, this was the NYFD’s most powerful diesel-electric fireboat when she joined the fleet. Serving as Marine Company 9, Firefighter participated in putting out over 50 major maritime fires in the last 71 years- including the SS Normandie Disaster, the collision of the Esso Brussels and the SS Sea Witch. Firefighter also helped to quench the fires of September 11, 2001. Firefighter is scheduled for a well deserved retirement this year.

Staten Island Ferry by you.

Staten Island Ferry- Photo By Mitch Waxman

The Staten Island Ferry pulling into its Manhattan docks. This particular ferry is the “Spirit of America”- whose spirit, I guess, can be expressed-metaphorically- as a giant orange boat.

This particular giant orange boat is a “Molinari” class ship that can carry 4,500 passengers and 40 vehicles. The docks are called South Ferry, and serve as a transportation hub with connections to both IND and BMT subway tracks. The City’s fleet of ferries makes the 5 mile trip to Staten Island in 22 minutes. Vehicles used to use the Ferry to transit to the St George terminal on the far side, but fear of terrorism has reduced the ferry to passenger only service since September 11th. For the full story on the Staten Island Ferry, check out the wikipedia article here, and the official NYC website here.

Interesting note…

the original Ferry service, the one that was bought in 1838 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, was bought by the B&O railroad in 1884. B&O- as in Canton Iron- as in Peter Cooper- as in Cooper’s Glue from the Newtown Creek. Also, as the story progresses, B&O, through acquisitions and mergers morphs into the Pennsylvania Railroad which ends up owning the Long Island Rail Road running freight to Manhattan along the Newtown Creek. 

Brooklyn Bridge by you.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River, Manhattan Tower and skyline.- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Built in 1883, the iconic span was slapped with its current moniker because of a letter to the editor at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and officially pronounced “da Brooklyn Bridge” in 1915. For all the history on this, watch the Ken Burns documentary or hit the the wikipedia page.

Brooklyn Bridge by you.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River, Manhattan Tower and skyline.- Photo By Mitch Waxman

What I can tell you is this place holds a weird reputation, and has claimed a lot of lives over the years. Its a favorite spot for suicides, and some woman on the Manhattan side claims to have been abducted by a ufo- from her apartment. Said apartment is behind the largish white building to the right of the bridge. I knew a couple of Goth girls that liked to come down under the FDR drive by the tower, back during the 80’s, to play witch. They said it was “a place of power”, got high, and lit candles inside a sidewalk chalk circle.  

Brooklyn Bridge by you.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River- Photo By Mitch Waxman

NYPD doesn’t keep an official record of suicides, at least not publically. Once, it was quite in vogue to jump from the bridge. A fellow named Donaldson tried to jump 3 times before construction was even finished, a professional daredevil named Odlum learned a few fatal facts about physics in 1885, and then… there was Steve Brodie. 

Brooklyn Bridge by you.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River- Photo By Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m from Brooklyn. The part of Brooklyn that says “Erl Cumpnie”, and “Doity Boid”- a place where the “F word” is simultaneously a verb, noun, synonym, term of affection, and adjective. When using the “F word in polite” company, one uses “effin”. The pizza is very, very good there. So are the bagels.

Steve Brodie was some kind of weird iconic figure to my dad and uncles, who grew up during the Great Depression. Brodie, apparently was bookie. He jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge to win a bet. When you’re from Brooklyn, and someone dares you to do something, and you have money on the line, you either do it or you’re an effin… well that’s another use of local vernacular. Brodie, of course, turns up in a Bugs Bunny cartoon as well.

image from wikipedia

Manhattan Bridge by you.

Manhattan Bridge, from the East River- Photo By Mitch Waxman

The steel colossus next door to the Brooklyn Bridge- this thing carries 7 lanes of cars and truck traffic and also has 4 subway tracks, and a couple of pedestrian/bicycle ramps. It connects Manhattan’s lower east side to the Fulton Landing in Brooklyn, now called DUMBO. 

from nycroads.com

PLANNING “SUSPENSION BRIDGE NUMBER 3″: The Manhattan Bridge was first planned as a traditional wire-cable suspension bridge to be used exclusively by trains. In 1892, elevated railway magnate Frederick Uhlmann proposed this span just north of the present site of the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge was planned in conjunction with another one of his proposals, the Williamsburg Bridge. While Uhlmann’s railroad bridge was never constructed, the Williamsburg Bridge was approved in 1895 to handle mixed traffic.

Tug boat passes Manhattan Bridge 1 by you.

This tug, the Dorothy J, is pushing a barge of shredded autos, most likely coming from the Newtown Creek, down the East River. Manhattan Bridge in background- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Moving under the Manhattan Bridge, our trusty vessel passed a tugboat, the Dorothy J. was threading a load up the East River. My friend, by whose largesse I was enjoying these splendid times on the waters surrounding New York, advised that it most likely coming from the auto salvage operations on the Newtown Creek. Inset below are images of just such a business on Newtown Creek, viewed from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility Nature Walk. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s actually sort of lovely.

wnyc Newtown Creek Nature Walk by you.

Auto recycling at the Newtown Creek, from “newtown creek nature walk with George Trakas”- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Tug Sequence 1 by you.

This tug, the Paul Andrew, is pushing a barge of shreded autos down the East River. Most likely coming from the Newtown Creek. Williamsburg Bridge in background- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Soon, another Tugboat- the Paul Andrew passed by bearing a similar load of in the process of being recycled autos. Below can be found one of my controversial challenges to conventional orthodoxy and challenge to use “institutional memory” when thinking about modern times:

Something to consider, says wise Old Mitch, is that contrary to what most people think- recycling is probably the least “green” industry there is. Think the whole chain through- toxic materials, gathered from every festering hole that New Yorkers can stuff garbage into, loaded onto diesel trucks, and carried to concentration points in places like Greenpoint and Long island City and Maspeth. All around the Creek, industry reduces these materials to constituents, and in turn, the valuable elements are loaded onto barges and and eventually shipped to infinitely distant capitals in (currently) Asia for resale and manufacturing. So, ummm, what do you suppose happens to the stuff that nobody wants? The oil that drips, the printing inks, and all the little bits of paint? Where do you suppose that goes, and whose ground water is poisoned?  Were the Night Soil docks green? And can I open a recycling center next door to your house?

I’m just saying…

lum_p1000554_mixcreekwalk.jpg by you.

Auto recycling at the Newtown Creek, from “newtown creek nature walk with George Trakas”- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Williamsburg Bridge by you.

Williamsburg Bridge, from the East River- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Not quite the monolith that Manhattan is, nor as stylish as the Brooklyn, the Williamsburg bridge connects Delancey Street with the tony Brooklyn neighborhood for whom the span is named. To any longtime Brooklynite, of course, calling Williamsburg tony always brings a smile. Up until yesterday, this was one of the skeeviest parts of Brooklyn. Bedford and Grand was four corners of brick lots with naked hookers roaming the deserted streets. A small community of Hasids lived here, with most of the population in the projects. It was so bad in the late 80’s that my friends wouldn’t even drive down here, and a threat was “I’ll leave you in Williamsburg…”. 

Williamsburg Bridge by you.

Williamsburg Bridge, from the East River- Photo By Mitch Waxman

The bridge’s Manhattan landing is in another of New York’s 1980’s garden spots- the Lower East Side. Used to be dangerous and fun, now its safe and boring.

Downtown Skyline by you.

Empire state and public housing, former (today would be superfund) siting of part of the Gaslight District- Photo By Mitch Waxman

As we moved back up the river to our eventual docking at 23rd street, we passed by two more items of interest. Once, when it was its own lonely self with only part of the Bronx for company, Manhattan had to actually do all the nasty industrial stuff for itself- or pay through the nose to anyone in Brooklyn or Long Island City with their hands stuck out to generate power or handle sewage or manufacture things- which is the way Manhattan does it now. These buildings, which are public housing, sit either on or just south of the former location of Manhattan’s gas light district

Editorializing again:

The “wild hunt” of the industrial revolution came in the night . Amongst their number were cholera, and tuberculosis, and the timeclock- and the period after the civil war was their first real attempt at subjugating nature. and first real chance at the complete destruction of the nature of mankind. The tenements fed the bosses labor, hapless mendicants who were consumed by the “dark satanic mills”. If a worker was sick, or killed, 10 more were waiting for “their place”. Industry ran wild in Manhattan during this time. Hell’s Kitchen on the west side got it’s name from just such a gas work as the ones that were sited here. Matter of fact, the people who swept away all the bad stuff down here in the early twentieth century, they were named Rockefeller. The electric industry grew out of the gas industry. They grew on top of it, and sold all the properties they didn’t need anymore- the reeking tanks and leaky pipes could be someone else’s problem.

Coast Guard Ship by you.

United States Coast Guard’s ship, Katherine Walker- Photo By Mitch Waxman

Below 14th street and above Delancey, the east side was bristling with docks and sailing vessels being fed textiles, and iron, and manufactured goods of every kind from a vast industrial zone. Today, there was just us and a Coast Guard ship.

The power plant behind the ship is the East River Generating Station, and the ship is the Coast Guard’s Katherine Walker.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2009 at 4:56 am

Posted in newtown creek

One Response

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  1. […] Newtown Pentacle: The Firefighter is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1938, this was the NYFD’s most powerful diesel-electric fireboat when she joined the fleet. Serving as Marine Company 9, Firefighter participated in putting out over 50 major maritime fires in the last 71 years- including the SS Normandie Disaster, the collision of the Esso Brussels and the SS Sea Witch. Firefighter also helped to quench the fires of September 11, 2001. […]


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