12 stations of the Newtown Pentacle
It’s wonderful to be here, It’s certainly a thrill. You’re such a lovely audience,
We’d like to take you home with us, We’d love to take you home.
I don’t really want to stop the show, But I thought that you might like to know,
That the singer’s going to sing a song, And he wants you all to sing along.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Lennon/McCartney)
Its been a fascinating 12 months, Lords and Ladies, and I believe that I’ve stayed on mission at this one year anniversary of this blog. 270 posts, in case you were wondering, some large others small. The blog itself has received a little over 43,000 views and the photos the posts are based on at flickr have been witnessed some 76,577 times. Not bad, and both sets of gross statistics are growing on a nice curve. The number 1 post, historically, is Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant .
Here’s a few of the Newtown Pentacle’s greatest hits, which are not “by the numbers”:
from the very first posting of May 29, 2009:
The colonial era towns of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and the Queens towns of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunter’s Point, Bowery Bay, and Middletown were called Newtown in Dutch and English times. In the early 19th century, the Queens villages combined to form Long Island City. The industrial center of the area was and still is Newtown Creek. The most polluted body of water on earth, this ancient inlet was once home to the Maspaetche Indians. Dutch Orchards and English farms gave way to Yankee rail and then Standard Oil as time went by. Today, its waters are a curious shade of copper green, and the largest oil spill in history gurgles back and forth through deep subterranean channels between Green Point and Long Island City. The architecture of the place is disturbingly heterogeneous. A rough tumble of styles are represented in this area — 19th century wrought iron row houses predominate, but 18th century warehouses are still on active duty in some places. Near Hunter’s Point and in Old Astoria, Antebellum mansions abut hideous Le Corbusier-influenced modernism. To the south and the east can be found some of the most interesting stone work in New York City as one explores the cemetery belt along the Brooklyn and Queens border.
Three million New Yorkers lie in Calvary cemetery alone. In this, the Necropolis of New York City, the living population of Queens is outnumbered three to one.
After a health scare a couple of years ago, my doctors recommended a course of clean living and regimen of physical exercise as the best curative. An amateur antiquarian and connoisseur of odd information, I elected to use my prescriptive exertions as an opportunity to explore and record. I toured crumbling Long Island City, the tree lined lanes of Victorian Astoria, and rusty coastlines of foetid Newtown Creek. Headphones on, camera in hand. The journey has taken me to many odd and forgotten places, and led me to discover a fascinating group of people. Follow me on these long walks, I promise you’ll see something amazing.
from June 4, 2009
I was seeking out some information on a shunned 1960′s religious group which had headquartered at a disused 19th century Satmar Yeshiva (which burned to ash in 1973) over on the Greenpoint side when I read about “Conrad Wessel’s noxious and pestilential night soil and offal dock on Furman’s Island, along the Newtown Creek”. This reference was connected to Gov. Flower’s “smelling committee” which traveled up Newtown Creek in a steamboat during the summer of 1894 to confirm that the waterway did, in fact, smell. The Smelling Committee placed much blame for the miasma which permeated Long Island City, Dutch Kills, and Greenpoint at the doorstep of the bone boilers on Furman’s Island.
from July 16th, 2009
-photo by Mitch Waxman
Just off the corner of Steinway is 38-13 Northern Blvd. It stands opposite the cyclopean Standard Motor Products building, and at the foot of the bridge which carries Steinway into 39th street and south to Skillman Avenue over the Sunnyside Yards. Currently, the structure houses part of the NYPD’s ESU units- the Emergency Medical Squad. The building was originally a firehouse- the Hook and Ladder 66.
The earliest volunteer fire company in Newtown was organized in 1843- the Wadownock Fire, Hook & Ladder No. 1. By 1902, there were 66 distinct volunteer fire departments in Queens. 19th century Long Island City was served by (amongst others) the Astoria Engine Co., the Hunter Engine Co., the Mohawk Hose Co., and the Tiger Hose Co. In 1890, the legislature of New York State abolished the volunteer departments, seeking to create a paid and professional force of firefighters. In Long Island City, as many as nine units were created, and then reorganized in 1894, as rampant political corruption had rendered the new units impotent against all but the smallest blazes. This corruption was centered around Long Island City’s mayor- Patrick “Battleax” Gleason- or was at least blamed on him by his enemies in the press.
The critical date for this story is 1898, when Long Island City joined in the municipality of the City of Greater New York, and its firefighters joined the FDNY.
from August 12th, 2009
New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works, LIC -photo by Mitch Waxman
Built in 1892 as an office for the company that supplied terra-cotta for Carnegie Hall and the Ansonia Hotel, among others. The company went out of business in the 1930s, and the building became vacant. It was eventually bought in 1965 by Citibank. Its ruins can be found at 42-10 – 42-16 Vernon Avenue, across the street from the sumptuous hedonism of the newly opened Ravel Hotel, and next door to the venerable and recently feted span of the Queensboro Bridge. It was landmarked in 1982.
Two and one half stories, the structure is actually the front office of an industrial complex that was once surrounded by a 12 foot high wall of brick, which enclosed an open storage yard, a 5 story factory, and the kilnworks one would expect to find at such a large endeavor. Its satisfying design was crafted by Francis H. Kimball, architect of the celebrated Montauk Club in Brooklyn, and it is in the Tudor Revival Style.
from September 12th, 2009
Grand Street – North East – photo by Mitch Waxman
Gaze upon the coils of the dragon and despair.
Scuttling like some Kafkaesque cliche’- away from those tremulous revelations manifested just up the street in DUMABO- at the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge over the English Kills- around soiled patches of broken pavement and across a sandy substrate of glittering and powderized glass- between towering fencelines whose attendant armies of guardian birds voicing their mocking cry of “Ia, IA” or “tekeli-li” – the Grand Street Bridge is suddenly risen above the Newtown Creek’s miasmic banks- and your humble narrator falls unabashedly to the tainted ground before it. This is a standing stone, an ancient artifact, and like the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge- an urban talisman of those days when the Tiger came to the Newtown Pentacle.
from October 15th, 2009
LO… Behold and tremble, for the Newtown Pentacle is back in session.
- photo by Mitch Waxman
A fitting temple has been erected to an ancient goddess by the redoubtable engineers of the DEP, a shining secular cathedral which looms over storied Greenpoint, this is the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (referred to as the NCWWTP from this point on), whose guarded interiors were revealed to an eager public via the auspices of the 2009 Open House New York event.
from November 13, 2009
- photo by Mitch Waxman
Near the crest of one of Calvary Cemetery’s hills, can be found what I’ve described in previous posts as “a tree that is fed by some morbid nutrition”.
A convenient afternoon vantage point for photographing the Johnston mausoleum and a frequent destination, a Hallowmas (nov. 1) stroll through Calvary revealed some interesting goings on beneath the swollen boughs of this loathsome landmark.
note: I returned the following Sunday (nov. 7) for further observations, to this alien vista of titan blocks and sky flung monoliths.
from December 1, 2009
- photo by Mitch Waxman
What would appear to be a Jewish section of the vast funerary complex that is 2nd and 3rd Calvary Cemeteries, is actually a distinct cemetery organized as and referred to as Mount Zion.
It made a convenient hiding spot for me one day when a group of children on Maurice Avenue took notice of me and began to follow me around. The possibility of some vaguely malign intention toward me, on their part, caused a near faint and I ran away- here’s what happened.
Narrow, juvenile faces, their appearance and aspect were dominated by a toothy grimace- much wider than the usual proportion- and oddly jowled chins. The corners of their mouths stretched to mid cheek and passed well beyond the bulging center point of those widely set and unblinking milky blue eyes- which I attribute to the possibly mutagenic qualities of the chemical pollution of that nearby extinction of hope called the Newtown Creek.
A little girl amongst them, barefoot and carrying a polydactyl calico which was buzzing with attention, pointed me out and all the other odd looking children turned and stared in my direction. A vast physical coward, and unable to withstand even the thought of defending myself against a crowd of 10 year olds, your humble narrator screamed a shrill shriek and broke into a clumsy run to make an escape to hallowed ground.
from January 31st, 2010
Queensboro Bridge and associated structures- “The Great Machine” – photo by Mitch Waxman
Queensboro, whose steel has cantilevered the flow of traffic to the shining city from the fabled vastness of the Long Island since 1909, is merely the focal point of a polyglot mechanism whose works spread into the east. The backbone of New York City runs through the marshy hillocks of western Queens.
As I’ve said in the past:
Airports, railroad yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle are festooned with heavy industry and the toll taken on the health of both land and population is manifest. A vast national agglutination of technologies and a sprawl of transportation arteries stretching across the continent are all centered on Manhattan- which is powered, fed, and flushed by that which may be found around a shimmering ribbon of abnormality called the Newtown Creek.
Light rail (subway) and vehicle traffic focus toward Queens Plaza, and within a three mile radius of this place can be found- the East River subway tunnels, the Midtown Tunnel, multiple ferry docks, and the titanSunnyside Rail Yard which connects to the Hells Gate Rail Bridge. This “Great Machine” is the motive engine that allows millions to enter and leave Manhattan on a daily and reliable schedule from North Brooklyn, Queens, Suffolk and Nassau Counties. The great endeavor called “The East Side Access Project” and its associated tunneling is also occurring nearby, which will terminate at a planned LIRR station sited for the corner of Queens Blvd. and Skillman Avenue.
from February 6th, 2010
Red Crow van spotted – photo by Mitch Waxman
Returning from a trip to Third Calvary Cemetery the other day (searching for Gilman) to my Astoria, I came across this red van with a disturbingly heterogeneous collection of mattresses affixed to it. This red van is a familiar sight around the neighborhood, personal conveyance of a Crow. For clarity and codification lords and ladies, this gentleman shall be referred to as “Red Crow”, here at your Newtown Pentacle.
from March 15th, 2010
- photo by Mitch Waxman
He died alone, squirming in agony, surrounded by strangers. His last friend and only true colleague had recently used a colt handgun to commit suicide, and the only woman he ever loved had left him years ago. Instead he lay there alone in the charity ward- dying in anonymity and pain as his parents had. An orphan raised by matron aunts who indulged and spoiled the strange child who came to them in their dotage- they left him unprepared for adulthood. He retreated into his letters, wrote his stories, and never knew he would live on in the dreams of the sensitive and artistic forever more.
Just 14 months previous to his death, the newspapers detailed the lurid crimes of Albert Fish- the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, The Boogeyman- who was executed at SingSing. The good old days, indeed.
from April 3rd, 2010
- photo by Mitch Waxman
Note: One of those things that your humble narrator is guilty of is a tendency, when confronted with something alien or unknown, to “fill in the blanks” via an inexact mixing of logical supposition and impressionist reasoning. The opposite of exactitude, this can result in wild ideas and false assumptions being presented and accepted as fact. I would love to tell you which cultic group these artifacts belong to- but the fact is that I just don’t know. Certain assumptions can be hazarded, based on cursory resemblance and observed phenomena, but they will be guesses. Don’t assume my interpretation of things is correct.
from May 22, 2010
- photo by Mitch Waxman
This is not a dead place, this Creek which forms the currently undefended border between much of Brooklyn and Queens, despite wholly inaccurate statements to the contrary recently presented by major publications. To begin with, there is the teeming human infestation, whose population is in the millions. Additionally- migratory birds, invertebrate and vertebrate water fauna, and an enormous hidden population of higher mammals lurk amongst the canalized shorelines of the Newtown Creek.
from the nytimes.com- an article that gets a lot of things completely wrong, which is surprising for the times, and seems to be shilling against “Big Oil”
People don’t often think of urban creeks as biodiverse waterways, but Newtown Creek was once a rich tidal estuary popular among hunters and fishermen. Starting in the 1870s, however, Standard Oil and other refineries began spilling or dumping excess fuels and toxic chemicals into the water or onto the soil, slowly poisoning the ecosystem.
We are just getting started, Lords and Ladies, on this very bumpy ride through the realities of the Newtown Pentacle.