The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Gods Gift to Pain

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Please click through to Flickr and the larger incarnations of the above shot- it’s composed of 7 photos stitched together. Thats 7 fifteen megapixel shots and its HUGE – photo by Mitch Waxman

That extinction of hope called the Newtown Creek enjoys a series of canalized industrial waterways which act as tributaries to its main course. In the past we have visited Dutch Kills, Whale Creek, Maspeth Creek… today, it’s time for a visit to the vicious end of it all.

note: This post violates a number of the rules followed by this, your Newtown Pentacle, regarding rail tracks and probable trespass of private property… yet my hypocrisy knows no bounds. Realize, however, that I was with learned company- individuals overly familiar with this area, its mores, and the rail schedules. Do not come here, especially by yourself- for reasons later explained in this very post!

Welcome to the poison heartlands of New York City, where foul ichors flow freely, and English Kills bubbles in the afternoon sun.

from wikipedia

Newtown Creek is a 3.5 mi (6 km) estuary that forms part of the border between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, in New York City, New York, United States. It derives its name from New Town (Nieuwe Stad), which was the name for the Dutch and British settlement in what is now Elmhurst, Queens. Channelization made it one of the most heavily used bodies of water in the Port of New York and New Jersey and thus one of the most polluted industrial sites in America, containing years of discarded toxins, an estimated 30 million gallons of spilled oil, and raw sewage from New York City’s sewer system. Newtown Creek was proposed as a potential Superfund site in September 2009.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is as bad as it gets, one of the few places along the Creek where exposure to the water is life threatening in the short term.

Sure, if you fall off the Grand Avenue Bridge, you’re going to experience broad spectrum antibiotics administered intravenously over the course of a week or two in the hospital- but this stuff is pure dragon blood.

Nauseous miasmas were luckily carried away by stiff breezes, but several times- your humble narrator felt one of his spells coming on.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Up until the latter part of the 20th Century, industries along the creek had free reign over the disposal of unwanted byproducts. With little-to-no government regulation or knowledge of impacts on human health and the environment, it made business sense to pollute the creek. The legacy of this history today is a 17 million gallon underground oil spill caused by Standard Oil’s progeny companies—7 million gallons more than the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, copper contamination of the Phelps Dodge superfund site, bubbling from the creek bed in the English Kill reach due to increases of hydrogen sulfide and a lack of dissolved oxygen, and creekbeds coated with of old tires, car frames, seats and loose paper. Nearly the entire creek had the sheen and smell of petroleum, with the bed and banks slicked black.

There is no natural freshwater flow into the creek as the historic tributaries were covered over. Flow exclusively consists of contaminated stormwater runoff, carrying trash from numerous bridges, unsewered and wholly paved streets and industrial sites, waste transfer stations, and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from the city’s sewer system. Moreover, severely toxic groundwater seeps through the bed and banks of the creek. Every year Newtown Creek receives 14,000 million gallons of combined sewage overflow, a mixture of rainwater runoff, raw domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater that overwhelms treatment plants every time it rains. There are also discharges from numerous permitted and unpermitted pollution sources. The creek is mostly stagnant, meaning all the pollutants that have entered the creek over the past two centuries have never left. The creek is also home to a federal Superfund site, several State Superfund sites and numerous brownfields that have not yet secured the attention of regulators.

All is not lost, however. Recently, life is returning to the creek. You can find blue crabs at the mouth, fish swim in its waters, and waterfowl are prevalent. Wetland plants are taking over the abandoned bulkheads and sediment piles and school children are growing oysters, which serve as natural water filters. The Newtown Creek Alliance is actively fighting to help life return to the creek by decreasing pollution and increasing the wetlands along the creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The sickly vegetation, everything, was pulsing with “the colour”. Neither black nor white nor gray, but somehow “shiny”, this alien colour – like something out of space- permeates and identifies the creeklands. Nothing moved, but seemed instead to sway against the wind instead of with it.

from bklyn-genealogy-info.com

In 1655, Director Stuyvesant being absent on an expedition against the Swedes on the Delaware, a horde of armed Indians landed at New Amsterdam, and began to break into houses for plunder. Driven back by the soldiers and armed citizens, they fell upon the unprotected Dutch farmers in the vicinity, many of whom were slain and others taken into captivity. The troubles experienced from the savages were now so alarming as to require the residents of Mespat Kills to concentrate for mutual safety. They, therefore, formed a village on “Smith’s Island,” at the English Kills. The Hon. Nicasius De Sille, who had a patent for the island, had the direction of the new settlement, and called it Aernhem after his native place.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dead things were observed in the filth, amongst other unidentifiable shapes and eyeless tubiforms that slithered and flopped and listened from the littoral mud. A vague sense of being watched affected my guides and I, and the loneliness of our location created a sense of certain misgivings which was both real and profound. Nevertheless, I continued my incessant photography, trying to make the best of limited access.

from The Eastern District of Brooklyn By Eugene L. Armbruster, via google books

BEYOND THE NEWTOWN CREEK

In the olden times the lands on both sides of Newtown Creek were most intimately connected. County lines were unknown, the creeks were dividing lines between the several plantations, for the reason that lands near a creek were taken up in preference to others, and the creeks were used in place of roads to transport the produce of the farms to the river, and thus it was made possible to reach the fort on Manhattan Island.

The territory along the Newtown Creek, as far as “Old Calvary Cemetery” and along the East River to a point about where the river is now crossed by the Queensboro bridge and following the line of the bridge past the plaza, was known as Dutch Kills. On the other side of Old Calvary was a settlement of men from New England and, therefore, named English Kills. The Dutch Kills and the English Kills, as well as the rest of the out-plantations along the East River, were settlements politically independent of each other and subject only to the Director-General and Council at Manhattan Island, but became some time later parts of the town of Newtown.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This place, the very end of English Kills in East Williamsburgh, is non navigable and well beyond the containment boom that is observable from the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. It hosts a rather large CSO (combined sewer outlet), and is crossed by a rail bridge which connects the massive Waste Management operation to infinite Brooklyn on one side and Queens on the other. The wooden structures which are so pleasingly posed, in their relict decay, are the remains of a former rail bridge which served the same purpose as the modern bridge.

The desk chair above is anybody’s guess.

from habitatmap.org

Combined Sewer Outfall – Newtown Creek 015

  • Address Johnson Ave., Brooklyn, NY
  • Neighborhood Newtown Creek
  • Owner/Occupant NYC DEP
  • Location Details Combined Sewer Overflow Outfall NC-015:
  • discharges 344.4M gallons per year into English Kills
  • Tier 2 outfall
  • Ranked 20 out of over 400 in terms of volume
  • located at Johnson Ave

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shores were littered with death and disposal, and I spotted this sad little duck perched out on one of the rail structures. It didn’t seem to be moving very much, and its posture suggested sickness.

The City of New York has plans for this area. Check out page 29 of this PDF

DEP proposes to construct a 9 million gallon CSO storage facility to improve water quality by reducing the CSO discharged into the English Kills during rain storms when the CSO exceeds the capacity of the combined sewers. When this occurs, the CSO would be bypassed to the storage facility.  At the end of the rain event the CSO would flow by gravity or be pumped back to the sewer system to be conveyed to the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) for treatment.  This system was recommended by the Newtown Creek Water Quality Facility Planning Project (WQFP), a study that was part of the Citywide Combined Sewer Overflow abatement program.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a close up of the duck, which is what I was shooting when my companions and I heard a series of voices and shuffling from the overgrown border of one of the warehouses that abuts the English Kills. Haste was made for a more advantageous position, as we were downhill and the water was at our backs. Strange gutterals were heard emanating from somewhere back in the forbidden brush, a sound almost reminiscent of a dog or bear attempting to speak as a man might- an imitation of speech rather than true use of language.

from epa.gov

Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek.

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.  Since then, a number of government sponsored cleanups of the creek have taken place. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has sampled sediment and surface water at a number of locations along the creek since 1980.  In 2009, EPA will further sample the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries.  The samples will be analyzed for a wide range of industrial contaminants.  EPA will use the data collected to define the nature of the environmental problems associated with Newtown Creek as a whole.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

2 men, whose macabre appearance and bizarre style of dress took me aback, emerged from down this trail. Something odd was happening back there, and it was decided that discretion was the best part of valor, and we prepared to exit. Allowing the two men to gain some distance from us (I did not photograph them, out of cowardice) I swung my camera back toward the water and the Waste Management fenceline just as music began to play somewhere back in this wood of suspicion and horror.

from wikipedia

Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE: WM) is a waste management, comprehensive waste, and environmental services company in North America. The company is headquartered in Suite 4000 at the First City Tower in Downtown Houston, Texas, in the United States.

The company’s network includes 367 collection operations, 355 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, 111 beneficial-use landfill gas projects and 6 independent power production plants. Waste Management offers environmental services to nearly 20 million residential, industrial, municipal and commercial customers in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With 21,000 collection and transfer vehicles, the company has the largest trucking fleet in the waste industry. Together with its competitor Republic Services, Inc, the two handle more than half of all garbage collection in the United States.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I shot this photo figuring it to be the end of this post, but that’s when I noticed it…

from wikipedia

The eastern half of East Williamsburg, roughly bounded by the Newtown Creek East and by the BQE and Flushing Avenue on the North and South, is mostly zoned for industry with some residential housing mixed among the warehouses and factories. The section is currently referred to by the city as the East Williamsburg Industrial Park (EWIP), or formally the East Williamsburg In-Place Industrial Park (EWIPIP)[8]. The western boundary runs approximately along Kinsgland Ave, then Morgan Avenue and then just East of Bushwick Avenue.

The EWIP is one of eight In-Place Industrial Parks in New York City and is managed by the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation (EWVIDCO), a company founded in 1982 with the goal of revitalizing East Williamsburg by attracting new businesses, providing business assistance to existing firms and grow overall job opportunities in the neighborhood

Historically, this neighboorhood was not part of the Village of Williamsburgh. In the late 1800s the region east of Smith Street (now Humboldt Street), west of the Newtown Creek, south of Meeker Avenue (now the BQE service road)), and north of Metropolitan Avenue was the 18th ward of the City of Brooklyn[10]. The north part of the EWIP is served by the Greenpoint Post Office and is considered by some to be part of Greenpoint. The portion of the EWIP to the South of Metropolitan Avenue was historically part of Bushwick and is still referred by many as being in Bushwick.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I really have no idea what this is about, and I have read every crackpot theory that has ever been concocted. It very well could just be “ironic” hipster graffiti. I really don’t know, but it’s here at the end of English Kills, where at least two VERY odd characters are camped out. The things I noticed about these two fellows, you see, was this…

Two skinny white guys, late 40’s- early 50’s. Gray hair, both of them. They walked kind of stiff, and they had the colour on them. They lived back there, was my impression. A lot of “down on their luck” people live in these kinds of places- that’s not odd. What was odd- every item of clothing they were wearing still had price tags on them, and their shoes weren’t placed on their feet correctly- one of them had the left foot in the right shoe and so on. It was as if they weren’t used to wearing the clothing of men- or at least the men of this era.

from wikipedia

While it is generally accepted that some homeless people in large cities do indeed make use of accessible, abandoned underground structures for shelter, urban legends persist that make stronger assertions. These include claims that ‘mole people’ have formed small, ordered societies similar to tribes, numbering up to hundreds living underground year-round. It has also been suggested that they have developed their own cultural traits and even have electricity by illegal hook-up. The subject has attracted some attention from sociologists but is a highly controversial subject due to a lack of evidence.

Jennifer Toth’s 1993 book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City, [1] written while she was an intern at the Los Angeles Times, is allegedly a true account of travels in the tunnels and interviews with tunnel dwellers. The book helped canonize the image of the mole people as an ordered society living literally under people’s feet, reminiscent of the Morlocks of science fiction writer H.G. Wells.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As the sign at English Kills says, the one with the little pitchfork in the lower left hand corner:

“In Gods Blessed Darkness Rambo Harnesses Light as Gods Gift to Pain”.

Bigskybrooklyn got some shots of the place during the defoliated winter, which shows a shack back there- check them out.

from nyc.gov

New York City has an estimated 3,306 unsheltered individuals according to HOPE 2008-a ratio of 1 unsheltered homeless individual to 2,485* of the general city population. San Francisco has a 1 in 269 ratio; followed by Seattle with 1 in 295; Miami-Dade County with 1 in 1,741; and Chicago with 1 in 1,798.

There were an estimated 1,263 unsheltered individuals in Manhattan; 279 in the Bronx; 336 in Brooklyn; 135 in Queens; and 152 in Staten Island for a total of 2,165 on the surface (meaning streets and parks). There were 1,141 unsheltered individuals in the subways. Additionally, the Single Adult Shelter Census showed a decline by 19 percent from 8,687 in 2005 to 6,998 in 2008.

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8 Responses

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  1. [...] were most likely trespassing- which violates Newtown Pentacle policy. The title of the post- “Gods Gift to Pain” was lifted from an enigmatic and appropriate bit of graffiti observed in this forgotten pace [...]

  2. [...] of English Kills in the 3rd ward of Williamsburg, known to modernity as East Williamsburg. God’s gift to pain is found in this direction, and this image signals that my unremembered and unconscious walk had [...]

  3. [...] a witch’s brew of worst case scenarios are to be found all along the Creek- and especially in the section of English Kills which lies beyond DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue [...]

  4. [...] of graffiti, these puzzling bits of signage were observed on a well painted wall. Like the “God’s Gift to Pain” graffiti at the end of English Kills, however, they filled me with some nameless [...]

  5. [...] was no mere interested group and accordingly we entered into the heart of darkness- God’s Gift to Pain itself. This is as bad as it gets along the Newtown Creek, a stinking and fetid miasma poisoned [...]

  6. [...] is close to the cartographic end of the actual “Newtown Creek”, although the English Kills tributary slithers forth into Brooklyn and slouches roughly toward Bushwick from this spot. Truncated [...]

  7. [...] The water in English Kills, as always, was horrible to behold. It was a bit murkier than usual, as would be suspected, and a large amount of floatable trash was observed. Again, not unsurprising. There is a reason that my old pal Bernie Ente called this spot “the heart of darkness” and why I use “gods gift to pain“. [...]

  8. […] is close to the cartographic end of the actual “Newtown Creek”, although its English Kills tributary slithers out another 3/4 of a mile into Brooklyn, branching out south and then east toward […]


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