The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for July 2010

torment of the Brachyura

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator is a carnivore, as mentioned in the past, despite a somewhat advanced state of understanding of the realities of feedlot and abattoir.

Human beings are ultimately predatory apes, and the greasy taste of flesh is prized by most. Displays of comestible items are commonly observed amongst the human hives, but when one is moving through a neighborhood whose residents enjoy exotic fare- like Manhattan’s famous Chinatown in this case – the careful observer might be rewarded with visions of the fanciful or alien.

from wikipedia

Homo Necans: the Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth is a book on ancient Greek religion and mythology by Walter Burkert, which won the Weaver Award for Scholarly Literature, awarded by the Ingersoll Foundation, in 1992. The book’s core thesis is that when paleolithic man became a hunter, in spite of the generally omnivorous orientation of the great apes, lack of a predator instinct was made up for by turning patterns of intra-species aggression against the prey: Homo necans means “man the killer”. Thus, the animal hunted by ancient man automatically acquired aspects of an equal, as if it were of one of the hunter’s relations. In a first attempt at applying ethology to religious history, Burkert confronts the power and effect of tradition in uncovering traces of ancient hunting rituals so motivated in historical animal sacrifice and human sacrifice (by his thesis unified as deriving from the same fundamental principle) in specific historical Greek rituals with relevance to human religious behaviour in general. Burkert admitted that a decisive impulse for the thesis of Homo Necans derived from Konrad Lorenz’ On Aggression (1963).

The thesis set out in the first chapter, “Sacrifice, hunting and funerary rituals”, is an extension of the hunting hypothesis, which states that hunting as a means of obtaining food was a dominant influence on human evolution and cultural development (as opposed to gathering vegetation or scavenging). The guilt incurred in the violence of the hunt was reflected in sacred crimes, which through rituals of cleansing and expiation served to unify communities.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A carnivorous glutton your humble narrator may be, but empathy and indignation arose in him when confronted with this display.

Sure that this is a time tested and necessary technique intended to display the freshness and nutritional validity of this cast of crustaceans, demanded by clientele, a certain bile nevertheless rises. Western prejudice no doubt colors my point of view, as the same overt revulsion does not rise at the sight of a counter of European butchers meat.

Paradoxical, but to my reasoning, there isn’t a display of crucified and disemboweled cows overhanging the refrigerated section at the supermarket. Vegan friends would disagree, but I guess it depends on your point of view, and “Krabs ain’t Kosher” either.

from wikipedia

Crabs make up 20% of all marine crustaceans caught, farmed, and consumed worldwide, amounting to 1½ million tonnes annually. One species accounts for one fifth of that total: Portunus trituberculatus. Other commercially important taxa include Portunus pelagicus, several species in the genus Chionoecetes, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), Charybdis spp., Cancer pagurus, the Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) and Scylla serrata, each of which yields more than 20,000 tonnes annually.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It really was just the simple fact that the Cast of Crabs in the bushel bucket beneath this macabre marquee were subtly scuttling which disturbed me and drew this comment.

I am also aware, of course, that given the chance- those in the basket would consume those above them with abandon.

from wikipedia

The problem of animal suffering, and animal consciousness in general, arises primarily because animals have no language, leading scientists to argue that it is impossible to know when an animal is suffering. This situation may change as increasing numbers of chimps are taught sign language, although skeptics question whether their use of it portrays real understanding. Singer writes that, following the argument that language is needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain. All we can do is observe pain behavior, he writes, and make a calculated guess based on it. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued, if someone is screaming, clutching a part of their body, moaning quietly, or apparently unable to function, especially when followed by an event that we believe would cause pain in ourselves, that is in large measure what it means to be in pain.[98] Singer argues that there is no reason to suppose animal pain behavior would have a different meaning.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

symbolism and phantasm

with one comment

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another item in my “catch-up” file was when I got to witness the redoubtable employees of Consolidated Edison blowing off some steam at the South Street Seaport back in June.

from wikipedia

SS Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France for the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built.

Her novel design and lavish interiors led many to consider her the greatest of ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. During service as the flagship of the CGT, she made 139 transatlantic crossings westbound from her home port of Le Havre to New York and one fewer return. Normandie held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing at several points during her service career, during which the RMS Queen Mary was her chief rival.

During World War II, Normandie was seized by the United States authorities at New York and renamed USS Lafayette. In 1942, the liner caught fire while being converted to a troopship, capsized and sank at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal. Although salvaged at great expense, restoration was deemed too costly and she was scrapped in October 1946.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A zone of the greater city that I normally avoid like the plague, South Street Seaport is a tourist mecca which also happens to host a museum. Said museum had initiated an event wherein the vast sonics of the legendary SS Normandie would be activated and displayed for the public.

from youtube

and at travelfilmarchive.com there’s this great newsreel clip that tells the Normandie story

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineers of ConEd informed me that these pipes and hoses were connected into the high pressure steam lines that underlie lower Manhattan, and were carrying 150 PSI of steam to the Normadie’s whistle.

The NY Times folks were in attendance, apparently, so here’s what the professionals said.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Knowing the effects that high pressure steam might evince upon the human body, I stepped backwards a few feet, but in reality- if anything went wrong, there would be pieces of me found across the river in Brooklyn.

from wikipedia

The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Consolidated Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world, now known as Con Edison Steam Operations, providing steam service to nearly 2,000 customers and serving more than 100,000 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan to 96th Street uptown. Roughly 30 billion lbs. (just under 13.64 megatons) of steam flow through the system every year.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A small crowd of dignitaries gathered, and the ConEd guys gave the go ahead for the Normandie’s phantom to sound its voice.

from wikipedia

Regular cricket matches were held near Fulton Market in 1780 when the British Army based itself in Manhattan during the American Revolution. Robert Fulton became famous for his steamship in 1809 though he did spend time in Paris during the American Revolution.

Fulton Street is named for Robert Fulton, an engineer instrumental in the development of steam ships in the United States. Ferries connected Manhattan across the East River to Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

The street has a Beaux-Arts architectural feel with many buildings dating back to the Gilded Age or shortly thereafter. The early 19th century buildings on the south side of the easternmost block are called Schermerhorn Row and are a Registered Historic Place.

The Fulton Fish Market was located nearby at the South Street Seaport until 2005, when it moved to Hunts Point in The Bronx.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At this distance, as the scalar waves of sound were reflecting off the building walls and masonry clad street, it sounded for all the world as if the gates of hell had just fallen off their hinges and that demon trumpeters were signaling the impending war of apocalypse.

from wikipedia

A steam whistle is a device used to produce sound with the aid of live steam, which acts as a vibrating system [1] (compare to train horn). The whistle consists of the following main parts, as seen on the drawing: the whistle bell (1), the steam orifice or aperture (2), and the valve (9).

When the lever (10) is pulled, the valve opens and lets the steam escape through the orifice. The steam will alternately compress and rarefy in the bell, creating the sound. The pitch, or tone, is dependent on the length of the bell; and also how far the operator has opened the valve. Some locomotive engineers invented their own style of whistling.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator has often found himself vulnerable and sensitive to high volumes, and has noted a curious phenomena in the presence of extreme loudness. The visual field narrows, as one’s brain attempts to make sense of the overload of auditory information, which has been remarked upon scientifically by insurance industry specialists who describe a similar effect when one drives an automobile with loud music playing and it’s corollary of higher accident rates.

from straightdope.com

It’s been well documented that jets of high-pressure gas (which is what superheated steam is) can cause injuries even without the added complication of heat. OSHA warns against possible amputation from high-pressure gas and limits air pressure for industrial cleaning to 30 PSI. High-pressure gases can easily penetrate the skin, especially via an existing cut or wound, and potentially lead to gas embolism–bubbles in the bloodstream that can migrate to the heart, lungs, or brain and cause serious trouble. U.S. Army medical reports tell of numerous gas-penetration injuries suffered during training with blank firearm rounds. Just 12 PSI can likely pop your eyeball from its socket. Less than 80 PSI of air from 12 inches away reportedly swelled up a woodworker’s hand “to the size of a grapefruit.” One source reports that high-pressure nitrogen cut into a worker’s leg like a knife, and other references warn that high-pressure gases can cut fingers, toes, and other body parts. Again, I didn’t find an actual case of high-pressure gas cutting anyone in half, but it’s not going out on much of a limb to say it sure would smart.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Such incidences of altered perception are commonly encountered at festival concerts, and military science is exploring the strategic use of sonics as we speak. Modern Cruise ships are equipped with sonic devices used to deter piracy, and the United States military possesses an inventory of experimental “non lethal” sonics.

from wikipedia

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a crowd-control and hailing device developed by LRAD Corporation.

According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the equipment weighs 45 pounds (20 kg) and can emit sound in a 30° beam (only at high frequency, 2.5 kHz) from a device 83 centimetres (33 in) in diameter. At maximum level, it can emit a warning tone that is 146 dBSPL (1,000 W/m2) at 1 metre. The maximum usable design range extends to 300 metres. At 300 metres, the warning tone (measured) is less than 90 dB.

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a crowd-control and hailing device developed by LRAD Corporation.According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the equipment weighs 45 pounds (20 kg) and can emit sound in a 30° beam (only at high frequency, 2.5 kHz) from a device 83 centimetres (33 in) in diameter. At maximum level, it can emit a warning tone that is 146 dBSPL (1,000 W/m2) at 1 metre. The maximum usable design range extends to 300 metres. At 300 metres, the warning tone (measured) is less than 90 dB.

Note: Friend of the Pentacle, chronicler of the sixth borough. and oddly peaceful guy Will Van Dorp from tugster was standing right next to me when he recorded the following video.

Now, I didn’t ask him if it was OK to link to his video, but I don’t think he’ll mind if y’all just take a peek…

harbor shots

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the start of June, your humble narrator was offered the rare chance to act as… a humble narrator.

Nobody of more august character was available, I supposed, when the Working Harbor Committee asked me if I would be interested in speaking during a Circle Line cruise.

Wow.

from wikipedia

Circumnavigation of Manhattan became possible in 1905 with the construction of the Harlem Ship Canal, the first regularly scheduled trip being the Tourist captained by John Roberts in 1908.

On June 15, 1945 Frank Barry, Joe Moran and other partners merged several sightseeing boats to form the Circle Line operating out of Battery Park.

In 1955 it began operating at its current Pier 83 location. In 1962 it bought the Hudson River Day Line.

In 1981 the two companies split.

In 1988 the 42nd Street company bought World Yachts operating upscale dining cruises from Chelsea Piers. In 1998 the 42nd Street company also launched The Beast, a speedboat ride which takes tourists around the Statue of Liberty and goes 45 mph.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An eerie quiet came over me when the microphone was first passed over, and panic quickly overcame any attempt at “being cool”. Luckily, veteran MC John Doswell of the Working Harbor Committee rescued a drowning man. By the second tour of the day, I managed to catch a little of his “vibe” and followed the narrative he supplied after my disappointing showing on the first tour. While John was speaking I managed to grab a few interesting shots. The fireboat above, for instance, is the FDNY’s newly minted 343 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

from nycfireboat.com

Because of the very real threat of additional terrorist attacks after 9/11/01, the boats will also be capable of protecting firefighters from Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear agents (CBRN). While performing in any of these hostile environments, the crew will be protected in a pressurized area that will also have it’s air supply filtered by special charcoal and HEPA filters.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, the Empire State Building commands the scene from both the East River…

from wikipedia

The South Street Seaport is a historic area in the New York City borough of Manhattan, located where Fulton Street meets the East River, and adjacent to the Financial District. The Seaport is a designated historic district, distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, and modern tourist malls featuring food, shopping and nightlife, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. At the entrance to the Seaport is the Titanic Memorial lighthouse.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

And from the North- or lower Hudson- River. There is a satisfaction to the design of this structure, a governing and massive esthetic that has always drawn me. Center stage is where it belongs, IMHO, with the rest of the skyline of Manhattan descending in bilateral asymmetries around it. Empire State and its nearby rival- the Chrysler Building- are what skyscrapers should look like.

from wikipedia

The building design most closely associated with New York City is the skyscraper, whose introduction and widespread adoption saw New York buildings shift from the low-scale European convention to the vertical rise of business districts.

As of August 2008, New York City has 5,538 highrise buildings,[70] with 50 completed skyscrapers taller than 656 feet (200 m). This is more than any other city in United States, and second in the world behind Hong Kong. New York has architecturally noteworthy buildings in a wide range of styles. These include the Woolworth Building (1913), an early gothic revival skyscraper built with massively scaled gothic detailing able to be read from street level several hundred feet below. The 1916 Zoning Resolution required setback in new buildings, and restricted towers to a percentage of the lot size, to allow sunlight to reach the streets below.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Traffic observed on the Hudson included this tug, the Shannon Dann heading South. 96 feet long, 31 feet high, and blessed with 2 2,400 HP engines- it’s hitched to a Lehigh Cement barge, slipping it past the Marine and Aviation Pier. Shots like these hang on the Empire State building, which says New York City louder than any banner headline could.

from lehighcement.com

Lehigh Cement Company was founded in 1897 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Over the years, through a visionary policy of acquisitions, equipment modernization and productivity improvements, Lehigh Cement Company and its related companies have become leading suppliers of cements and construction materials in the United States and Canada.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Also noticed was the Vane Brothers Nanticoke, a 2004 vintage tug nearly 95 feet long with 4,800 HP purring under its hood. Again- no Empire State Building- Meh shot.

from vanebrothers.com

The Vane Brothers Company has served the maritime industry in the Port of Baltimore and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard for more than 100 years. Today, we are comprised of five divisions operating out of the ports of Baltimore, Maryland; Brooklyn, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Norfolk, Virginia.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Chelsea Piers in the fore. By the end of the second tour, I thought that I hit some kind of rhythm and felt better about my performance. Ultimately your humble narrator was able to forget his troubles for a moment, as it was quite a beautiful day.

from wikipedia

Chelsea Piers is a series of historic piers on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City that was a passenger ship terminal in the early 1900s that was used by the RMS Lusitania and was the destination of the RMS Titanic.

The piers are currently used by the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex. The new complex includes film and television production facilities, including those for CBS College Sports Network and Food Network, a health club, a day spa, the city’s largest training center for gymnastics, two basketball courts, playing fields for indoor lacrosse and soccer, batting cages, a rock climbing wall and dance studios. In addition there is an AMF Bowling center, a golf club with multi-story driving range, and two full sized ice rinks for skating. It is located in the Chelsea neighborhood, on the northern edge of Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District.

Bottle Alley

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Baxter Street just past Leonard, I noticed this woman tending a little fire. She was part of a small group who were gathered at the Baxter Street side of the Mulberry Bend, where Jacob Riis described Bottle Alley. Getty Images has a watermarked preview image of the place, as photographed by Jacob Riis in 1901 here.

from wikipedia

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. Distinct from both the Qingming Festival (in Spring) and Chung Yeung Festival (in Autumn) in which living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, on Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Far eastern correspondent Armstrong happened to be with me this day, welcome company for my otherwise lonely walks, and informed me that this lady was burning “ghost items”- but that it was the wrong season for the Hungry Ghosts. Armstrong further iterated that someone dear to this lady had either died recently, or that it might be the anniversary of a death. Suddenly, your humble narrator remembered an enigmatic fixture observed within the section of St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria which is remarkable for the quantity of monuments which display asiatic scripts. Also, this is a photo of an offering of “ghost bucks“, also at St. Michael’s.

also from wikipedia

The Ghost Festival is celebrated during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community. During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a send-off. They have long needle-thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members offer prayers to their deceased relatives, offer food and drink and burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as an offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. The afterlife is very similar in some aspects to the material world, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.[2] Families also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Photography makes you rude, exposing the nosey side of your personality- the “yenta”. You’re not just prying into someone else’s life, you are actually recording it and signing your name under their moment as “photgrapher”. Perhaps you really do steal a piece of someone’s soul when you take their picture… it would certainly explain why the politicians and Mel Gibson are the way they are.

Your humble narrator, who was once actually chased across Astoria by a crowd of old Greek ladies screaming “terrorist… camera… terrorist”, has learned the best thing to do is smile and feign genuine connection when they turn around and catch me. This is hard for me- a direct interaction with a stranger- but I’ve observed how humans act, and can create a convincing simulacra of the behavior set.

I’ve been told, though, that my attempt at acting nice is rather creepy- mainly this, but mixed with some of this and a smidge of that.

from wikipedia

There are many superstitions and taboos surrounding the Hungry Ghost Festival. Spirits are thought to be dangerous, and can take many forms, including snakes, moths, birds, foxes, wolves, and tigers. Some can even use the guise of a beautiful man or woman to seduce and possess. One story refers to a ghost who makes the form of a pretty girl and seduces a young man until a priest intervenes and sends the spirit back to hell. Possession can cause illness and/or mental disorders. During the 7th month children are advised (usually by an elder in the family) to be home before dark, and not to wander the streets at night for fear a ghost might possess them. Swimming is thought to be dangerous as well, as spirits are believed to have drowned people. People will generally avoid driving at night, for fear of a “collision”, or spiritual offence, which is any event leading to illness or misfortune. While “ghosts” is a common term used throughout the year, many people take on the phrase “backdoor god” or “good brother” instead so as not to anger the gods. Another thing to avoid is sampling any of the food placed on the offering table, as doing this can result in “mysterious illness”. Any person attending a show at an indoor entertainment venue (Getais) will notice the first row of chairs is left empty. These seats are reserved for the spirits, and it is considered bad form to sit in them. After an offering has been burnt to the spirits, stepping on or near the burnt area should be avoided, as it is considered an “opening” to the spirit world and touching it may cause the person to be possessed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The photo I’m not showing is the one after this, where this woman shot me a polite and slightly shy grin. I went on my way, hoping to minimize my intrusions, as she had ghosts that needed feeding.

from wikipedia

Yan Wang (traditional Chinese: 閻王), also called Yanluo (traditional Chinese: 閻羅) is the god of death and the sovereign of the underworld. He is also the judge of the underworld, and decides whether the dead will have good or miserable future lives. Although ultimately based on the god Yama of the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Yan Wang has developed different myths and different functions from the Hindu deity. Yan Wang is normally depicted wearing a Chinese judge’s cap in Chinese and Japanese art. He sometimes appears on Chinese Hell Bank Notes.

Guǐ (鬼) is the general Chinese term for ghost, used in combination with other symbols to give related meanings such as gweilo (鬼佬), literally “ghost man”, used to refer to white people, and mogwai (魔鬼) meaning “devil”. Derived symbols such as 魇 (chui) meaning “nightmare” also carry related meanings. There are many types of Guǐ:

  • Diào Sǐ Guǐ (吊死鬼): The ghost of someone who has been hanged, either in execution or suicide
  • Yóu Hún Yě Guǐ (游魂野鬼):
  • The wandering ghost who has died far away from his/her hometown or family, especially when his/her body and spirit haven’t been sent back to home.
  • The wandering ghost of the dead, including vengeful spirits who take their revenge, hungry ghosts and playful spirits who may cause trouble during the Hungry Ghost Festival.
  • Guǐ Pó (鬼婆): A ghost that takes the form of a kind and friendly old woman. They may be the spirits of servants who used to work for rich families, and who have returned to help around the house.
  • Nǚ Guǐ (女鬼): The ghost of a woman who has committed suicide due to some injustice such as being wronged or sexually abused. She returns to take her revenge.
  • Yuān Guǐ (冤鬼): The ghost of someone who have died a wrongful death. They roam the world of the living, depressed and restless, seeking to have their grievances redressed.
  • Shuǐ Guǐ (水鬼): The spirit of someone who drowned and continues living in the water. They attack unsuspecting victims by dragging them underwater and drowning them to take possession of the victim’s body.
  • Wú Tóu Guǐ (无头鬼): A headless ghost who roams about aimlessly.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm

vital principles

with 2 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is Mosco Street, corner of Mulberry. Once upon a time, this was one of the Five Points.

from forgotten-ny.com

The notorious Old Brewery was located on Cross Street just southwest of Five Points at Anthony (now Baxter) and Orange (now Worth) Streets. It was renamed Park Street in the late 1800s. The city replaced the crowded tenements in the area partially due to the pleas of reformer Jacob Riis; the street was named for Columbus Park, which replaced the slums.

Today, Cross/Park Street, which in the 1840s had run continuously from Reade Street near Elm (now Lafayette) to Mott, has been mostly wiped out, first by Columbus Park and then by the New York County Courthouse in 1926. The last remaining section, between Mulberry and Mott Streets, was renamed Mosco Street in 1982 for Lower East Side community activist Frank Mosco.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Fascinated by the municipal powers that were, this is where the other half lived, and the reason that grandparents all over Brooklyn and Queens admonished their successors to avoid “downtown”. A shudder would rifle through my own grandfather whenever the subject of dining in Chinatown or Little Italy would come up, and he wanted nothing to do with the Lower East Side. There was a reason that he settled the family in the then tony city of Brooklyn, with its vast oceanic skies and its convention of siting structures in the center of a “lot” to facilitate and provide yard space.

from r2.gsa.gov

Named for the points created by the intersection of Park, Worth, and Baxter streets, the neighborhood was known as a center of vice and debauchery throughout the nineteenth century. Outsiders found Five Points threatening and fodder for lurid prose. Describing a visit in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote: “This is the place: these narrow ways diverging to the right and left, and reeking every where with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruit here as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays. Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright in lieu of going on all-fours? and why they talk instead of grunting?”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the reputation and hazards of Manhattan’s immigrant neighborhoods, it was still a difficult endeavor to get my Grandmother and her sisters to leave the city for the “country”.

The grand nature of early 20th century architecture in the outer boroughs, as extensively commented on by our friends at Forgotten-ny and other antiquarian blogs, was necessitated by the reluctance felt by a generation of immigrants to leave “the city”. The reason that apartment houses in old LIC, and the entire East River coast of Brooklyn in fact, are so wonderfully appointed and decorated was to overcome this notion.

Migration south and east toward the Jamaica Bay, and points north and due east were also marked by distinctive and monumental structures- look at Ocean Parkway or the Grand Concourse for existing contemporaneous parables- compare with Long Island’s Sunrise Highway and the New Jersey Turnpike for modernity’s version.

from urbanography.com

When the landfill started to decay in the 1820’s the wood frame houses began to tilt over and sink. It became infested with mosquitoes and disease; the decent residents moved out, those who remained became impoverished and victims of slum lords, gangs and ruthless politicians looking for easy votes.  Personal safety was compromised and a person was in constant threat of being robbed or worse.  Beginning with the “Old Brewery” – a building that was converted to an apartment house, the floors were partitioned into small flats, rented to the poor and seedy characters.  Each room had whole families, cooking, eating, and sleeping in this one room.  It was a ghastly sight with squalid living conditions.  The same situation prevailed throughout the district – the lower floors usually for drinking, dancing, gambling, and riotous behavior.  Many people were robbed, beaten or shanghaied. In the cellars (they were called “cellar dwellers”) were the “oyster saloons,” which were kept open all night luring fresh, unsuspecting victims.  This neighborhood was a dangerous place to live in and visit.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This court house, to the best of my ability to scry the past, was pretty close to the site of the famous Five Points House of Industry, which should have stood in the spot where the small tree at the center of the shot stands.

A work house in the Dickensian caste and set piece for the movie and broadway adaptations of “Lil Orphan Annie“, it was a bleached presbyterian home for wastrel children who were called “Street Arabs” by the monied middle class which was horrified by the depravity of the early capitalist system. Simply put, it was an orphanage with a built in factory wherein the kids would earn their supper. Stories of the sometimes nefarious methods used by the kids otherwise, whether street performance, or joining a gang, made such institutions seem like the only hope for the children of Five Points. Despite the denominational nature of the institution, it was operated in a non sectarian manner due to the largely catholic population it served.

from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis at wikisource

Two powerful agents that were among the pioneers in this work of moral and physical regeneration stand in Paradise Park to-day as milestones on the rocky, uphill road. The handful of noble women, who braved the foul depravity of the Old Brewery to rescue its child victims, rolled away the first and heaviest bowlder; which legislatures and city councils had tackled in vain. The Five Points Mission and the Five Points House of Industry have accomplished what no machinery of government availed to do. Sixty thousand children have been rescued by them from the streets and had their little feet set in the better way. Their work still goes on, increasing and gathering in the waifs, instructing and feeding them, and helping their parents with advice and more substantial aid. Their charity knows not creed or nationality. The House of Industry is an enormous nursery-school with an average of more than four hundred day scholars and constant boarders–“outsiders” and “insiders.” Its influence is felt for many blocks around in that crowded part of the city. It is one of the most touching sights in the world to see a score of babies, rescued from homes of brutality and desolation, where no other blessing than a drunken curse was ever heard, saying their prayers in the nursery at bedtime. Too often their white night-gowns hide tortured little bodies and limbs cruelly bruised by inhuman hands. In the shelter of this fold they are safe, and a happier little group one may seek long and far in vain.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

You’ll really need to click through to the larger incarnation of this and the following shot. These are stitched panoramas, meaning that I took a series of photos from a single point, and used photoshop to blend them together into something that would normally require an extremely wide angle lens to capture otherwise. At flickr, you can view the “all sizes” versions and see the gargantuan originals. The above image is composed of 13 fifteen megapixel images, for instance.

You’re looking at the complex of courthouses and municipal buildings which the City erected over its shame, which is referred to as Foley Square or the Civic Center in modernity. Dead center of the shot is what I believe to be the actual Five Points.

also from How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis at wikisource

. . . Blocks were rented of real estate owners, or ‘purchased on time,’ or taken in charge at a percentage, and held for under-letting.” With the appearance of the middleman, wholly irresponsible, and utterly reckless and unrestrained, began the era of tenement building which turned out such blocks as Gotham Court, where, in one cholera epidemic that scarcely touched the clean wards, the tenants died at the rate of one hundred and ninety-five to the thousand of population; which forced the general mortality of the city up front l in 41.83 in 1815, to 1 in 27.33 in 1855, a year of unusual freedom from epidemic disease, and which wrung from the early organizers of the Health Department this wail: “There are numerous examples of tenement-houses in which are lodged several hundred people that have a pro rata allotment of ground area scarcely equal to two-square yards upon the city lot, court-yards and all included.” The tenement-house population had swelled to half a million souls by that time, and on the East Side, in what is still the most densely populated district in all the world, China not excluded, it was packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile, a state of affairs wholly unexampled.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This stitched panorama, which accomplishes something beyond the scope of the human visual range, is a complete circle of my vantage point on the corner of Baxter and Worth streets. Worth is at the left and far right of the composition, Baxter at the center and Columbus Park in the mid right.

from wikipedia

Foley Square is a green space in lower Manhattan, New York City. The space is formed by the intersection of Duane Street, Lafayette Street, Centre Street and Pearl Street, and — by extension — the surrounding area in lower Manhattan on the site of the historic Five Points neighborhood and is named after a prominent Tammany Hall district leader and local saloon owner, Thomas F. “Big Tom” Foley (1852-1925). Originally, the land that forms Foley Square was in the middle of Collect Pond, which was one of the original fresh water sources for the City of New York, but was drained and filled-in in 1811, by which time it had become severely polluted and implicated in typhus and cholera outbreaks.

Foley Square is dominated by its surrounding civic buildings, including the classic facades and colonnaded entrances of the 1933-built United States Courthouse, fronted by the Triumph of the Human Spirit Memorial by award-winning artist Lorenzo Pace, the New York County Supreme Court, the Church of St. Andrew, the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse (known before 2003 as the Foley Square Courthouse), where the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is based, the New York County Municipal Building, the Foley Square Federal Office Building and the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building and Court of International Trade.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

Project Firebox 8

leave a comment »

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This maladjusted servant of the City of Greater New York enjoys a tumultuous existence on 48th Avenue in Long Island City, not far from that tendril of cuprous cupidity known as Dutch Kills- a tributary waterway to the Newtown Creek. Your humble narrator has witnessed this firebox’s abuse filled duties for quite some time. It seems to be a regular target for trucks, and I’ve seen it reinserted into its assigned place several times. How do you not notice a big red box?

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 21, 2010 at 12:05 am

Bandits Roost, 2010

with 4 comments

- photo by Jacob Riis (or one of his associates) found in the public domain at wikipedia, of Bandits Roost- 59 1/2 Mulberry Street, 1888

This is one of those iconic images from the dawn of the photographic era, the sort upon which entire scholastic careers and political memes are based. It purports to show a group of street toughs at the Mulberry Bend, which Riis described as the very heart of the manifest evil that was Five Points. The part of the Lower East Side described in the 1980’s as “Alphabet City” was similarly described as hell on earth by politicians and journalists, but it was actually an ok place- which makes me wonder…

For the purposes of this post though, it is one of those truly rare historical captures that lists a street address, so I headed down to Mulberry and Bayard Streets to see if I could find the spot… however… Riis and his allies in the municipality oversaw the obliteration of Five Points and its wonders, and there is no 59 1/2 Mulberry street in modernity (entire streets were demapped, or had their names changed- the actual Mulberry Bend is now Columbus Park), so I was forced to get a little “batman” on this one…

from nycgovparks.org

Columbus Park was named in 1911 after Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), the Italian explorer credited with discovering America, or at least with awakening Europe to the opportunities there.  Bounded by Baxter (formerly Orange), Worth (formerly Anthony), Bayard, and Mulberry Streets, the site has alternatively been named Mulberry Bend Park, Five Points Park, and Paradise Park.  Columbus Park is situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan, adjacent to the infamous “Five Points” and “The Bend”.

Until 1808 the site for the park was a swampy area near the Collect Pond (now Foley Square) and hosted a set of tanneries.  In 1808 the pond was filled and became Pearl Street. When the filling began to sink, a foul odor emerged which depressed the living conditions of that neighborhood. As a consequence, the area became host to one of the world’s most notorious tenements, known for its wretched living conditions and rampant crime, earning such names as “murderer’s alley” and “den of thieves.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The east side of Mulberry Street still exists, and as evidenced above- this is 62 Mulberry- a modern day parking lot.

also from nycgovparks.org

Mulberry Bend Park was planned in the 1880’s by Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park.  Vaux saw this park as an opportunity to bring new life and order into the depressed neighborhood.  Riis remarked of Vaux’s newly designed park that it is “little less than a revolution” to see the slum housing replaced by trees and grass and flowers, and its dark hovels infused with light and sunshine and air.  The park opened in the summer of 1897, with bench-lined curved walkways and an expansive, open grassy area.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just next door- this is 60 Mulberry-

from focpny.org

We have a growing “RAT” problem at Columbus Park and the surrounding neighborhood. The Health Dept. has been doing “RAT” Indexing (research) and hear is what they are saying…

“Columbus Park after years remains a challenging situation………..

  • There is an extraordinary amount of food trash left in baskets each day and night;
  • abundance of litter within the park that does not get collected on a regular basis;
  • many restaurants along Mulberry Street place out their trash each night and the rats have easy access;
  • and the park is located over very old subterranean lines of sewer, and even old streams. These subsurface areas no doubt serve as partial replenishes for rat control achieved at surface level. Many of the restaurants on Mulberry have failed for having rats on their premises; and thus there is likely a back and forth swapping of the rats from Columbus Park to Mulberry Street basements.
  1. Baiting alone will NOT get this done. In fact, long term, it exacerbates it.
  2. There also appears to be a hawk which is using the park for easy pickings of the rats; and so the Parks Dept will need to weigh in on “the risk to the hawk” if any large scale baiting is done. They will need to make the call.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just next door- this is 58 Mulberry- so, spinning on my heels at that point equidistant between 58 and 60 Mulberry…

Coincidentally, 58 Mulberry has a back house, according to the NYCDOB, and is an “old law” tenement. Check out this nytimes.com article from 1881 which describes Mayor Grace’s tour of the block and includes a description of #56 Mulberry as “a tenement house of the worst class”. And also- this one which discusses the mortality rate on this block in 1884.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is 56 Mulberry today, but I’m uncertain as to whether this is the original structure which Grace visited.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This entrance to Columbus Park must be 59 1/2 Mulberry Street, Bandits Roost.

from wikipedia

Old Law Tenements are tenements built in New York City after the Tenement House Act of 1879 and before the so-called “New Law” of 1901.

The 1879 law required that every inhabitable room have a window opening to plain air, a requirement that was met by including air shafts between adjacent buildings. Old Law Tenements are commonly called “dumbbell tenements” after the shape of the building footprint: the air shaft gives each tenement the narrow-waisted shape of a dumbbell, wide facing the street and backyard, narrowed in between to create the air corridor. They were built in great numbers to accommodate waves of immigrating Europeans from troubled nations. The side streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side are lined with dumbbell structures.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I ask myself, how would Riis have described this 21st century gathering of amiable asiatic card players at 59 1/2 Mulberry Street?

from wikisource.org, “How the other half lives, by Jacob Riis”

Abuse is the normal condition of “the Bend,” murder its everyday crop, with the tenants not always the criminals. In this block between Bayard, Park, Mulberry, and Baxter Streets, “the Bend” proper, the late Tenement House Commission counted 155 deaths of children in a specimen year (1882). Their per centage of the total mortality in the block was 68.28, while for the whole city the proportion was only 46.20. The infant mortality in any city or place as compared with the whole number of deaths is justly considered a good barometer of its general sanitary condition. Here, in this tenement, No. 59 1/2, next to Bandits’ Roost, fourteen persons died that year, and eleven of them were children; in No. 61 eleven, and eight of them not yet five years old. According to the records in the Bureau of Vital Statistics only thirty-nine people lived in No. 59 1/2 in the year 1888, nine of them little children. There were five baby funerals in that house the same year. Out of the alley itself, No. 59, nine dead were carried in 1888, five in baby coffins.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 20, 2010 at 12:05 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 890 other followers

%d bloggers like this: