The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is not the world you know, this 3.8 mile long cataract of water which forms the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, whose mouth is found directly opposite the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in Manhattan. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume, and beneath the languid ripples of its mirrored surface hide a morass of centuries old poisons which have been allowed to agglutinate and congeal in fuligin depths. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, around the canalized bulkheads of the infamous Newtown Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Great fortunes have arisen here- the Pratts, and Rockefellers, even Peter Cooper- all grew fat at this banquet table. Five great cities arose around the Creek- Williamsburg, Long Island City, Greenpoint, Bushwick, and New York- and by 1900 a thriving maritime industry saw more cargo cross this tiny waterway than could be found on the entire Mississippi river. The vast populations of those five cities found employment here, in titan rail yards and factory mills whose smokestacks blotted out the light cascading down from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. This is where the bill came due in the early 20th century, as you cannot have a “Manhattan” without causing a “Newtown Creek”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Thought irredeemable, this place became a dumping ground, with raw sewage and every imaginable kind of filth allowed to pool and mingle with the water. By the end of the 20th century, it was a literal backwater and forgotten by all but those cursed to live nearby. Petroleum swirls about beneath the ground, mingling with the esoteric byproducts of early chemical factories and one and a half centuries of breakneck industrial growth. The top soil is impregnated by heavy metals, asbestos, and tons of soot deposited daily by automotive exhaust. Along the rotting bulkheads, sediment mounds of sewage rise from the water, and from forgotten pipelines unknown chemical combinations drip and drool. Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Hope rises, however, at the start of the Superfund era. Federal authorities have begun the laborious process of analyzing and categorizing those sediments which lie fifteen to twenty feet thick on the bottom of the waterway, colloquially referred to as “Black Mayonnaise”. The Superfund legislation which governs their actions has compelled them to remove and remediate these sediments, and deliver Newtown Creek to the future in a healthier condition. Community groups, industrial stakeholders, and officials from both the State and City have begun the task of planning the Newtown Creek of future times. This is the literal backbone and center of New York City.

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