The Newtown Pentacle

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Note- This is a reblog of a Newtown Pentacle posting from June 5, 2010 titled: from Hells Gate, loosed upon the world

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Friday of memorial day weekend, your humble narrator stumbled into the wilds of Astoria, headed for Astoria Park. Astoria Park is at the western end of Queens, and adjoins the East River, hosting parts of both the mighty Triboro Bridge and the sublime exemplar of bridge engineering called Hellgate. Named for the section of the East River it crosses, Hellgate was my intended destination and subject, and I was hoping for some visually interesting rail traffic to be crossing the great bridge. Frustrated by a gray and humid day, the Acela and other Amtrak traffic was observed, as well as a curious CSX double engine. Then…


Astoria Park, on the west shore of Queens, extends from south of the Triborough Bridge to north of the Hell Gate Bridge. With a panoramic view of the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan in the south to the Hell Gate channel in the north, the scenery presents the diverse landscape of New York City. The Hell Gate channel, formed by faults deep underground, contains some of the deepest water in New York Harbor. Its treacherous reefs bear picturesque names such as “Hen and Chickens,” “Pot Rock,” “Bread & Cheese,” and “Bald Headed Billy.”

Throughout the centuries the stunning natural beauty of this location has attracted visitors and settlers. Before the arrival of European colonists, a trail passed by the site, and an Indian village flourished at Pot Cove. Local inhabitants grew maize on the shores, fished in Hell Gate, and drew water from Linden Brook, a small stream that still flows under Astoria Park South. In the mid-1600s the Dutch parceled out this land to various owners, including William Hallet whose grant embraced hundreds of acres. During the American Revolution, several British and Hessian regiments were stationed in the area. On November 25, 1780 the frigate Hussar and its five-million-dollar cargo sank to the bottom of Hell Gate, where despite some removal of cannons, the treasure still remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve become pretty familiar with NY Harbor in the last year, and can identify some of the common types of ships that cross its waters. Every now and then, however, a mysterious craft- an unidentified floating object or UFO if you will- crosses in front of me. Proceeding south, this catamaran (actually a trimaran) was nearly devoid of markings- which is remarkable in itself- and moving at a tremendous clip. Its “colorway” and hull shape instantly said “military” to me, but I could not recognize its specie.

from wikipedia

The first trimarans were built by indigenous Polynesians almost 4,000 years ago, and much of the current terminology is inherited from them. Multihull sailboats (catamarans and trimarans) gained favor during the 1960s and 1970s. Modern recreational trimarans are rooted in the same homebuilt tradition as other multihulls but there are also a number of production models on the market. A number of trimarans in the 19–36-foot lengths (5.8–11 m) have been designed over the last 30 years to be accommodated on a road trailer. These include the original Farrier – Corsair folding trimarans – and original John Westell swing-wing folding trimaran (using the same folding system later adopted also on Quorning Dragonfly) and like trimarans. Many sailboat designers have also designed demountable trimarans that are able to be trailered (like the SeaCart 30 by Oceanlake Marine).

The trimaran design is also becoming more widespread as a passenger ferry. In 2005 the 127-metre trimaran (417 ft) Benchijigua Express was delivered by Austal to Spanish ferry operator Fred. Olsen, S.A. for service in the Canary Islands. Capable of carrying 1,280 passengers and 340 cars, or equivalents, at speeds up to 40 knots, this boat was the longest aluminum ship in the world at the time of delivery. The trimaran concept has also been considered for modern warships. The RV Triton was commissioned by British defence contractor QinetiQ in 2000. In October 2005, the United States Navy commissioned for evaluation the construction of a General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) trimaran designed and built by Austal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Evocative, as on one hand it resembled a radar dodging stealth aircraft for the odd angles and aerodynamic shape, on the other it suggested a modern combat tank with its armor designed to deflect rather than defeat ballistic weapons.

The ship, nevertheless, was kicking up a huge wake and was shooting water behind it- some 10-20 feet high- as it rocketed down the East River.

from wikipedia

The littoral zone refers to that part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. It always includes this intertidal zone and is often used to mean the same as the intertidal zone. However, the meaning of “littoral zone” can extend well beyond the intertidal zone.

There is no single definition. What is regarded as the full extent of the littoral zone, and the way the littoral zone is divided into subregions, varies in different contexts (lakes and rivers have their own definitions). The use of the term also varies from one part of the world to another, and between different disciplines. For example, military commanders speak of the littoral in ways that are quite different from marine biologists.

The adjacency of water gives a number of distinctive characteristics to littoral regions. The erosive power of water results in particular types of landforms, such as sand dunes, and estuaries. The natural movement of the littoral along the coast is called the littoral drift. Biologically, the ready availability of water enables a greater variety of plant and animal life, and the additional local humidity due to evaporation usually creates a microclimate supporting unique types of organisms.

The word “littoral” is used both as a noun and an adjective. It derives from the Latin noun litus, litoris, meaning “shore”. (The doubled ‘t’ is a late medieval innovation and the word is sometimes seen in the more classical-looking spelling ‘litoral’.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “colorway” and camouflage of the craft suggested that the futurists of Britain still have modern adherents, long after the last of the “dazzle ships” were launched.

For those of you not in the know, the Dazzle Ships were an experiment in “breaking up the shape” of large combat vessels against the horizon, an attempt to reduce the visual profile of capital ships and reduce the ability of submariners to target vital areas of said ships. Dazzle works best at distance, which is what modern naval combat is all about.

from wikipedia

At first glance Dazzle seems unlikely camouflage, drawing attention to the ship rather than hiding it, but this technique was developed after the Allied Navies were unable to develop effective means to disguise ships in all weather.

Dazzle did not conceal the ship but made it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed and heading. The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinders used for naval artillery. Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment. An observer would find it difficult to know exactly whether the stern or the bow is in view; and it would be equally difficult to estimate whether the observed vessel is moving towards or away from the observer’s position.

Rangefinders were based on the co-incidence principle with an optical mechanism, operated by a human to compute the range. The operator adjusted the mechanism until two half-images of the target lined up in a complete picture. Dazzle was intended to make that hard because clashing patterns looked abnormal even when the two halves were aligned. This became more important when submarine periscopes included similar rangefinders. As an additional feature, the dazzle pattern usually included a false bow wave to make estimation of the ship’s speed difficult.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, my computer was down for the holiday weekend, but Our Lady of the Pentacle allowed me to use her laptop and I managed to get a few of these images out to that clandestine and anonymous network of maritime enthusiasts and quasi governmental experts who advise, comment, or offer corrections to your Newtown Pentacle. Credit for identifying this craft goes out to them, and I wish that they would allow me to sing praise publicly, but certain conflicts of interest or oaths of secrecy demand that they must always be referred to as “anonymous sources”. In this case, the ultimate sources will be referred to as Daidalos and Icaros (hey, it is Astoria Park).

from wikipedia

It is in images, not in texts that Daedalus is seen with wings; many Greek myths appear to have been invented to make sense of known but inexplicable images. The most familiar literary telling explaining Daedalus’ wings is a late one, that of Ovid: in his Metamorphoses (VIII:183-235) Daedalus was shut up in a tower to prevent his knowledge of his Labyrinth from spreading to the public. He could not leave Crete by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all vessels, permitting none to sail without being carefully searched. Since Minos controlled the land and sea routes, Daedalus set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He tied feathers together, from smallest to largest so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. When the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly. When both were prepared for flight, Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax, nor too low, because the sea foam would soak the feathers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Daidalos was actually stumped when the photos arrived, and neither of us could make any sense of the only marking- a string of tiny numbers on the hull- of this unidentified floating object. High flying, Icaros received the shots from the latter, and contacted high ranking members of a certain governmental entity. This entity-let’s just say that they have lots of boats and planes, and boats that are airports, and boats that carry nuclear missiles and stay underwater for months at a time, and a lot of the people who work for it wear white dress uniforms– claimed the ship as theirs!

from wikipedia

From the time of its inception, the military played a decisive role in the history of the United States. A sense of national unity and identity was forged out of the victorious Barbary Wars, as well as the War of 1812. Even so, the Founders were suspicious of a permanent military force and not until the outbreak of World War II did a large standing army become officially established.

The National Security Act of 1947, adopted following World War II and during the onset of the Cold War, created the modern U.S. military framework; the Act merged previously Cabinet-level Department of War and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment (renamed the Department of Defense in 1949), headed by the Secretary of Defense; and created the Department of the Air Force and National Security Council.

The U.S. military is one of the largest militaries in terms of number of personnel. It draws its manpower from a large pool of volunteers; although conscription has been used in the past in various times of both war and peace, it has not been used since 1972. As of 2010, the United States spends about $692 billion annually to fund its military forces, constituting approximately 43 percent of world military expenditures. The U.S. armed forces as a whole possess large quantities of advanced and powerful equipment, which gives them significant capabilities in both defense and power projection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What you have just seen, lords and ladies, shooting down the East River at high speed was described as a (JHSV) Joint High Speed Vessel.

A JHSV can comfortably carry 300 fully armed MARINES, or up to 600 in a pinch. Alternatively, it can move multiple main battle tanks- the astounding M1 Abrams. Just so you understand, 600 is near the low end of Battalion strength, and 600 U.S. Marines could probably claim a beachhead in Hell itself if they were asked to. It also has a landing pad for a helicoptor.

This ship is huge… but a helicoptor pad?



The JHSV program is procuring high-speed transport vessels for the Army and the Navy. These vessels will be used for fast intra-theater transportation of troops, military vehicles and equipment. The JHSV program merges the previous Army Theater Support Vessel (TSV) and the Navy High Speed Connector (HSC), taking advantage of the inherent commonality between the two programs.

JHSV will be capable of transporting 600 short tons 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. The ships will be capable of operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank (M1A2). Other joint requirements include an aviation flight deck to support day and night air vehicle launch and recovery operations.

JHSV is a commercial-design, non-combatant transport vessel, and does not require the development of any new technology. JHSV is being built to American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) High Speed Naval Craft Guide. Systems onboard will be based on commercial ABS steel vessel rules. As such, it does not require the survivability and ability to sustain damage like the LCS. It has no combat system capability and no ability to support or use LCS mission modules. It will leverage non-developmental or commercial technology that is modified to suit military applications. Select military features include Aviation; Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and (Military) Intelligence; and Firefighting for the Mission Bay. NVR does not apply to any part of JHSV.

As a non-combatant sealift ship, the Navy variant of JHSV will be crewed by civilian mariners, either employed by or under contract to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. U.S. Army vessels will be crewed by Army craft masters. Both versions will require a crew of approximately 22-40 people, but will have airline style seating for more than 300 embarked forces and fixed berthing for approximately 100 more.

  • Primary Function: The JHSV Program will provide high speed, shallow draft transportation capability to support the intra-theater maneuver of personnel, supplies and equipment for the U. S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Army.
  • Builder: Austal USA
  • Propulsion: Water Jet
  • Length: 103 Meters (338 feet)
  • Beam: 28.5 meters (93.5 feet)
  • Displacement: 600 short tons
  • Draft: < 15 feet (4.57 meters)
  • Speed: 35-40 knots
  • Range: 1,200 nautical miles
  • Crew: 22-40 civilian mariners/U.S. Army craft masters
  • Homeport: No homeport – construction has yet to begin.

However… This is not a JHSV!!!

This here is the M80 Stiletto.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out this video at youtube which explains the Stiletto’s potential in great detail, and supplies 3D animation for operational scenarios.


With the formal roll-out of the 88-foot Stiletto stealth ship and its cutting-edge “M-Hull” wave-damping design, that legacy takes another step forward. The Stiletto is part of Project WolfPac, which aims to test new concepts of shallow-water and riverine warfare organized around swarms of smaller, affordable ships linked by communications. The Stiletto can slip into shallow waters, launching inflatable boats and even UAVs while serving as a communications hub via its “electronic keel.” Best of all, the M-Hull significantly reduces the pounding its occupants take from waves – poundings that often result in back injuries that cut careers short, or leave sailors with lingering disabilities in later life.

and from wikipedia

The 88-foot (27 m) long vessel has a notable hull design, an M-shaped hull that provides a stable yet fast platform for mounting electronic surveillance equipment or weapons, or for conducting special operations. The hull design does not require foils or lifting devices to achieve a smooth ride at high speeds in rough conditions. Its shallow draft means the M80 Stiletto can operate in littoral and riverine environments and potentially allows for beach landings.

The M80 Stiletto is equipped with four Caterpillar, Inc. C32 1232 kW (1652 HP) engines yielding a top speed in excess of 50 knots (90 km/h) and a range of 500 nautical miles (900 km) when fully loaded. It can be outfitted with jet drives for shallow water operations and beaching.

It has a topside flight deck for launching and retrieving UAVs and a rear ramp that can launch and recover an 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat (RIB) or Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV).

It weighs 45 tons unloaded, light enough that it can be hoisted onto a cargo ship, while still able to carry up to 20 tons of cargo in the 1,996 square feet (200 m2) of usable interior space. The ship is 88.6 feet (27.0 m) in length, with a width of 40 feet (12 m) and a height of 18.5 feet (5.6 m), yet has a draft of only 2.5 feet (0.8 m).

The M80 Stiletto is the largest U.S. naval vessel built using carbon-fiber composite and epoxy building techniques, which yields a very light but strong hull. The prototype M80 Stiletto is expected to be in use in less than one year. Ships are expected to cost between $6 and $10 million

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2012 at 1:48 am

vast enclosure

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When you cut things down to the bone, and ask yourself the question “Who was the New Yorker that most profoundly changed the City?” it always comes back to one fellow. Ray Kelly or Mike Bloomberg would vie for the crown in modernity, in the long view of history Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, or the Roebling clan have major claims on the title. Robert Moses would tell you that it was himself, and arguably, so would Osama Bin Laden.

In the opinion of a humble narrator, the crown belongs to one man- a Swedish immigrant named Othmar Ammann, and today is his birthday.

from wikipedia

Othmar Hermann Ammann (March 26, 1879 – September 22, 1965) was a American structural engineer whose designs include the George Washington Bridge, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and Bayonne Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn Bridge has the fame, Williamsburg Bridge the infamy, Manhattan Bridge is overlooked. The bridges of Othmar Ammann, however, are the ones which shaped the modern megalopolis and allowed the expansion and diaspora of New York’s laborers from the tenement neighborhoods of the five boroughs to the suburban satellites of modernity. The vast populations of Long Island and New Jersey and Westchester who commute into the city on a daily basis would have never achieved their current size, were Ammann removed from the story.

As a side note, and just to toot my own horn for a moment, the shot above was published last year in the New York Times- check it out here

Also from wikipedia

Othmar Ammann designed more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time. Ammann was known for being able to create bridges that were light and inexpensive, yet they were still simple and beautiful. He was able to do this by using the deflection theory. He believed that the weight per foot of the span and the cables would provide enough stiffness so that the bridge would not need any stiffening trusses. This made him popular during the depression era when being able to reduce the cost was crucial. Famous bridges by Ammann include:

  • George Washington Bridge (opened October 24, 1931)
  • Bayonne Bridge (opened November 15, 1931)
  • Triborough Bridge (opened July 11, 1936)
  • Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (opened April 29, 1939)
  • Walt Whitman Bridge (opened May 16, 1957)
  • Throgs Neck Bridge (opened January 11, 1961)
  • Verrazano Narrows Bridge (opened November 21, 1964)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Othmar Ammann was a bit of an artist, his bridges achieving a rare thing for engineering projects, which is the elevation of a functional structure to the sublime. A prevailing theory in fine art and graphic design which emerged in the 20th century is “less is more”, and Ammann’s spans are manifestations of this concept in steel and cement.


By the early 1960s, when the George Washington’s lower deck was added (as specified in the original plans), Ammann had all but eclipsed his mentor. Ammann’s other 1931 creation, the Bayonne Bridge connecting Staten Island and New Jersey, was until 1977 the world’s largest steel arch bridge — more than 600 feet longer than the previous record holder, Lindenthal’s Hell Gate Bridge.

Months before his death in 1965, Ammann gazed through a telescope from his 32nd-floor Manhattan apartment. In his viewfinder was a brand-new sight some 12 miles away: his Verrazano-Narrows suspension bridge. As if in tribute to the engineering prowess that made Ammann’s George Washington Bridge great, this equally slender, graceful span would not be surpassed in length for another 17 years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eclipsed by the vain and power seeking during his sunset years, Ammann is one of the forgotten few who crafted the connections between the individual components of the archipelago islands of New York Harbor. Mighty Triborough or the graceful arch of the Bayonne Bridge speak to his sense of esthetic, and indicate that he was in touch with some higher imperative than merely moving automobiles from one place to another.


His works soar above the water, spanning the city’s rivers and connecting New York to the rest of the country. But who has heard of Othmar H. Ammann?

Donald Trump hadn’t, at least not back in 1964 when he was a high school student and his father took him to the dedication ceremony for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. ”It was a sad experience,” Mr. Trump recalled. ”For years, various politicians had fought the bridge. Now that it was built, I watched as these same people all got up and took credit for it, congratulating themselves and introducing one another. The only one not introduced was the man who made the bridge, Othmar Ammann.

middle stature

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s Maritime Sunday once again at this, your Newtown Pentacle, and today the focus is on Thornton Towing’s 1600 HP and 1958 vintage “Thornton Bros.” tugboat. Call sign WDD6171, Thornton Bros. is some 25m x 8m in size and has been clocked going as fast as 8 knots.

from wikipedia

Merchant and naval vessels are assigned call signs by their national licensing authorities. In the case of states such as Liberia or Panama, which are flags of convenience for ship registration, call signs for larger vessels consist of the national prefix plus three letters (for example, 3LXY, and sometimes followed by a number, i.e. 3Lxy2). United States merchant vessels are given call signs beginning with the letters “W” or “K” while US naval ships are assigned callsigns beginning with “N”. Originally both ships and broadcast stations were given call signs in this series consisting of three or four letters, but as demand for both marine radio and broadcast call signs grew, gradually American-flagged vessels were given longer call signs with mixed letters and numbers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From what I’ve been able to determine, the actual Thornton Brothers are local boys, although I’ve never met them. The tug Thornton Bros., however, seems to spend a lot of time transporting bulk metals around the harbor. These are the same sort of barges which one often observes at SimsMetal at Newtown Creek, so one might presume that they are part of the “recycling industrial complex”.


Thornton Towing & Transportation is owned by Gerard and Richard Thornton, and Ed Carr; all of whom have spent their entire professional careers working on and around the waters of New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally launched as the John E. Matton, the tug has had a long career and undergone more than one change of ownership. As is maritime custom, each owner has leased the boat with a unique sobriquet, which is detailed by the always reliable folks at in the link below.


Built in 1958, by Matton Shipyard of Cohoes, New York (hull #325) as the John E. Matton.

The Morania Oil Tanker corporation chartered the vessel and eventually purchased her, where she was renamed as the Morania No. 12 .

When Morania phased out their canal fleet and the Morania No. 12 was acquired by Reinauer Transportation of Staten Island, New York where she was renamed as the Cissi Reinauer .

– photo by Mitch Waxman

John Matton was a shipbuilder upstate, located in Cohoes NY. A largely forgotten industrial center, Cohoes was also a center of brick manufacturing and to this day- one can discern thousands of red bricks scattered along the Hudson River shoreline.


The tale begins in 1899. An enterprising boat builder by the name of John E. Matton opened a boat building and repair facility along the enlarged, mule-drawn Champlain Canal about three miles north of the Waterford side-cut. At the time, the ill-fated “$9 million improvement” of New York’s canals was on life support but still limping along against the backdrop of corruption and scandal in Albany. John E. Matton had no reason to expect that he would not be able to work out of his present location for years and years to come.

Just four years later, however, after Theodore Roosevelt had appointed a new commission to chart a future for New York’s canals, the Barge Canal Act was passed by the State Legislature and approved by New York voters. What would this mean for John E. Matton? That his facility would be utterly useless in a matter of years when the new Barge Canal was completed.

warnings and prophecies

with one comment

2011’s Greatest Hits:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In January of 2011, while walking along in knee deep snow, your humble narrator happened across this enigmatic and somehow familiar item sitting in a drift at the NYC S.E.M./Signals Street Light Yard of the DOT at 37th avenue near the Sunnyside and Astoria border. It looked familiar to me, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was until sharp eyed reader TJ Connick suggested that this might be the long missing Light Stanchion which once adorned the Queensboro Bridge’s Manhattan landing.

These two posts: “an odd impulse“, and “wisdom of crowds” discuss the discovery and identification in some detail.

Some good news about this iconic piece of Queens history will be forthcoming, but I’ve been asked to keep it quiet for the moment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In February of 2011, “Vapour Soaked” presented a startling concurrence of comparitive detail for the discerning viewer, when the shot above was presented in contrast with a 1920’s shot from The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau, 1921″, (courtesy Google Books).

Admittedly, not quite as earth shaking as January’s news, but cool nevertheless. I really like these “now and then” shots, expect more of the same to come your way in the future.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In March of 2011, “first, Calvary” discussed the epic (for me) quest to find a proverbial “needle in a haystack” within First Calvary Cemetery- the grave of its very first interment, an Irish woman named Esther Ennis who died in 1848. I have spent an enormous amount of time searching for this spot, where Dagger John Hughes first consecrated the soil of Newtown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In April of 2011, the world lost one of its best people and my official “partner in crime”, Bernard Ente.

He was ill for awhile, but asked me to keep the severity of things quiet. He passed in the beginning of April, and one of the last requests he made of me (along with “taking care” of certain people) was to continue what he had started along the Newtown Creek and all around NY Harbor.

This was when I had to step forward, up my game, and attempt to fill a pair of gargantuan boots. Frankly, I’m not even half of who he was, but I’m trying. That’s when I officially stepped forward and began introducing myself as a representative of Newtown Creek Alliance, and joined the Working Harbor Committee– two organizations which Bernie was committed to. I’m still trying to wrap my head around his loss.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In May of 2011, while attempting to come to terms with my new roles in both organizations, it was decided that a fitting tribute to our fallen comrade would be the continuance of his annual “Newtown Creek Cruises” and the date of May 21 was set for the event. An incredible learning experience, the success of the voyage would not have been possible without the tutelage of WHC’s John Doswell and Meg Black, NCA’s Katie Schmid, or especially the aid of “Our Lady of the Pentacle” and the Newtown Pentacle’s stalwart far eastern correspondent: Armstrong.

Funny moments from during this period included the question “Whom do you call to get a drawbridge in NYC to open for you?”.

During this time, I also became involved with Forgotten-NY’s Kevin Walsh and Greater Astoria Historical Society’s Richard Melnick and their ambitious schedule of historical tours.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In June of 2011, the earliest Newtown Creek Chemical Factory which I’ve been able to find in the historical record, so far, was explored in the post “lined with sorrow“- describing “the Bushwick Chemical Works of M. Kalbfleisch & Sons”.

Additionally, my “Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show” was presented to a sold out and standing room only crowd at the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

This was also the beginning of a period which has persisted all year- in which my efforts of behalf of the various organizations and political causes which I’m advocating for had reduced my output to a mere 15 or fewer postings a month.

All attempts are underway to remedy this situation in 2012, and apologies are offered.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In July of 2011, another Newtown Creek boat tour was conducted, this time for the Metropolitan Water Alliance’s “City of Water Day”. The “Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show” was also performed at the Admiral’s House for a packed room.

Additionally, my so called “Grand Walk” was presented in six postings. This was an attempt to follow a 19th century journey from the Bloody Sixth Ward, Manhattan’s notorious Five Points District, to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Once, this would have been a straightforward endeavor involving minimal connections of Trolley and Ferry, but today one just has to walk. These were certainly not terribly popular posts, but are noteworthy for the hidden and occluded horde of forgotten New York history which they carry.

From the last of these posts, titled “suitable apparatus“- “As the redolent cargo of my camera card revealed- this “Grand Walk”, a panic induced marathon which carried your humble narrator across the East River from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan into Williamsburg and up Grand Street to Maspeth and the baroque intrigues of the Newtown Creek– wound down into it’s final steps on Laurel Hill Blvd.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In August of 2011, “the dark moor” presented intriguing aerial views of the Newtown Creek Watershed, and “sinister exultation” shared the incredible sight of an Amtrak train on fire at the Hunters Point Avenue station in Long Island City. “revel and chaff” explored the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in LIC’s Zone A, and an extraordinary small boat journey around Dutch Kills was detailed in: “ponderous and forbidding“, “ethereal character“, “pillars and niches“, and “another aperture“.

This was an incredible month.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In September of 2011, a posting called “uncommented masonry” offered this declaration:

” By 1915, there approximately 40,000 automotive trucks plying the streets of New York City.

What’s surprising is that 25% of them were electric.

Lords and ladies of Newtown, I present to you the last mortal remains of the General Electric Vehicle Company, 30-28 Starr Avenue, Long Island City– manufacturer of a substantial number of those electrical trucks.”

I’m particularly fond of this post, as this was a wholly forgotten moment of Newtown Creek and industrial history which I was able to reveal. Organically born, it was discovered in the course of other research, and I believed at the time that it was going to be the biggest story that I would present all year about Blissville.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In October of 2011, a trio of Newtown Creek Tours (two public and one for educators) were accomplished. The public tours were full to capacity, as were the Open House New York tours I conducted on the 15th and 16th of that Month. Also, the Metropolitan Water Alliance invited me to photograph their “Parade of Boats” on October 11th, and I got the shot below of the FDNY Fireboat 343.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In November of 2011, a visit to Lovecraft Country in Brooklyn was described in “frightful pull“, and “vague stones and symbols” came pretty close to answering certain mysteries associated with the sky flung Miller Building found at the foot of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A December 2011 post titled “An Oil spill… in Queens” broke the news that petroleum products are seeping out of the bulkheads of Newtown Creek, this time along the Northern shoreline, which lies in the Queens neighborhood of Blissville.

Rest assured that your Newtown Pentacle is on top of the story of “the Blissville Oil Spill”, lords and ladies of Newtown, and will bring you breaking news as it develops in 2012.

feeble horns

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Hell Gate and Triborough bridges from Old Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Loathsome memories of recent setbacks- and also of certain rebuffs- plague your humble narrator during these gloomy and sunless days, and always only solace can offer nepenthe. Thus, during a recent stroll by the pacific maelstrom of Hell Gate, nestled between two steel structures whose unearthly vibrations and omnipresent vocalizations form the aural environment- this series of shots were captured.

curiously scattered bones on sidewalk in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Vengeance and malice, indeed all of the seven deadly transgressions, populate the infernal dream world which has plagued me since childhood. Of late, a vivid character has typified these somnambulist hallucinations, and at least once during the night I’ll awaken in cold sweat grasping at the void of a curtain draped chamber. Surely, these negative humors are manifestations of another failing displayed by your humble narrator and least of all men, the inability to not bear grudges well beyond all sensible intervals.

sinister seeming bird at Hells Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Having grown up in a lonely and isolated existence, in dusty rooms of sculptured green carpeting and vinyl covered couches with odd knick knacks that betrayed basic tenets of adherence to the Hebrew faith, family members carried a charge of eastern European distrust for outsiders. Don’t trust anyone, my mother used to tell me while still in the cradle. As such, your humble narrator has grown into a hostile and suspicious man, contemptuous of authority even when such authority is necessary to govern over and control chaos and anarchy.

Amtrak at Hellegat Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Often I stand on a point of principle, in a combative and tenacious- and vastly unpopular-  stand over small matters such as allowing a police officer the right to inspect my belongings on demand. Of course I realize the age we are living in is fraught with the consequences of living in a global military empire the likes of which even the Romans or Turks would gasp and genuflect at, and that to most “standard of living” trumps “individual rights” but the constables have to follow the rules too. That’s what our modern Metropolis operates on, and as the saying in Brooklyn used to go “if I gots to stands in lines, youse gotta stands in da line”.

Psychiatric Hospitals at Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, I fear that someday my darker impulses will take control of me, and I’ll spin off and become some comic book villain like parody of myself, the defeated antihero of a cosmic parable. Perhaps I will be remembered as a cautionary tale, your humble narrative of the man who looked under too many rocks. The Rumpelstiltskin of Newtown Creek, or perhaps just some old man in a shack who talks only to a collection of bottles?

Wards Island from Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Preoccupations with such bizarre concerns has led me to believe in and visualize conspiracy lurking behind every corner. The attentions of certain malign elements, teenage adherents to some form of the Hip Hop cult, have been noted milling about around headquarters of late. Additionally, strange vehicles not usually parked in the neighborhood have been observed, adorned with mysterious antennae and blacked out windows- even on the windshield, which is unusual in itself due to municipal regulation.

Such bizarre notions, undoubtedly the product of lonely studies and a massive workload, were what led me to seek the solace of Astoria Park. I had hoped (futilely as turns out) to photograph passing Tugboats, but instead grew focused on certain uluations which seemed to be emerging from the impossibly distant Psychiatric hospitals at Wards Island

The President of the United States on Marine 1 over Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

And that’s when the President of the United States flew by in Marine One on his way to the World Trade Center site to commemorate the death of his arch enemy.

In short, I’m all ‘effed up, and this post hits six points out of seven of the ICD-10 for paranoid personality type.

And the Newtown Pentacle is back in session.

with palpitant heart

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Startlingly interesting is the only way to describe the experiences of the preceding year. Attempts have been made to cogently describe and colorfully illustrate the encounters your humble narrator has enjoyed in this 10th year of the millennium. For those of you who have just recently started to read this, your Newtown Pentacle, this is your chance to check out some of the highlights of 2010 (according to me), and for the veteran Lords and Ladies of the Pentacle an opportunity to review.

If you’ll indulge me…

January, 2010- The Abbot

The sort of posting which satisfies me deeply, “The Abbot” monument found at Calvary focused my attentions on certain realities of 19th century New York, and proved my theory that Calvary Cemetery is the single greatest historical resource in Queens. Obviation of my satisfaction with the posting is provided by the admission that I had noticed the stone peripherally, found it interesting, and started shooting it with no idea at all about its meaning. Only at home, when reviewing the photos did the whole story come together. Al Smith is buried at Calvary as well (he’s the fellow who built the skyscraper seen in the night shot at the head of this post) but this paragraph is about January 2010 and Governor Smith’s story was told in 2009.

January, 2010- The Great Machine

Also in January, a pet ideation was advanced, one not of theory but of perception. The notion of the megalopolis figures heavily in my thinking- a concept that sees the eastern seaboard of the United States not as a series of cities, but rather one vast urban zone of varying densities with New York City at the titular center of a web of industry, transport, and agricultural systems. The center of the web has a center itself, which is Manhattan- specifically where it connects to “the Great Machine” of the Queensboro bridge and it’s corollaries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

February 2010– Affordable Housing Development on Borden Avenue

This post, “Affordable Housing Development on Borden Avenue“,  is included in the year end wrap up simply because it ended up being one of the more widely read and commented upon endeavors presented in 2010. Most likely, it was the linking shout out from Queenscrap that made it so, rather than any subjective quality or incisive observation. Homeless camps abound in the Newtown Pentacle, hidden away on seldom trodden lanes and along backwater pathways- in this case it’s alongside the oft delayed construction project at the Borden Avenue Bridge which spans Dutch Kills.

February 2010– horrible and unearthly ululations…

A lot of time was spent in 2010 trying to wrap my head fully around the story of the Newtown Creek (which culminated ultimately in the late October release of the first Newtown Pentacle book- Newtown Creek for the vulgarly curious) and “horrible and unearthly ululations…” was the first of several posts which attempted to boil complicated and obscure snippets of historical lore into a cohesive and accessible form. So much is made of the Greenpoint Oil Spill and the Meeker Avenue Plumes by the legal community, whose hungry jowls slaver and shake at the financial possibilities offered by the EPA’s superfund designation and various court decisions, that the true and terrible wonder of the Newtown Creek is often overlooked. This post and several others of its ilk attempt to present a fuller version of things, and act as reminders that what was may once again be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

March 2010– The Shadow over Sunnyside

The St. Pat’s Day for All parade in Sunnyside is a yearly event which draws in a citywide coterie of political entities, all desperate for attention and attribution as being friendly to the GLTG members of the electorate. The parades origins are a reaction against the banning of outwardly gay marchers in the RC church’s own St. Patricks day parade in Manhattan. Despite its politically contentious birthing, the Sunnyside parade is actually a fun and light hearted event, and signals the coming of springtime in the Newtown Pentacle. While there principally to get shots of the political master race which rules over us, amongst the crowd I noticed small clots of dire intent armed with ugly signage. Research into this group, which was clearly coordinated and queerly ominous, revealed them to be adherents to a bastardized form of Catholic fundamentalism which has been outlawed and defined as a dangerous cult by several Nation-states. A shadow over Sunnyside indeed.

March 2010– Exhausted

A brighter experience for your humble narrator was the Manhattan Bridge Centennial Time Capsule event, on March 5. Interactions and conversations were enjoyed by the least of men with certain powers and potentates of the City of Greater New York and entry to the interior space of the Manhattan Bridge was obtained. One of the high points of my year, “Exhausted” detailed the embedding of a time capsule in the East River Bridge #2- aka the Manhattan Bridge. Remarkable self control was exercised when I met the DOT Commissioner, Jeanette Sadik-Khan. My sincerest desire was to bend her ear with my alleged wisdom about bike lanes and bridge safety- but self control was ascendent that day and only congratulations were offered to both her and the other staffers at DOT.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

April 2010– City of Marble and Beryl

Odd shenanigans were observed at St. Michael’s Cemetery here in Astoria, which were of a decidedly magickal nature. A ritual site that your humble narrator stumbled across was examined and evidentiary examination suggested that certain third world cults were extant here in the old village of Astoria, conducting midnight bacchanals concurrent with the lunar cycle. “City of Marble and Beryl” was but the first of many moons which witnessed a working of will amongst the desolations of our kind.

April 2010– Searching for Gilman

A good part of 2010 was spent “Searching for Gilman” at First Calvary Cemetery, which I am doing as you are reading this, assuming it’s the start of 2011 whenever you do. Gilman is the source of no small amount of pain and financial hardship around these parts, as your humble narrator has become dangerously obsessive and paranoid around the subject. A psychotic need to find Gilman’s grave torments me, coloring my days and painting my dreams a dull yellow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

May 2010– the king in yellow, brick

Remiss would be apparent were I to not mention the “Madison Avenue Bridge Centennial” but “the king in yellow, brick” advanced another of my pet theories and served up a fascinating (to me at least) sequence of events and relationships which attempts to explain why those yellow Kreischer bricks are all over the older sections of Queens.

May 2010– after cycles incalculable

After cycles incalculable” is another one of those perfect posts, from a personal perspective. Wandering around with a friend, which is a disturbing trend which developed over the course of 2010, at Skillman Avenue’s start we observed the Lemuria hatching in concordance with the anniversary of the Roman festival of Lemuralia in Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

June 2010– from Hells Gate, loosed upon the world

When I set out on my little walks, there is seldom a destination in mind. Literally wandering, obscure symbols and pseudo occultism guide my steps- I’ll follow a black cat, or merely adopt a roughly heliotropic path using my own shadow as compass. At the very end of May, my feet carried me toward Astoria Park and the notorious section of the East River known as Hells Gate. The odd craft, an “unidentified floating object” if you would, which sped past my lens required more than a small bit of detective work to identify- which was detailed in “from Hells Gate, loosed upon the world“.

June 2010– Gods Gift to Pain

English Kills, which is the logical and modern end of Newtown Creek, is a heavily industrialized and largely anaerobic tributary of the larger waterway and is seldom visited (by me, at least) at its extant. One fine day, while hanging out with another Creek enthusiast (you should not go to this place alone), we decided to enter the largely hidden urban foyer which leads here- despite the fact that we 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 of dissolution and poison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason for Brooklyn, and Queens- why it was a viable alternative to living in Manhattan in the 19th century was defined by the horrors of tenement life. The grand old buildings with their high ceilings, thick plastered walls, convenient dumbwaiters, and incredibly ornate lobbies- the structures which distinguished and made life desirable in the incalculably distant boroughs, were built as an alternative to the crowded and dangerous tenements of “The City”- especially the warren which was known as the “Five Points“. Additionally, Calvary Cemetery (of particular interest to me, and perhaps, to you) was founded by the parishioners of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is smack dab in the middle of this ancient labyrinth of poverty, crime, and squalor. It was decided that to fully understand what one observes in the remains of the supposed “answer to the problem”, exploration of “the problem” itself is required.

July 2010– Bandits Roost, 2010

Ideal source material for the textural and societal milieu of the Five Points is the admittedly biased “How the Other Half Lives” by 19th century do-gooder Jacob Riis. Speaking the truth that power wants to hear is always a sound move if one considers fiscal realities and historical reputation. Attempts were made to find the modern locale in which Riis shot some of his more famous shots, such as this visit to “Bandits Roost 2010“.

July 2010– The house of Dagger John

Another critical visitation for me, as part of my larger education and study of the early development of the City of Greater New York was occasioned on the day when I went to “The house of Dagger John“. Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral satisfies both my continuing fascination with the counterpoint of sacred and profane in the story of the Megalopolis, and figures largely in the predictions of certain obscure lore which governs the schedule of my researches.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

August 2010– not to harsh anyone’s buzz… but…

August of 2010 brought a posting which garnered a lot of attention, due to noticing and linking to it. Simply noticing that a growing proliferation of small boats were berthing illegally at the Vernon Avenue street end, it would be irresponsible of me- given everything that I know about the location not to point out the mortal and existential danger that the operators of these boats were placing themselves in. It’s not even the water, really, its the high pressure natural gas line- the enormous CSO which drains LIC- the omnipresent heavy industrial maritime traffic- which makes the spot so hazardous. Mortal threats were received via email (which I’ve kept private), and the comments thread displayed an angry and accusatory tone. As is the case with all such critique, these comments were presented verbatim- here’s a taste: “i have red your article in which you show a great deal of unger towards me and my friends . i believe that you base your article on many misconceptions that are rooted in a lack of communication”, “Blogger or not, the prudent journalist would make an effort to uncover basic facts before publishing a story full of assumptions”, “are you just the type of little man that tells teacher when the cool kids make you feel inferior. The water is public domain! And according to maritime law it is not illegal to moor a boat as long as it safe and looked after.”, “They are not bothering anyone. And get sick from the canal, come on. They are not living down there as far as I know. Parking your boat in the canal is not going to get them sick! Stop over doing it.” Check out “not to harsh anyone’s buzz… but…“.

August 2010– lively antics

One of the greatest joys of living in Queens are the chance encounters you’ll have with people who hail from the furthest points of the compass, such as this Bouzouki player during another visit to Hells Gate. His “lively antics” added splendor to a brightly lit walk around Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

September 2010– Lucky Shot

Although veteran photographers caution me against use of this term, I call the photo above my “shot of the year”. The steel structure attached to the bottom of the Brooklyn Bridge was installed as part of a bridge painting and maintenance project, and I was luckily along on a Working Harbor trip just as the sun was setting. Right place, right time, it was a “Lucky Shot“.

September 2010– stronger than fear

The dynamic new Safeboats utilized by NYPD and other entities around the harbor were a frequent subject over several of the Working Harbor expeditions I was lucky enough to attend. The many shapes, colorways, and missions of these quick little patrol boats are a delight to observe- and to those who would work maritime malice upon the metropolis- they are the head of the spear. Check out “stronger than fear“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A high of the year was the Newtown Creek Cruise which I had the honor of co-narrating with Bernard Ente on October 24th, of course, but the main topic of conversation amongst the antiquarian and environmental communities of the Newtown Pentacle in October revolved around the EPA’s superfund announcement about Newtown Creek at the very end of September. October is spooky time around these parts, and I spent a little time digging around the area for thrills and chills as well.

October 2010– blurred outlines

As part of series of postings detailing what might be seen in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint, “blurred outlines” discusses the alleged appearance of a pyrokinetic at 84 Guernsey Street in January of 1895.

October 2010– scenes familiar, and loved

One of my frequent walks through Calvary Cemetery took me to the curiously empty chapel which enjoys the paramount of Laurel Hill. I will admit that I came here this day seeking two things- one was a likely entrance to a vast subterranean structure which underlies the area- the other was a vain hope that the grave of Gilman might present itself in a section which was, at the time, not terribly familiar to me as I normally stay close to the fringes of the place where the whipporwills wail. I very well might have captured what mass media paranormal media sources describe as a ghost orb in “scenes familiar, and loved“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

November 2010 peace rests nevermore

One of the goals of this, your Newtown Pentacle, is to provide some sort of documentation about this terrible and wonderful place called the Newtown Creek- and I’m happy to say that I was there when the then Attorney General and Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought by his office on behalf of New York State against Exxon-Mobil which involved the Greenpoint Oil Spill. “Peace rests nevermore” indeed.

November 2010 shocking coruscations

Entertaining maritime folklore from past centuries was offered in “shocking coruscations“, which is told against a series of twilight photos from good old Hells Gate between the two great bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the cold, when inclement clime restricts my movements and the black dog nips at my heels, I tend toward shorter postings- and in December of 2010 there were two “Then and Now” postings that really took my fancy. These posts are difficult because of the scarce source material available in the public domain, but fun nevertheless. In my usual fashion “dumb idiot” fashion, I had shot the modern views completely unaware of the original photo. Our friends at the Greater Astoria Historic Society have recently released a book of similar historical views, which is worthy of consideration.

December 2010 Bowery Savings Bank 2010 and 1903

As the title states, this is the iconic shell of a once essential and awesomely powerful institution called the Bowery Savings Bank in Manhattan, with a 1903 photo from a similar perspective.

December 2010 Hunters Point Avenue Bridge Centennial

If you told me a year ago that I’d end up doing a press conference with a United States Congresswoman, I’d have hit you. That’s how I ended up at the Degnon Terminal’s own Sunshine Biscuits (LaGuardia Community College) building though, and by an odd coincidence- found myself standing in nearly the same spot as some unknown photographer did in 1921. This posting was built around the announcement of the “Hunters Point Avenue Bridge Centennial” event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Overall, a positive and exciting year, despite the deaths of several members of my family.

For a while, I enjoyed a spot on the board of the nascent Newtown Historical Society as a trustee, which is a position that I’ve had to resign for a variety of personal reasons- but I’d like to thank fellow board members Kevin Walsh, Christina Wilkinson, Steve Garza, and Bob Singleton for an interesting and educational experience. Kevin Walsh of forgotten-ny gets a personal call out, as his support, knowledge, and encouragement has been invaluable. Special thanks also are extended toward Capt. John Doswell and Meg Black of the Working Harbor Committee, all the guys and gals aboard the John J. Harvey fireboat, and everybody else who allowed a piss poor specimen such as myself to come along on adventures. Bernard Ente of the Newtown Creek Alliance, Working Harbor, and others also receives a heartfelt gratitude and shout out from this humble mendicant. Standing on the shoulders of giants is difficult if you suffer from altitude related nosebleeds.

What’s next?

Tell you what, feel like taking a walk?

Meet me at the border of Brooklyn and Queens – bring a camera… and ID…  I’ll show you something cool…

Happy Birthday Mr. Moses

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The great builder, Robert Moses was built himself on this date in 1888. A controversial subject amongst the preservationist community, Moses nevertheless shaped the City of Greater New York into its familiar modern pattern.

from wikipedia

Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. He changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.

Never elected to public office, Moses was responsible for the creation and leadership of numerous public authorities which he could control without having to answer to the general public or to elected officials. It is due to Moses that there are a disproportionate number of public benefit corporations in New York state, which are the prime mode of infrastructure building and maintenance in New York, and are currently responsible for 90% of the state’s debt.[3] As head of various authorities, he controlled millions in income from his projects’ revenue generation, such as tolls, and he had the power to issue bonds to borrow vast sums, allowing him to initiate new ventures with little or no approval from legislative bodies, bypassing the usual power of the purse as it normally functioned in the United States, and the cumbersome process of citizen comment on major public works.

– photo from wikipedia

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The jewel in his crown was always mighty Triborough, and it was the center of  his empire.

from wikipedia

Originally named the Triborough Bridge Authority, the authority was created in 1933 as a public-benefit corporation by the New York State Legislature. It was tasked with completing construction of the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge, which had been started by New York City in 1929 but had stalled due to the Great Depression.

Under the chairmanship of Robert Moses, the agency grew in a series of mergers with four other agencies:

  • Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • Marine Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City City Tunnel Authority, in 1946

With the last merger in 1946, the authority was renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Generating millions of dollars in toll revenue annually, the TBTA easily became a powerful city agency as it was capable of funding large capital projects. From the 1940s-60s, the TBTA built the Battery Parking Garage, Jacob Riis Beach Parking Field, Coliseum Office Building and Exposition Center and East Side Airlines Terminal, as well as many parks in the city.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 18, 2010 at 3:19 pm


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