The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘New York Harbor’ Category

twining tightly

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Tugboats, tugboats, tugboats – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion to Port Elizabeth Newark was particularly photogenic. We’ve entered into “that time of the year,” wherein the angle of the light emanating from the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is propitious to photographic pursuit. From now until mid November, and again in the March to June period, the light is just right.

Pictured above are the Liberty Service and Marion Moran tugs at full steam on the Kill Van Kull.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Kirby Moran, which is a new boat for me, with the Bayonne Bridge as back drop, was observed over in Newark Bay.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DonJon Towing’s Emily Ann was headed north in Newark Bay, with the titanic Global Marine Terminal behind her.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not sure which tug this was, as I couldn’t spot a name or IMO number on her, but she was docked at Governor’s Island – on the south or Buttemilk Channel side, with some old French chick standing behind the barge she was tending.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Buttermilk Channel, Mary H. was towing a fuel barge past Atlantic Basin when I spotted her. I know where Mary H. was likely headed for – East Williamsburg’s Metropolitan Avenue – and the Bayside fuel depot found 3.1 miles from the East River on the English Kills tributary of my beloved Newtown Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

curious pacts

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The great anniversary, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It all started in the Belgian Congo, over in Africa, when a fellow named Robert Rich Sharp discovered the deposit near a little town called Shinkolobwe.

The Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a Belgian Mining Company, assumed control over the resource and began to refine the material into something useful. It was something unique, this mineral deposit at Shinkolobwe, and the mine was soon producing ore materials that were 65% pure. Other global deposits of the stuff, discovered and exploited later in the 20th century, were considered major finds if they held 5% pure ore, and Shinkolobwe is described as a “freak occurrence in nature” by minerologists. The Belgians owned the Congo, and UHMK held a virtual monopoly on the rare elements found within the colony. Refineries were set up in Shinkolobwe, and both the town and the mine were excised from maps and official mention.

When the Second World War broke out, Belgium fell before the German Blitzkrieg, but the UMHK had already stockpiled some 1,200 metric tonnes of refined ore in the United States. It was stored in New York City, where UMHK had warehoused it on Staten Island, beneath the Bayonne Bridge. On the 18th of September in 1942 – Edgar Sengier, the head of UMHK, had a meeting with United States General Kenneth Nichols.

Nichols purchased the 1,200 tonnes of refined uranium from the Belgian Company, which was already in America and warehoused on Staten Island, and arranged for another 300 tonnes of the stuff to be shipped across the Atlantic from Shinkolobwe for usage by the War Department of the United States. This transaction ultimately caused the death of some 66,000 people, and the maiming of at least 70,000 more, a scant three years later on this day in 1945. Thousands more died on the 9th, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The military project General Nichols represented was started in 1939, eventually employing more than 130,000 people and costing nearly US $2 billion (about $26 billion in 2015 dollars). There were four known major deposits of the precious ore in 1940: one in Colorado, one in northern Canada, Joachimstal in Czechoslovakia, and Shinkolobwe in the Belgian Congo. Joachimstal was in German hands. The Canadian and American deposits were quickly nationalized, and the Congo mother lode was soon held firmly by British interests.

Across North America, dozens of industrial plants were built and got to work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

History is full of “what if’s.” What if Charlemagne had refused the title of Holy Roman Emperor? What if John III Sobieski didn’t break the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683? What if Chingis Khan had never invaded the Middle East? What if the Japanese Empire didn’t attack Pearl Harbor and force the United States into the Second World War? One can speculate…

Eventually, the U.S. would have intervened in Europe. Simply put, the English and French owed billions in war debts from the First World War to American banks, and the U.S.A would have been forced to intervene simply to protect its interests. The Pacific was considered an American and British lake back then, and the Phillipines were a de facto American colony in the 1930’s – so it was only a matter of time before the Japanese Empire and the United States would find themselves in one conflict or another.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the European Powers, the Japanese understood what “total war” meant in the age of industry. Their miraculous conversion, in just one century, from Medieval backwater to industrial superpower had already resulted in Japanese forces utterly dominating and annihilating both German and Russian armies in one sided conflicts. Their naval strength was staggering, and by the 1930’s their armies made short work of capturing the infinite resources of China. Pearl Harbor was meant to be a decapitating blow, clipping the Eagle’s wings.

There are mistakes in history, blunders of epic scale, and Pearl Harbor ranks up there with the Khwarazm Shah telling Chingis Khan to go fuck himself. The America that the Japanese empire attacked wasn’t the one we know today, full of soul searching and unsure of itself – rather it was the country which had produced Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and especially John D. Rockefeller.

It had also produced Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, whom General Kenneth Nichols worked for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ore purchased from the Union Minière du Haut Katanga by General Kenneth Nichols, which was scratched out of the earth in the Belgian Congo’s Shinkolobwe mine and stored in a warehouse on Staten Island, was uranium. The United States of America used that ore to refine and produce Plutonium in a massive industrial complex which it built in just six years. On September 18th, 1942 – the fate of two Japanese cities was sealed when the ore came passed into the hands of the Manhattan Project, which came to fruition on August 6th in 1945.

Seventy years ago today – a device named Little Boy carried that ore, mined from Shinkolobwe and stored in Staten Island, over a city called Hiroshima in Japan.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 6, 2015 at 11:30 am

decadent element

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Bayonne Bridge progress, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion, one of our education tours for kids (typically inner city teenagers who are introduced to the idea of a career on the water or at the ports by Martime professionals and Coast Guard Officers whom we bring onboard) headed out to Port Elizabeth Newark. These kids tours are what WHC is really about, and the public tours we do are actually fundraisers that support these other efforts.

Your humble narrator was onboard solely to photograph this time around, and I soon found myself focusing in on the Bayonne Bridge reconstruction project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are three major bridge projects underway in NY Harbor at the moment – two are replacements (Kosciuszko Bridge at Newtown Creek, and Tappan Zee over the Hudson) and the third is a retrofit – Bayonne Bridge.

In the case of Othmar Amman’s masterful Bayonne Bridge, the roadway is being raised to allow a new class of cargo ship access to the Port Newark terminals and it’s the BB’s owner which is running the show – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bayonne Bridge spans the Kill Van Kull, connecting Staten Island’s North Shore to New Jersey. Just beyond it is the busiest cargo operation in the North Eastern United States. The continuing modernization of global container based shipping operations has created a sort of arms race to see how big a cargo ship can get (economy of scale) and the most recent iterations of these giants cannot cross under the roadway. In order to remain economically viable, the Port Authority has been forced to redesign the bridge so as to accommodate these larger vessels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s all sorts of “big industry” involved in this sort of undertaking, and in the shot above and below, you will observe a “beam spreader.” It’s job is to hoist the sections of approach roadway into place and hold them steady while crews of workers secure them to both the pylons which will support them and to the previous sections already installed.

You can see the difference in altitude between the old and new roadway in the shot above, with the older approach visible to the right hand side of the shot, backed up by the Freedom Tower.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After decades of inertia, wherein the various governmental entities found here in the megalopolis barely had the funding to perform basic maintenance on the various bits of infrastructure which make it possible to move people and commerce around, it’s actually startling to see so much of it going on all at once.

There is no investment more prosaic to make than in infrastructure. Unfortunately, in the case of all three bridge projects mentioned, none of them have avoided the mistakes of the House of Moses and incorporated a light rail line or any sort of mass transit into their modernizations. We are reinforcing and advancing the age of the Automobile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Still, as I’m sure the crew of the James E. Brown tugboat would say about the project – “I feel good.”

Sorry – could not resist the pun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Bayonne Bridge project is ongoing, and will continue to be documented at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

For more on the Bayonne Bridge project, direct from the “horse’s mouth” as it were – check out this page at the Port a Authority’s website.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

fare together

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As detailed in this recent post, my camera was destroyed in an accident.

For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thursday last, the new camera got its first real workout on the Working Harbor Committee trip to Port Elizabeth Newark. Despite being largely the same device as the shattered and well weathered one (the firmware is a bit different, however, offering a couple of bells and whistles which weren’t present on the original) one opted to work the scenery encountered with a certain ferocity.

The Kill Van Kull tidal strait leads to Port Elizabeth Newark, which is the principal cargo port for the North Eastern United States. This is pretty familiar turf for me, and when I got onboard the NY Waterways ferry which WHC had chartered, forefront in my mind was the desire to come back with something a bit visually different from what I normally do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weather was not conducive to the “lurid shimmering of pale light” thing which typifies most of the maritime shots I produce. It was dark, due to threatening storm clouds, and kind of misty. Luckily, it wasn’t a “precipitating mist” wherein the moisture suspended in the air congeals onto any available surface. Instead, this was a light eating atmosphere. As my long lost pal Bernie would have advised – “use it” – so I went for composition and shadows of oily density. That’s the Port Authority’s Bayonne Bridge from the Newark Bay side, by the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A trip down the Kill Van Kull is remarkable only when you don’t see tugboats at work. The busy waterway is a 24/7 conveyor belt of maritime industrial goodness, with titan cargo ships and other vessels plying its length. Pictured above is the DonJon Towing company’s Meghan Ann driving a barge of scrap metal towards the port facilities. I can only presume, based on experience, that the tug was coming from my beloved Newtown Creek.

Speaking of Newtown Creek, confirmation that I’ll be conducting a free boat tour on Saturday as part of the City of Water Day event conducted by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance arrived. Click the link below to get onboard.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 18th, 2015
Newtown Creek City of Water Day Boat Tour 
with Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

amidst glare

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A few 4th of July shots, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are so many balls in the air at the moment, and so many more which one must work into the juggling act… best to focus in on the fireworks from July 4th in today’s post. Distraction abounds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the 4th itself, a friend with a river view invited Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself to his house. Obligatory for shots of this kind, a tripod came along with me. When the Macy’s show got started, one was ready.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally, one planned to be in LIC, the titular focus of the fireworks show… but the security theatrics which NYPD got up to scared me away. I tend to avoid areas in which snipers have been deployed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friend’s place is in the crowded and tony section of Williamsburg, and when the show was over – Our Lady and myself managed to fight off a horde of hipsters in pursuance of a taxi to get back to Astoria. When we arrived there, however… in tomorrow’s post, I will describe to you horror incarnate.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms – Greenpoint, Brooklyn Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2015 at 10:33 am

hath looked

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The Tug Sea Lion, at Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When one was onboard that Anchor QEA excursion mentioned last week (the post with the shot of those cool storm clouds blowing in), the Sea Lion tug appeared. She was towing an empty garbage barge, and navigating down the East River. Whenever one of these towing vessels nears my vantage in this part of the harbor, even one as loathsome as myself can grow excited.

The backgrounds which they move against are… iconic… to say the least.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Freedom Tower, or One World Trade if you must, has assumed this sort of iconic “gravitas” despite its relatively short period of tenancy in the skyline of the Shining City. Thing is, if you are after instant recognition, nothing beats either the Empire State or Chrysler buildings for saying “New York City.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sea Lion entered Reach A of the Newtown Creek, heading eastwards. I’ve asked around a bit about the whole “Marion or Reach A,” “Reach B,” thing, btw. My maritime chums, and in this case an actual Ships Captain, have all related that the “reach” thing is how far you can navigate based on a single compass heading.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sea Lion was witnessed delivering it’s empty barge to SimsMetal, and exchanging the thing for a filled up one. The cargo onboard the barge is full of recyclable materials which the company will process at one of its other facilities.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms – Greenpoint, Brooklyn Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

mystery attacks

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, an excursion upon the fabled Newtwon Creek with the Anchor QEA folks (they’re the scientists studying the Creek for the Superfund process) and the Newtown Creek CAG Steering Committee (which I’m a member of) was cut short by threatening weather. Anchor has all sorts of frammistats onboard which warn them of the approach of lightning, and all the gizmos began to go off as a powerful thunderstorm was approaching. The shot above is from roughly 2.5 miles back from the East River, and depicts the DUGABO side of Brooklyn as the storm blew in. We made it back to dock, but not before the first curtain of rain and hail began to pummel the Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

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