The Newtown Pentacle

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healing balm

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Cry havoc, and let slip the dog of Blissville…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

On my way to a recent Poison Cauldron tour, wherein a group of overtly curious New Yorkers were guided around neighborhood found in Brooklyn’s DUKBO, a rather large canine was spotted. It is my belief that I have met this dog before, and if I’m correct in my assumption of its identity, all one hundred pounds of slavering canine flesh contained in its skinvelope are overtly friendly and desirous of a good scratch. One way or another, he caught my eye whilst a humble narrator was scuttling toward the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Stinging critique is omnipresent in my mind, as always. A novel one has been added to the list over at my Brownstoner Queens column, where someone has characterized a recent post as “classist.” That’s a new one. I’ve been called a lot of things over the last five years or so, but classist ain’t one of them. Just so that you understand where I come from, my Dad called the commode “a terlet” and the conventional wisdom in my family was that the best you could do in life was to pass a civil service exam which would vouchsafe “security” in the form of a job working for the City.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dogs are generally good, to me at least. Here in Astoria, where a significant number of the neighbors hail from the near east and adhere to the mores of a Muslim upbringing – they’re not so good. There’s a whole other cultural imperative at work with these folks, and they view dogs as “unclean.” Canines aren’t as “haram” as pigs, of course, and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a coefficient to how unclean they are based on geography. Conversation with the neighbors has revealed that folks from the western side of the near east – Lebanon, Egypt etc. – are fairly tolerant of dogs although they are a bit wary about them (much like the Greeks who hail from the Cyclades). When you meet folks from further east – Bangladesh, India etc. – the sudden appearance of a dog amongst them is tantamount to pulling the pin on a grenade. The dividing line between the two points of view seems to be somewhere around the Arabian peninsula. This is entirely unscientific, of course, and based strictly on conversation with the neighbors.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

hellish ooze

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Paranoids and conspiracists rejoice at the Newtown Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Those who have had the scales cast off from before their eyes, when they’re not telling you that the Queen of England is a star born reptile or that the moon landings were faked, will inform petitioners about the Rockefellers. The family is reported to be illuminati, in cahoots with the Bilderbergers, agents of Lucifer itself, and or working with space aliens to reduce 99% of humanity down to the status of a herd animal. Your humble narrator is a paranoid, but ain’t that far gone yet. I do give them credit for a lot of what’s wrong on my beloved Newtown Creek, however.

from 1882′s “Annual Report, Volume 2 by New York (State) Dept. of Health,” courtesy google books

X

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just mentioning the name of the sire, John D Rockefeller, in connection with his Standard Oil company (which by 1892 had a stranglehold on oil refining around the Creek and owned 95% of the petroleum industry by 1911), has caused several well meaning folks to pull me to the side and ask that I not mention his name for fear of repurcussions. It seems that the grand kids and great grandchildren of the old man are funders of and heavily involved in water based non profits, and they worry about me rocking the boat, donations wise. Greater good, I’m told.

Still, its John D’s legacy that’s oozing out of the bulkheads on Newtown Creek to this very day.

from 1870′s “The Insurance Times, Volume 3,” courtesy google books

KEROSENE EXPLOSIONS Is there to be no end to the destructive ravages of kerosene. Already it kills more than railway and steamboat accidents put together, aud yet the fatal explosiveness is mainly a consequence of adulteration. Commercial traud is becoming an agency more deadly than the most dreaded epidemic it poisons the community through its drinks and destroys lifu and property by means of ti c domestic lamp The poor creatures who were left houseless and destitute the other night by the tire in Thirty fourth street may have no appeal against the injustice that diluted the household oil with elements of destruction but the State ought to take cognisance of an abuse so shameful and so inhuman Sun KEROSENE FIRE AT GKEKNPOIKT LONG ISLAND A MAN FATALLY BURNED The Kingsiand Oil Works on Newtown Creek Ureenpoiut owned by Messrs Fleming & Wells were set on lire last night by the explosion of a tank of benzine Michael Casey the night watchman was severely burned about the face and hands He is not expected to live The loss by the fire is estimated at $5,000

X

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, unlike most involved in the “environmental” scene, I’m decidedly not anti-business and I am certainly not some vegan muffin eating virgin who thinks that oil companies are necessarily evil. The fact is, you can’t blame a drug dealer for selling their wares to an addicted clientele, and you also can’t point your accusing finger at an oil company if you’re thrusting an arm out of an automobile window to do so.

I will concede, however, that since the Rockefellers and Pratts originally marketed their kerosene businesses as selling “illuminating oil,” that they might accurately be described as illuminati. The jury is out on the Queen of England and her House of Saxe Coburg being lizards, although it would explain a lot of things.

from 1910′s “Seventh International Congress of Applied Chemistry, London, May 27th to June 2nd, 1909 Section 3a, Metallurgy and Mining,” courtesy google books

Oil Shales of Canada By CHARLES BASKEBVILLE Ph D The use of shale as a source of oil by destructive distillation is well known in Scotland France Germany and Australia and requires no explanation to this Congress In America however this fact is not so well recognised although Gesner claimed to have been the first to produce illuminating oil from bituminous materials on that continent At public lectures delivered in Prince Edward's Island in August 1846 he burned in lamps the oil obtained by distilling coal Patents granted to Gesner nine years latert passed into the hands of the North American Kerosene Gaslight Company who manufactured the oil at their works at Newtown Creek Long Island and sold it under the name of Kerosene Oil The agents of this company encountered considerable difiiculty in selling their product

X

There are two public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up,
one in LIC, Queens and one in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Glittering Realms, with Atlas Obscura, on Saturday May 17th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor, with Brooklyn Brainery, on Sunday May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

organic norm

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Tug Ireland in DUGABO.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Tug Ireland on Newtown Creek, at the Lukoil Getty bulkhead, nearby the fabulous Tidewater building, alongside the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, in a spot that one refers to as DUGABO. Ireland has been mentioned before at this, your Newtown Pentacle, in the posts “sizable rift” and “thither shouldst.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot is noteworthy simply for the fact that Newtown Creek ain’t what she used to be, maritime traffic wise, and the fact that one seldom sees a Tug tied up anywhere in the harbor. Normally, tugs are like police cars or taxi cabs – existing in a state of perpetual motion while in pursuit of their duties, and any time which a working vessel spends inert and at dock is costing the owner a pile of cash and its crew lost wages.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Can’t tell you what Ireland was up to, tied off in Blissville to the Tidewater building bulkheads. I can tell you that it looked real pretty, bathed in the late afternoon radiance offered by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself, while bobbing around on the malign surface of a waterway demarcating the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens that is called Newtown Creek.

There are two public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up, one in LIC, Queens and one in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Glittering Realms, with Atlas Obscura, on Saturday May 17th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor, with Brooklyn Brainery, on Sunday May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

prosaic materialism

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All believe themselves to be saints, not sinners.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Dia de Los Muertos, Áraw ng mga Patáy, the second day of Samhain, or just plain old All Saints Day- here we are again on the track towards the dark and cold wastes of winter. Given a humble narrators abiding interest in the Newtown Creek and its surrounding communities, its only natural for me to think about those who passed through its coils over the centuries. Will you raise a glass to the saints of local industry- Charles Pratt, John D. Rockefeller, The Van Iderstine family, or Ambrose Kingsland- tonight?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Something that I’ve been attempting to reconcile for awhile now is the role of these historical figures in the development and despoiling of the Newtown Creek. Hurricane Sandy showed us what it would be like to live in New York City without a functioning energy sector, and it forced me to reconsider these characters beyond the popular narratives of modernity. From an environmentalist point of view, these are loathsome individuals whose crimes against the earth are countless, and their bones should be scattered in the same way that Marius did to Sulla’s. From an economic point of view, the relict grandeur of early 20th century Greenpoint and Long Island City existed solely because of the energy sector, which provided hundreds of thousands of jobs over the course of a century and “lifted the raft” for the entire community.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s so complicated. This tale of industrialists and robber barons, which is one of the central dichotomies of the American mythology with its narrative of progress. At least they did something with the place which was productive, that generated wealth- is how most of the MBAs would see it. Today, most of these MBA types look to Newtown Creek as a place to throw objectionable materials away, whether it be garbage or sewage. Does modernity have the right to judge the past? Can we understand the “on the ground” circumstances that they were working with back in the 19th century? What have we done, to “lift the raft”?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 1, 2013 at 10:55 am

calmly gazing

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Wrapping up the 400 Kingsland Avenue posts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, Kate Zidar of Newtown Creek Alliance and Kevin Thompson of ExxonMobil created an opportunity for artist Jan Mun (pictured above) and her collaborator Jason Sinopoli to work on an installation at the 400 Kingsland Avenue ExxonMobil property in Greenpoint that would demonstrate the efficacy and possibilities of mycoremediation- the usage of oil eating mushrooms as a bioremediator on contaminated sites. The project took the form of earth work “fairy rings,” a play on European mythology, which would act as a platform for the fungus. I was there to photographically document the project, which played out over the summer of 2013.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The earthworks were arranged around defunct well heads, and hosted two specie of mushrooms. A growth medium of “inoculated” hay stuffed into burlap bags hosted one specie, while the other fungal family was installed directly into the soil. Jan Mun was building on the concepts and work of a fellow named Paul Stamets, who is a leading authority on the subject. The mushrooms took root, as it were, and by late August and early September, we began to see the literal fruit of Jan Mun’s efforts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The mushrooms began to fruit, as they absorbed nutrients from the soil. Interestingly enough, the bags of fungus also began to host a colony of what the kids in my old neighborhood would have referred to as “curly bugs.” That’s the sort of critter which curls up into a ball when you poke them with a stick, which I believe those outside of Canarsie refer to as “Potato Bugs.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The fungi weren’t the only thing that grew here in the summer of 2013. The NCA and ExxonMobil folks began to form a working relationship and friendship, an organic and unplanned consequence of close contact. Your humble narrator, in particular, found a friend in the site manager of the property- Vito- who is also a bit of a history buff. He exhibited some of the artifacts which his crew had dug out of the ground over the years, leave behinds from the long tenancy which the Standard Oil Company of New York enjoyed at this location.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The vernal project concluded, for me at least, with Jan Mun presenting the work to the team of engineers who labor at the site during a “toolbox talk.” Some of these folks worked directly for ExxonMobil, others for the larger company’s subcontractor Roux. The workers here are the men and women who are directly laboring on the remediation and cleanup of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. We shared a meal with them, and then went out to Jan’s work area to discuss the project and the concept of using fungus organisms in the pursuit of our shared organizational goals- achieving a restored and revitalized Newtown Creek environment.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli continue to care for and work on their garden, here at 400 Kingsland Avenue. My documentation of the project is over for now, and I have returned to my solitary wanderings through the concrete devastations. The darkest of the hillside thickets awaits, and I turn away from this brightly lit and illimitable corridor found along the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

different place

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More goings on at 400 Kingsland Avenue with Jan Mun.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, the simple fact that I was occupying a spot on the property of ExxonMobil in Greenpoint during the summer of 2013 was a spectacular and unheralded surprise. As a member of an environmental and community advocacy group whose devotion to “reveal, revitalize, and restore” Newtown Creek is taken quite seriously, being the invited guest of the ExxonMobil corporation on the former SOCONY (Standard Oil Company of New York) property- which stands at the very center of the remediation efforts aimed at cleaning up the Greenpoint Oil Spill- was startling. I was thrilled, frankly.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, this was the navel of the oil business on Newtown Creek, part of an economic machine which was once called Standard Oil. This is where an industrial revolution occurred, right on the spot where artist Jason Sinopoli was placing a burlap bag of sterilized hay and mushroom spores (as pictured above), was a gargantuan oil refinery complex which by 1911 had occupied some 50 acres of Greenpoint. So much of the history of North Brooklyn and Western Queens revolves around the energy industry, it was staggering to be on this spot which has always been forbidden to inspection.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1882, lightning struck and the whole complex burned down.

In 1919, the rebuilt refinery operation completely burnt down a second time, and at the time this property stretched from Kingsland Avenue to Sutton, Norman to the Creek. Standard Oil was able to rebuild the entire operation in just 90 days that time. Between the two fires, Standard reported losses exceeding 140 million gallons of petroleum products- according to contemporaneous accounts published at the NY Times. Pictured above, for the curious, is what a bag of the mushroom spores which Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli were working with looks like. This is the stuff which was combined with the inoculated hay mentioned in yesterday’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

While pondering the lucky fate which had carried me here (a destiny which had been engineered by NCA’s Kate Zidar and ExxonMobil’s Kevin Thompson), Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli toiled away in the terrible heat and humidity suffered on our work days. It was pretty rough, I have to say, and all I was doing was standing around and taking pictures. Zero cover from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself coupled with the sort of high humidity one would expect to encounter in a low lying spot next to a slow moving water body, and all the while clad in a mandated “safety” costuming of hard hat, vest, long sleeves and pants, steel toe boots, and rubberized gloves. My little dog Zuzu wouldn’t come near me, upon returning home, until after I had a shower.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We were of course there to work, not muse about the Greenpoint Oil Spill, ponder the dichotomies inherent in the relationships between the oil industry and Newtown Creek, or worry about heat stroke. The hardship was made worth it, of course, when the mushrooms began to grow.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

shadowy groves

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More on how I spent part of the summer of 2013.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As discussed in yesterday’s post, Newtown Creek Alliance’s Artist in Residence- Jan Mun- proposed an art installation centered around the concept of mycoremediation (hydrocarbon eating mushrooms) and the mythology surrounding “fairy rings.” The project intrigued Newtown Creek Alliance, whose directors reached out to the ExxonMobil folks who oversee the remediation of the Greenpoint Oil Spill. ExxonMobil graciously invited Jan and NCA onto their property at 400 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint (and supplied budgetary support for grounds shaping as well as mushrooms) and I was asked to document the project. This week’s posts all emanate from the venture, and feature shots from “behind the wall.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

ExxonMobil representative Kevin C. Thompson was with us every step of the way, here he is helping Jan Mun sketch out the outlines of the fairy rings which formed concentric circles around inactive well heads. One thing which I can definitively say about the experience is that it was hotter than blazes just about every Tuesday this summer, which was our designated work day, and it would be an understatement to say that the site requirements for long sleeves and gloves was a cumbersome but ultimately necessary burden.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Even though we were working on something “soft,” an art project ultimately, the 400 Kingsland property is an active industrial site full of machines and busy engineers. The safety training we were asked to attend at the start of things informed us to the hazards of the site as well as the mores and conventions of such places. This is pretty standard stuff for industrial areas, as it is extremely easy to get extremely hurt in such places.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s Jason Sinopoli, Jan’s collaborator and partner on the project, walking out of one of the sketched out fairy rings. ExxonMobil uses a landscaping contractor to maintain the grounds here, and Mr. Thompson arranged for them to come in with a bobcat and crew to install and shape the soil to Jan and Jason’s wishes. The contractor came and went, and they left behind spiral mounds for the two J’s to work with.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan Jan laid out for all was to use two forms of mushrooms in the rings, one which would interact directly with the soil and another which would spawn within bags of “inoculated” hay. By inoculated, she means boiled and sprayed with alcohol to kill off any other fungal organism which might already be on the hay. This process was accomplished at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch over on Skillman Avenue in Queens, which is run by Gil Lopez – another of our Newtown Creek Alliance chums.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The hay, along with heaps of mushroom spores, was loaded into burlap sacks and placed atop the earthworks. The bags would require regular watering, and to be covered by tarps to protect it from the effects of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. Fingers crossed, we would leave the ExxonMobil property one Tuesday, then come back the next to see what weird sort of life might be sprouting there.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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