The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘DUKBO’ Category

to overtake

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Glamorous thrill in today’s post.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Not once, but twice, have I been invited to ride along with people in their automobiles in the last week. Motor coaches were once a significant part of a humble narrators life, when jaunts and journeys would carry one across the megalopolis, but my current incarnation is that of the pedestrian so when an opportunity to hurtle along in a steel motor box comes along – I take it. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from waving the camera around. Pictured above, the Penny Bridge section of my beloved Newtown Creek as witnessed from the high flying Kosciuszko Bridge captured while traveling at about 30 mph.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my destinations was over at the border of Bushwick and Williamsburg in infinite Brooklyn. While gathering this shot of a “sweet pete” truck, one had to work quickly as my presence had awoken the pack of dogs that patrol this yard. Didn’t wish to set them off, so I shot and ran. That’s the thrilling part.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Tuesday’s fog lent a certain atmospheric quality to another shot gathered while hurtling over the Kosciuszko Bridge. A dream of mine is to actually have some time to linger up here, but that would close lanes on the busy Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and I’ve already pissed off enough of my fellow New Yorkers over the years.

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There’s two FREE Newtown Creek walking tours coming up.

Sunday, June 15th, DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

Sunday, June 21st, America’s Workshop
A FREE tour, courtesy of Green Shores NYC, click here for rsvp info

demon beckoned

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1854, lords and ladies, 1854.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Kerosene was “invented” by a Canadian named Abraham Gesner. He received the patents for the stuff, and coined the name (like a lot of 19th century industrial product names, we use the trademarked nomen as the descriptor for the entire category. It’s the same shorthand we use for facial tissue as being “Kleenex” or photocopying as “Xerox”) for a distillation of coal oil. Gesner was looking for a way to get an angle on the lamp oil trade. In 1854, lamp oil was produced from animals, in particular from fish and especially whales. When the time came to set up shop and build a factory to produce his coal oil, it was along the Newtown Creek that Abraham Gesner built the first large scale Kerosene works in North America – in what we call Queens.

from wikipedia

Gesner’s research in minerals resulted in his 1846 development of a process to refine a liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and oil shale. His new discovery, which he named kerosene, burned more cleanly and was less expensive than competing products, such as whale oil. In 1850, Gesner created the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing lighting in the streets in Halifax and other cities. By 1854, he had expanded to the United States where he created the North American Kerosene Gas Light Company at Long Island, New York. Demand grew to where his company’s capacity to produce became a problem, but the discovery of petroleum, from which kerosene could be more easily produced, solved the supply problem.

Abraham Gesner continued his research on fuels and wrote a number of scientific studies concerning the industry including an 1861 publication titled, “A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils,” which became a standard reference in the field. Eventually, Gesner’s company was absorbed into the petroleum monopoly, Standard Oil and he returned to Halifax, where he was appointed a Professor of Natural History at Dalhousie University.

This was Gesner, who kind of looked a bit like General Zod in my opinion.


- photo by Mitch Waxman

The North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, later the New York Kerosene Company, would eventually be acquired by Charles Pratt and folded into his growing Astral Oil empire (Pratt’s own Kerosene refinery was centered at Bushwick Inlet at the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg) and would became a part of Standard Oil when Pratt joined forces with John D Rockefeller. The Gesner works are often mentioned by environmental officials, but no one ever gets specific about where they were. You’d think the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States would have left behind a plaque or something, but welcome to Queens.

from 1909’s “The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Volume 1″, courtesy google books

During the year 1859 the North American Kerosene Gaslight Company imported upwards of 20,000 tons of Boghead coal for the supply of their works at Newtown Creek Long Island at an average cost of $18.00 per ton It was found that a ton of this mineral run in common retorts yielded 120 gallons of crude oil per ton which gave 65 gallons of lamp oil 7 gallons of paraffin oil and 12 pounds of paraffin wax The cost of the oil was estimated at 63 cents per gallon 5


- photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of work has gone into screwing down the exact location of the facility around Newtown Pentacle HQ in recent days, and I can tell you that the footprint of the North American Kerosene Gaslight Company was incorporated into what we now refer to as Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works – which is in Blissville and across the street from Calvary Cemetery. Equidistant from the Greenpoint Avenue and long demolished Penny Bridges, this is the site of the Blissville Seep, which I’ve been rattling on about for a few years now.

from a December 2011 posting at this, your newtown pentacle

Sadly, oil is seeping out of a bulkhead on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek.

Famously, the Greenpoint Oil Spill (click here for a link to for more) occurred just across the water from this spot, but every indication points to this as being a separate event. The former site of Charles Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works, which was an approximately 18 acre parcel which would later be called the “Standard Oil Blissville works”, the sites occupation in modernity has little or nothing to do with petroleum.

also, from 1921′s Welding engineer, Volume 6, courtesy google books


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

Glittering Realms: Brooklyn’s Greenpoint with Atlas Obscura, on Saturday May 17th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor: Queen’s LIC with Brooklyn Brainery, on Sunday May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

amidst marshes

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Now & Then on Newtown Creek.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above depicts the scene on Newtown Creek, as witnessed from the site of the Brooklyn side landing of the long dismantled Meeker Avenue or Penny Bridge, as it appeared in March of 2014. This is the very edge of the borough, where Meeker ends its long northward trek across the infinity of Brooklyn at Newtown Creek. Its kind of a forgotten spot, with Blissville in Queens occupying most of the image.


- photo by Percy Loomis Sperr

This shot, found in the collections of the New York Public Library, depicts the same scene back in 1939 from nearly the same spot. The well ensconced oil industry is quite active, as evinced by the abundance of chimneys. Notice that you can’t see Manhattan’s skyline in this one. Could be weather, or the choices made by the photographer, Percy Loomis Sperr. It’s probably because of the pall of smoke, smog, and industrial emissions in which Newtown Creek was famously cloaked during its heyday.

There are two public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up, one in Queens and one that walks the currently undefended border of the two boroughs.

DUPBO, with Newtown Creek Alliance and MAS Janeswalk, on May 3rd.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

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

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

subsequently worshipped

with one comment

A return to DUKBO, and an ending to the hermitage of winter.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned earlier in the week, efforts at re engaging with the lifestyle and physical habits which personal discipline and medical advice demand – habits which this long season of ice and snow have retarded – have been and are underway. A humble narrator has turned into an oddly pallid mass of flabby, quivering, and utterly tumescent gelatin over the winter. Rotting bone and torn cartilage underlies a weakened musculature, and my overall physical and psychological condition has undertaken an unwholesome and worrisome transformation, even my skinvelope has developed an odd translucence.

Wet staring eyes, dull and unblinking, gaze out from beneath a humble narrator’s troubled brow and a voice which may not be a voice speaks in both his dreams and wakeful thoughts. It demands attention, repeating over and over, in a puzzlingly queer collection of wheezing exhalations and hallucinatory percussions, a sound whose closest approximation in the English alphabet can only be expressed as “DUKBO, DUKBO, DUKBO.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Problems encountered in this endeavor of physical and spiritual re training have included a series of minor physical maladies. Although many are attributable to the aging process, a couple have been slowing things down noticeably. A bit of tendinitis occurs in a certain knee, while other joints and appendages enjoy and signal the arrival of arthritic symptoms. My back hurts, and so does the middle finger of my right hand, which just seems to spasm out from an otherwise wholesomely clenched fist of its own volition.

The latter may be due to environmental stimuli, and seems to occur a lot when I am in the presence of humans – a habit one is trying to wean himself off of presently.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Right now, a humble narrator can’t wait to get his first solar radiation burns of 2014, when the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself will claim its summer regency over the weather. I’ve decided to follow that sound, a vibration which seems to be calling from both deep within the ground and from above, that rumbling exhortation “DUKBO, DUKBO, DUKBO,” wherever it may lead. Pain and age be damned, who can guess all there is, that might be down there?

The good thing about sunburn - I’ve always thought – is that no matter how dead you are inside, if you’ve got a sunburn you can at least prove to yourself that you are still capable of feeling “something.”

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

An unexpected birthday

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This is a reblog from exactly one year ago, commemorating both the Birthday of the Kosciuszko Bridge and the Night of the Living Dead.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, the old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be,

Ain’t what she used to be, ain’t what she used to be.

The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be, Many long years ago.

Seventy Four years ago today, the Little Flower cut the ribbon and officially opened the “New Meeker Avenue Bridge” to traffic. The following April in 1940, it was renamed as the Kosciuszko Bridge.

It’s the Night of the Living Dead, by the way. Also, it’s Vulcanalia

August 23, 1939, image New York City Municipal Archives at

- photo by Arthur J. Foley

According to the Long Island City Star-Journal of August 24th, 1939- the lineup of folks in the shot and action above are described as:

Mayor LaGuardia snips the ribbon which admitted the first autos lo use the lofty new Meeker Avenue Bridge over Newtown Creek in Laurel Hill, at the dedication held yesterday at Laurel Hill Plaza. To the right of the mayor is Acting Borough President John J. Halloran of Queens. To his left is Borough President Raymond V. Ingersoll of Brooklyn. Left of Ingersoll is Frederick J. H. Kracke, who was commissioner of Plant and Structures when that department originated plans for the bridge.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

American Bridge Company and Bethlehem Steel worked on her, along with dozens of other contractors. The Big K was part of what was known as “the Regional Plan”, which also provied the pretext for the erection of the Triborough, Whitestone, Marine Parkway and a slew of other bridges across the archipelago.

July 14, 1939, image New York City Municipal Archives at,

- photo by Arthur J. Foley

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Odds are very good that this is her last birthday (wrong again, Mitch), as the “Fast Track” program announced by the Governor will be kick starting the construction of a “Newer Meeker Avenue Bridge”- or perhaps the “Kosciuszko Two”- by the late spring of 2013. She will be gone by 2017, if one were to believe the schedule currently touted by State officials.

June 29, 1939, image New York City Municipal Archives at,

- photo by Joseph Shelderfer

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The historic shots included in this post all link out to the New York City Municipal Archives site, which has famously begun releasing thousands of historic images of the City online. One of the tricks to using the system, I’ve discovered, is knowing what things used to be called. It’s a “streetcar” versus “trolley” kind of thing. We call the former light rail system by the latter name, while those who dwelled in the past used the former.

June 29, 1939, image New York City Municipal Archives at,

- photo by Joseph Shelderfer

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Very little information is available about the construction and planning of the Kosciuszko, but there’s plenty about the New Meeker Avenue Bridge. The Big K was built for two official reasons- first, to provide a link between the multitudes of infinite Brooklyn and the World Fair Grounds in Flushing (Flushing Meadow Corona Park), and secondly to replace the aging swing bridge that spanned Newtown Creek between Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn and Laurel Hill Blvd. in Queens. Unofficially, Robert Moses really wanted to get the Brooklyn Queens Expressway built and this was as good a place as any to start.

August 14, 1939, image New York City Municipal Archives at,

- photo by Arthur J. Foley

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One does look forward to that day in the latter half of this decade, which I seriously doubt will be anything even close to 2017, when the pedestrian lane of the new bridge will be open for inspection. One of the most frustrating parts of the current bridge is that it once sported such a lane for perambulation, but it has long been closed off- thwarting photographic exploitation of the surreal vantage point that it offers.

How I would love to set up a tripod on the Kosciuszko Bridge…


Construction on a new bridge is now expected to begin in spring 2013 — a year ahead of schedule, thanks to $460 million made available for the job by Gov. Cuomo’s New York Work initiative.

The 73-year-old bridge, which carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over the Newtown Creek, qualified for the money in part because it is on the state’s “deficient bridge” list.

The initial phase of construction will build an eastbound lane next to the existing bridge, according to the state Department of Transportation, the agency overseeing the project. The 1.1-mile bridge is expected to be done in 2017 and will cost about $800 million.

When completed, two new spans with a total of nine vehicle lanes and paths for pedestrians and bikes will replace the original structure.

Here’s a rare historic shot- in color- of the mighty span, from the year it was opened, also courtesy New York Municipal Archives

- photo by New York City Municipal Archives

- photo by Mitch Waxman

And just as a reminder, in the name of public good and an abundance of caution- don’t forget about the whole Night of the Living Dead thing- this could be trouble.

from youtube-

Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek - Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2013 at 9:30 am


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