The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth Creek’ Category

braying donkeys

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Regrets, I’ve had a few.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

“I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption.” There’s been an awful gnashing of teeth and a clash of cultures going on around the Newtown Creek of late, and a season of controversy has begun. My pal Bernie Ente always warned that as soon as the money began to flow from the various environmental lawsuits, you’d see the carpet baggers and opportunists assert themselves, and the one thing which everyone would forget about is the Newtown Creek itself as they fought over the scraps offered by the Politicians. I’ve been asked, dozens of times now, for my view on the current conflict and – uncharacteristically – I’ve stayed out of it and refused comment. Why? Because it really has nothing to do with me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew.” Your humble narrator knows all the warring parties personally, some of them are even friends. I know that this means I’m trying to be like Sweden, and that the American way is to pick a side, but unlike everyone else – I can recognize a conflict of interest when it crosses my desk and won’t get involved in a war that doesn’t directly affect me. My interest is in the Newtown Creek itself, and telling its historic story, as well as recording the events of the early Superfund era for posterity. Are the factions vying for the control and future of the waterway, and their conflicts, going to matter in the long run? Only time will tell.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

“For what is a man, what has he got?” There’s a side which believes that Brooklyn is invading Queens, and attempting to inflict a Hipster invasion upon it. There’s a side which visualizes a vast conspiracy, the “Non Profit Industrial Complex” as it were, which will insure that all public monies flow through the hands of a chosen elite. There’s a side which just wants to be left alone to pursue their own goals along the Creek, whether it be splashing around in the water or planting gardens along its banks, however sophist these projects may be. What’s been forgotten, in my mind, is the economic engine that the Newtown Creek was, is, and always will be. Also, the real modern villain of the Creek – the sewer system – which dumps millions of gallons of Manhattan’s untreated filth into the water of Brooklyn and Queens every year, continues to operate in the same manner as it did a century ago, and is seldom mentioned anymore.

Of course, I’m just some guy with a camera and a filthy black raincoat, who doesn’t have advanced degrees in urban studies or whatever, so what do I know? I just see things “my way.”

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.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm

exhalations penetrate

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If it looks like this, can you imagine what it smelled like?

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A short break, wherein offerings at this, your Newtown Pentacle, will consist of lighter fare than that normally served is underway. Obligation and a series of deadlines have dominated all attention, and accordingly – for the next few days, singular images with a pithy yet abbreviated description will be supplied. One must render unto Caesar, after all.

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

Plank Road, with Newtown Creek Alliance, on April 19th. This one is free, click here to get on the list.

Poison Cauldron, with Atlas Obscura, on April 26th. Click here for more info and ticketing.

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

April 18, 2014 at 11:30 am

peopled with

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Today’s post is for the birds.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One remembers that time when the world was not frozen, an era when water ran freely, and there were wholesome creatures which existed in the open air. Some of these entities were classified as birds, holdovers and descendants of the mega saurians who ruled the planet in antiquity, and these bird things were actually capable of flight. This was, of course, before Ithaqua was given regency over the planet, and before New York City began to resemble the Plateau of Leng.

from wikipedia

Ithaqua is one of the Great Old Ones and appears as a horrifying giant with a roughly human shape and glowing red eyes. He has been reported from as far north as the Arctic to the Sub-Arctic, where Native Americans first encountered him. He is believed to prowl the Arctic waste, hunting down unwary travelers and slaying them gruesomely, and is said to have inspired the Native American legend of the Wendigo and possibly the Yeti.

Ithaqua’s cult is small, but he is greatly feared in the far north. Fearful denizens of Siberia and Alaska often leave sacrifices for Ithaqua—not as worship but as appeasement. Those who join his cult will gain the ability to be completely unaffected by cold. He often uses Shantaks, a dragon-like “lesser race”, as servitors. A race of subhuman cannibals, the Gnophkehs, also worshiped him, along with Rhan-Tegoth and Aphoom-Zhah.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We dwell within now, building walls thickened by ice, cowering in the glow of electrical lights – and the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself occluded by frozen clouds. In the gloom and slush outside, shapes move about. Some are huddled masses of textiles wrapped around stiffly articulated ape things, others are vast encrustations of sodium with metallic endoskeletons and four robustly cylindrical rubber feet. The latter spews noxious gas which paints the ice black, and the former have been observed attacking the precipitants with curious tools and devices.

Remember the birds, remember the birds.

from hplovecraft.com

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Televisual news and information services operate in a fever pitch, describing roof collapses and downed power lines, informing and feeding a populace anxious for elevated states of emotion and experience. A new dark age is upon us, perhaps, and the foolish notion that the titans retreated out of weakness is proven out. Woe to you, mankind, for the great old ones of primal myth – those towering, all conquering masses that once ruled this planet have been awoken from their icy tombs and are on the move. The birds have survived them before, and likely will again, what of humanity however?

Leviathan, Jörmungandr, Tiamat - whatever your culture describes them as – these frozen giants whose very body can swell to continental levels – the Glaciers are returning. Lament!

also from hplovecraft.com

It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm

too acute

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The concrete devastations are nepenthe to me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This past weekend was a rather busy one, with a trifecta of tours completed. On Friday, a short walk around Dutch Kills with a group from LaGuardia Community College, a Saturday tour with the Obscura Society explored the Insalubrious Valley, and Sunday found me leading a group from the Brooklyn Brainery through the Poison Cauldron. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- to be seen by so many diminishes me.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered while I was headed for last weekend’s excursion- a Newtown Creek Alliance sponsored event which was conducted as part of the Open House NY weekend event on October 12. This was a novel concept, a “surf and turf” wherein my walking tour met up with a party of rowers from the North Brooklyn Boat Club at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. Along the way, I noticed this Yeshiva bus parked in a bus stop. The driver must have literally interpreted what “bus stop” means. This was a Saturday morning, so the chances that this vehicle was still in place on Sunday morning are pretty high, but I wasn’t there to see it moved so I can’t comment authoritatively. As the saying in my old neighborhood used to go- now Hasidim, now ya don’t.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

All over the upper Creek, there seems to have been some sort of bloom going on for the last couple of weeks, as the water had assumed a chalky green coloration. Last year, while onboard the Riverkeeper boat, just such a happenstance was witnessed. Captain Lipscomb, who operates the boat and scientific equipment onboard, investigated the phenomena and offered the theory that this was a bacterial bloom rather than the effects of an industrial spill or leak. It seems that there are lakes in upstate New York which also suffer from low oxygen levels in the water, and that they exhibit a similar coloration and turbidity as witnessed at the Maspeth Creek tributary in the shot above.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 21, 2013 at 8:02 am

sacred grove

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek, at low tide, does not smell like lilacs. A lot of that is due to the natural actions and out gassing of exposed mud flats, but the miasma which plagues the area around it is due to the combined sewer outfall (CSO NC-077, which discharges better than 288 million gallons a year of untreated sewerage into the water). The waterway, severely truncated and canalized, was locked into its current shape and size back in 1914 by the Army Corps of Engineers at the behest of the United States War Department. Nearby was the LIRR Haberman siding, and this was a strategic locale during the early 20th century full of chemical plants and manufacturing companies.

Once, Maspeth Creek ran nearly all the way to Elmhurst, rather than ending in an open sewer.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Descriptions of this area, in particular, tickle the fancy of those who come to Newtown Creek with preconceived notions about the place. Here they find stink and sediment mounds, and witness abandoned cars dissolving slowly into its waters. As early as 1908, reports of the area describe it as a “dismal swamp, distributing evil smells and ugly to the last degree.” Witnesses in the early 20th century detailed the presence of railroad yards, factories, acid running from open pipes into the water, fat boiling in open vessels, oil works and chemical yards.

Nearby were the bone blackers, fat renderers, and every sort of malodorous occupation imaginable.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It is mysterious, to me, that I have been unable to find mention of the place in literature from the so called “muck raker” era whose setting involves this area- the closest you get is in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Accounts of Packing Town in Chicago abound, notably in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Nellie Bly drew a cogent picture of being institutionalized on Blackwells Island in “10 days in a madhouse” and everyone from Walt Whitman to Horace Greely have left behind accounts of the miseries of Manhattan’s working class communities and the horrible conditions encountered around the factories which lined its riverfront shorelines.

How odd it is that this spot, so close to the geographic center of New York City and with a rich colonial era history, has escaped comment by any other than just a few long dead journalists and a half dead yet humble narrator.

Upcoming tours:

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

unknown magic

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

- photo by Mitch Waxman

After the event at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Friday the 26th, Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director Kate Zidar and I had to hurry over to another location on the troubled waterway for a second event.

This one was taking place at the Maspeth Creek tributary in Queens.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Newtown Creek Alliance  invite you to a special event to celebrate New York’s wildlife and Earth Week!

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DEC have released a new book as part of the “watchable wildlife” initiative, which seems to be a state wide effort to promote eco tourism. The administrative head of the NYC region 2 is Venetia Lannon, who is actually a very cool person in real life, and she was there to speak to the gathered bird enthusiasts, Newtown Creek Alliance members and Creek devotees, as well as members of the local press.

from dec.ny.gov

Whether it’s the spectacle of a soaring eagle or a glimpse of a river otter, here you’ll find what you need to plan a great wildlife viewing experience in New York State. DEC’s wildlife experts help you learn where to find wildlife, what sounds to listen for, or when to look for your favorite animal. Find a full list of wildlife viewing sites in New York State with many new locations just released and see our full list of wildlife species.

Have you checked out the new New York Wildlife Viewing Guide? In it you’ll find more than 100 of New York’s best sites to see wildlife near home or while on a trip. New York State has millions of acres of state parks and forests, preserves, and wildlife management areas (WMAs) each offering tremendous opportunities for wildlife and nature viewing. Take along the New York Wildlife Viewing Guide on your next outdoor adventure! Available soon for your E-reader and electronic devices; purchase a copy on the web, in bookstores, or at watchablewildlife.org.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the DEC’s watchable wildlife book, a lushly illustrated guide book which details opportune spots around the state to observe and experience the splendors of nature, NCA was also premiering our “Birds of Newtown Creek” poster. A bunch of my photos are on the poster, and it discusses the various fauna which have been documented by our group in the last few years.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Newtown Creek has its fair share of un-sung heroes…tug boat captains maneuvering barges piled high, sewer plant operators and garbage handlers doing the invisible work of processing mountains of waste each day… come out with us to explore the un-sung heroes of Newtown Creek’s WILDLIFE.  Each day, spindly-legged egrets and herons work the exposed, fetid sediment mounds in the upper tributaries looking for a hot lunch, and ever-stylish cormorants display their wings as they air-dry on the floating booms that corral waste oil and trash.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s NCA’s Kate Zidar in the shot above, who is one of the smartest people I know. Kate discussed the various species which we’ve documented at the Creek with our ornithologically inclined partners and friends.

from newtowncreekalliance.org

Kate Zidar (Executive Director) is an Environmental Planner with a professional focus on watershed management.  As Executive Director of NCA, she works to strike a balance between waterfront access, environmental health and economic development for the city’s most polluted waterway. Kate serves as Chairperson of the Steering Committee for the Stormwater Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) Coalition, an organization committed to ensuring swimmable, fishable waters around New York City through Green Infrastructure. Kate teaches graduate courses in Writing, Solid Waste Management and Green Infrastructure at Pratt Institute. Kate has experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors, consulting previously for the Planning Center at Municipal Art Society, NYC Housing Authority, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership and Habana Outpost. Kate is a founding member of the North Brooklyn Compost Project, and a board member of the Lower East Side Ecology Center. She holds a BS in Biology from the University of Colorado, and an MS in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center For Planning and the Environment.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek has long been a source of fascination for me, given its significant historical importance and somewhat feral modern incarnation. The bulkheads on either bank of this tributary have been allowed to decay over the course of the 20th century, and as such, nature has reclaimed them. The “soft edges” allow cormorants and other birds to escape the mid day sun and the shallow waters are teeming with invertebrate life.

Unfortunately, an enormous CSO (combined sewer outfall) is here, which continually poisons the water with sewage and industrial runoff.

from dec.ny.gov

Combined sewer systems (CSS) are sewer systems that are designed to collect storm water runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe and bring it to the publicly owned treatment works (POTW) facilities.

During rain events, when storm water enters the sewers, the capacity of the sewer system may be exceeded and the excess water will be discharged directly to a waterbody (rivers, streams, estuaries, and coastal waters).

The untreated water may contain untreated sewage that may impact human health. For information about the general CSO wet weather advisory and links to the CSO outfall map visit the CSO Wet Weather Advisory web page.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Kate Zidar has a few plans for this part of the Newtown Creek watershed which I’m not sure I’m authorized to discuss, but if she manages to pull even a fraction of them off, it will change things for the better around this waterway. Maspeth Creek is one of those rare spots where neighboring property owners, environmental officials, and neighborhood activists are on the “same page” and exciting stuff is in the works.

from wikipedia

Before the nineteenth century urbanization and industrialization of the surrounding neighborhoods, Newtown Creek was a longer and shallower tidal waterway, and wide enough that it contained islands. It drained parts of what are now the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and Maspeth, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Long Island City in Queens. During the second half of the nineteenth century it became a major industrial waterway, bounded along most of its length by retaining walls, the shipping channel maintained by dredging. The Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, mainly a freight line, runs along the North bank.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A display table, pictured above, offered samples of both the NCA Bird Poster and the DEC Watching Wildlife book to the curious and interested alike.

For a free pdf of the NCA “Birds of Newtown Creek” Poster, click here.

Also: Upcoming Tours!

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

Pana_NCA_CreekEDU_Boat_102311_013359_a

- photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be DNAInfountappedcities.com, Queens Chroniclenewyorkview.net, the 22blog, photobycateblog.com, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.

t3_Atlas_PoisonCauldron_082512_012520_a

- photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms- Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

- photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

t3_MWA_COWD_071412_012314_a

- photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

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

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

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