The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Staten Island’ Category

squamous aspiration

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Constantly disappointing, and complaining, that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Winter boredom is anathema to one such as myself. The cold and dark, the thirty five pounds of insulation, the constant flux between the dry and cold air of the out of doors contrasted with the high temperature and humidity found within. The constancy of a drippy nose. Bah.

It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why some feel the need to jack the heat up to the mid 80’s inside of structures, knowing full well that inhabitants and visitors will be wearing clothing appropriate for the out of doors. The worst culprit on this front seems to be the subway system, where you’ll step off of a station platform whose atmospheric temperature is commensurate with the freezing of water and suddenly find yourself in a hurtling metal box whose ambient air mass is heated to something approaching that of an afternoon in July. Add in the sniffling, coughing, and dripping orifices of the mob…

Well, I’ve often opined that what this City needs is a good plague – and I’m fairly certain that one will eventually start on a Subway in Queens during middle January. Don’t touch that subway pole, if you can help it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, one is awaiting a particularly personal moment which occurs every year, when a humble narrator’s boredom grows so intense that he has little choice but to brave the cold and head back outside. At this juncture, however, the moment hasn’t arrived, and one has been spending his time reading about the Second Empire period of French history, Otto Von Bismarck, and researching the chemicals which the seething cauldrons of industry produce that are classified as petroleum or coal distillates. One does a lot of reading during this time of the year.

I’ve also read up a bit on Kazakhstan, the Crimean Tartars, and the Deccan Plain on the Indian subcontinent. Briefly, I also looked into the Chicago stock yards and the post civil war meat packing industry as well as the suffragettes of 19th century Brooklyn Heights. I continue to study the rise and fall of the Roman Catholic empire in New York City, which is fascinating. Also reiterated will be the fact that if you enjoy gelatin based desserts – never, ever, inquire too deeply as to what gelatin actually is nor how it is produced for you will never, ever, eat it afterwards. Jello brand gelatin was invented by Peter Cooper in a glue factory on Newtown Creek in the 19th century, which is all you really need to know about it. Isenglass is also soul chilling.

Sexy stuff, I know, but the so called “fin de siècle” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are when the foundations of our modern civilization were laid down and it remains a certain benchmark from a cultural point of view. Labor unions, representative government (both socialist and capitalist), industrial warfare – all of it was imagined up back then. It’s also when the environment surrounding us began to die off due to anthropogenic reasons. The dominoes were lined up, quite unconsciously, back then for the end of our world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Fin de siècle” is a French expression which gained popularity in the first decade of the 20th century, a part of the run up to the Great War, which indicated that the “end of the cycle” or “end of an age” was apparent. It’s part of a phenomena known as millennial fatalism, wherein a culture believes that the “end of the world” nears. It’s difficult to not think that our culture may have reached its breaking point, given what we see on the nightly news. The fatalism and general horror which the various news organizations pump into our heads is, of course, not accidental. Don’t forget that most of the news gathering and dissemination companies are owned and operated by defense contractors.

I’ve always been an optimist, however. What other choice have you got, ultimately? Winter will come and go, and then… flowers and puppies. That’s the way that the wheel of the year spins, after all.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

marine things

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R.I.P John Skelson.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another member of “Team Bernie” has left us, this time it’s photographer John Skelson. John was a life long Staten Islander who spent a lot of his time on the North Shore along the Kill Van Kull photographing passing ships. Working Harbor Committee alumni, John produced shots for the WHC blog’s Friday feature – Ship Spotting with Skelson. Ship Spotting got John noticed by the NY Times and others, and happily I can report that during his final years he enjoyed a certain notoriety in maritime circles. He’s survived by his wife, Phyllis Featherstone.

That’s John Skelson pictured above, at his office on the Kill Van Kull, just a few months before he died.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, in his honor, a few of us met up at Skelson’s office to collect a few shots and reminisce. Will Van Dorp from tugster.com showed up onboard the NY Media Boat. Afterwards, we retired to Liedy’s Shore Inn, drank a beer or two, and then headed back to other parts of the archipelago.

You people have no idea how connected all of us are to each other, out there on the edge of the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Team Bernie, as mentioned above, was the collection of harbor rats, rail enthusiasts, and antiquarians whom photographer Bernie Ente included on his adventures. Bernie went first, cancer. John Doswell went next, cancer. Skelson just died, cancer.

And you people wonder why I’m so obsessed with what’s lurking in the water. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

John Skelson was a good and kind man, as were Bernie Ente and John Doswell. He, and they, are dearly missed. The collective knowledge which died with them, which will be lost to time, is irreplaceable. Bernie, also a photographer left behind a wife and daughter, who are doing fine last I heard. Capt. Doswell’s wife Jeanne is still one of the operative and moving gears which allows Working Harbor Committee to continue.

And you people wonder why I blog every day, and kiss Our Lady of the Pentacle every chance I get.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the worst part of growing older – just at that moment when you’ve got yourself figured out, know what and who you actually are – that’s when it comes. All the wasted time and emotional tumult, all the troubles and tribulations, just at the point when you’ve “figured your shit out” is when it all ends. That’s when all that’s left are clothes, papers and possessions, and someone you love finds themselves alone. There’s some truth to the concept that the person that suffers least is the one who died. Saying that, cancer.

And you people wonder why I’m the guy with the sign boards in Times Square that say “the end is nigh.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is Skelson’s Office. The tracks of the Staten Island Railroad are still there, at the corner of Richmond Terrace and Bard Avenue, between the gas station parking lot and the water. A general call is going out to the maritime community to refer to it as such. For those of you interested in photographing the show along the Kill Van Kull, Skelson’s Office is available for new tenants. Bring a zoom lens, and dress warm. Get there early, stay there late. NY Harbor never disappoints.

And you people wonder why I talk about legacy and “passing it on” so much. 

Also, on a completely different note:

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Want to get involved in the future of the Montauk Cutoff? A “visioning meeting” will be taking place tonight (December 2nd) at LIC’s Nomad Cycle (47-10 Austell Pl, Queens, NY 11101), between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. There will be snacks!

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

abetted by

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Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion to Gowanus Bay saw our vessel plying the Buttermilk Channel section of the East River, which is found between Red Hook and Governors Island. The legend about how this section of the river ended up being called Buttermilk Channel states that back in colonial times, it was so shallow at low tide that Red Hook farmers would herd cattle over to the island for safe keeping and free grazing. Dredging projects in the industrial era lowered the depth hereabouts, creating a shipping channel.

As our vessel moved along, a big orange boat called the Staten Island Ferry entered into Buttermilk, which is pretty unusual. Incidentally, despite its size, the Ferry is a boat. If it could launch a boat, it would be a ship, but since it can’t, it’s a boat. Life boats don’t count, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was actually a dredging project that caused the anomaly. New York Harbor is an estuary situated between a giant conveyor belt for silt and soil called the Hudson River and the estuarial waters of Jamaica Bay and Long Island Sound. The back and forth tidal action of the East River, coupled with the titanic flow of the Hudson, causes the harbor floor to build up constantly and channel maintenance is an expensive but necessary activity ordained and financed by the ports people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just as we were leaving Buttermilk Channel on our way to Erie Basin and Gowanus Bay, the NYPD Harbor Patrol came splashing by, offering themselves up with an iconic backdrop.

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red whilst

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Staten Island Ferry, New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, one is taking a short break – hence the singular image which greets you above. Back soon with new stuff.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

landing above

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Bayonne.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, one is taking a short break – hence the singular image which greets you above. Back soon with new stuff.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours and events –

October 10th, 2015
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 8, 2015 at 11:00 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

flashed before

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New York Harbor, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, my chums at the Working Harbor Committee conducted one of the group’s Education Tours for students. We had a gaggle of ninth graders onboard, as well as some rather top shelf speakers from the NYC EDC, Maritime Association, and Port Authority. The goal of the trip is to encourage the kids to consider a career in the Maritime industry, and teach them a little bit about the harbor. Most of the kids onboard were from inland neighborhoods in Manhattan and the Bronx, so visiting the sixth borough was a real treat for them. Me? I was there to take pictures, and frankly, I was just happy to be out on a boat again after the insane winter we’ve all just suffered through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trip was conducted on a NY Waterways Ferry, and proceeded from Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan first to Erie Basin in Red Hook and then up the Kill Van Kull (a tidal strait found betwixt Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey) to Port Elizabeth Newark in Newark Bay. Pretty familiar turf to me, as long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, will attest – but it was fantastic watching the faces of the kids who were seeing it for the first time. Education about the harbor of New York and New Jersey, after all, is ultimately what Working Harbor Committee’s mission is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In between getting shots of the kids and dignitaries on the mike, one managed to crack out a few shots of passing maritime traffic, as evinced by the shots in today’s post. I’m going to be on the mike for a trip down Newtown Creek on the 31st of May (leaving at 11 a.m. from Pier 11), which will be directly followed by a second journey down the Gowanus Canal. My pals and I at WHC are currently forming up a summer tour schedule which will visit locations both familiar and novel, btw, and will shortly be announcing our 2015 schedule.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

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