The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘kosciuszko bridge

it shines and shakes and laughs

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

How one has missed the filth and degradation. Rendering the urgency of returning to these places, lonely and swept by a poisonous fume called wind, and finding the lessons offered has been a source of great angst for your humble narrator. It is difficult to describe my personal experience with these lots and parcels, or defend my deep affection for something like the former Phelps Dodge property at Laurel Hill. This is a shunned place, avoided by all given a choice, yet one finds himself moving inexorably toward it after pinning cap to head and telling “Our Lady of the Pentacle” that “I’m going out for a walk”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There is little honey to be found here, unless one uses the euphemism favored by DEP employees for the material they handle. Everywhere is a concretized and apocalyptic post industrial landscape and active culture of garbage handlers and warehouse employees. Barren, the landscape enjoys only the crudest amenities. Street trees are quickly shattered by trucks, and a loose sandy gravel seemingly composed of powderized automotive glass reflects a weak and diffuse light transmitted by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, a ghastly and shambling outcast scuttling about in a filthy black raincoat, the only thought a place like Maspeth Creek can evince is “Hallelujah”. Every suspicion about the truth of the great human hive is manifest here, and condemnation of society at large is readily at hand. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to this forgotten valley of corrupted nature, as it mirrors the sickness in my own thoughts. An inch behind my eyes, I believe, is naught but black mayonnaise.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maybe I am “all ‘effed up”, but to me, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. “Welcome to Newtown Creek”, say I, with hardly any sense or ironic humor or twee dispatch.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 12, 2012 at 12:15 am

the last birthday of the Kosciuszko Bridge

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- 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 Three 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 nycma.lunaimaging.com

- 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 nycma.lunaimaging.com,

- photo by Arthur J. Foley

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Odds are very good that this is her last birthday, 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 nycma.lunaimaging.com,

- 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 nycma.lunaimaging.com,

- 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 nycma.lunaimaging.com,

- 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…

from nydailynews.com

style=”padding-left:30px;”>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 remider, 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- I’d suggest skipping forward to the 1 hour 13 minute marker, btw, unless you’ve got time to watch the whole flick via the Crackle Youtube page.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2012 at 12:15 am

a poison cauldron

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Long have I been reluctant to bring people to this place.

For several months now, your humble narrator has been narrating in a not so humble fashion while leading boat and walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed.

Literally hundreds of people have attended either the “Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills“, “Insalubrious Valley“, or “Newtown Creek Boat Tour” events this year- and one question has been asked by all- “What about the Greenpoint Oil Spill?”.

Next week- a group of enthusiasts will be assembling, under the auspices of Atlas Obscura, to explore the lamentable “Poison Cauldron” of the Newtown Creek.

There are still tickets available, should you care to witness the place prior to its forthcoming demolition.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp, or DUKBO, is the name I’ve assigned to this lunar landscape of industrial mills and waste transfer stations which lines the Brooklyn side of the Creek. This year is functionally the last time you will be able to witness this place, as the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project will be kicking into high gear in the spring of 2013.

For the urban explorer and photographer crowd, this is a wonderland of shattered streets and rusted infrastructure which will soon be eradicated from all but living memory.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour will tell the story of Standard Oil at its start and cross over the Greenpoint Oil Spill’s heart, revealing that lost world of industrial aspiration and 20th century dissolution which lies less than a mile from the geographic and population centers of New York City.

In the past, I’ve described the area as “Mordor” at this, your Newtown Pentacle, and the Tolkien analogy is apt. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume, the water is hopelessly tainted with bizarre combinations and millions of gallons of petroleum and industrial chemicals, the soil is impregnated with heavy metals, asbestos, and truly- who can guess all there is that might be buried down there?

An odd concentration of food distribution, waste transfer and garbage handling facilities, and energy industry plants make the area remarkable, and everywhere you look will be a “colour“- a bizarrely iridescent sheen which resembles no wholesome nor familiar earthly color but is instead like something from out of space- coating every bit of broken masonry and the sweat slicked skin of laborer and passerby alike.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Standard offer copy follows:

Meetup at the corner of Kingsland and Norman Avenues in Greenpoint at 11 on Saturday, August 25th.

We will be exploring the petroleum and waste transfer districts of the Newtown Creek watershed in North Brooklyn. Heavily industrialized, the area we will be walking through is the heart of the Greenpoint Oil Spill and home to scores of waste transfer stations and other heavy industries. We will be heading for the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge, which is scheduled for a demolition and replacement project which will be starting in 2013. Photographers, in particular, will find this an interesting walk through a little known and quite obscure section of New York City.

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic, and experiencing a virtual urban desert as we move through the concrete devastations of North Brooklyn. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed toe shoes are highly recommended- as are a hat or parasol to shield you from the sun.

Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk, which will be around three hours long and cover approximately three miles of ground. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your cars in the vicinity of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint.

Click here for tickets, and as always- a limited number of walk ups will be welcomed- but for safety reasons we need to limit the group to a manageable size. Contact me at this email if you desire further details.

evil counsel

with 2 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior postings, there are certain dates on the calendar which are remarkable for the long list of significant events which have made their mark in the historical record. August 9th is one of those days.

In 586 BCE, for instance- the Temple of Solomon was toppled during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, and in 1483- the Sistine Chapel was opened for Mass in Rome. In 1936, Jesse Owens won his fourth gold medal in Berlin.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Charlie Manson sent his Helter Skelter squad to Sharon Tate’s place on the ninth of August in 1969, and the Victorian era ended when the Edwardian began in Great Britain. In 48 BCE, Julius Caesar and his Legions won the Battle of Pharsalus against Pompey. In 117 AD, a Caesar named Trajan died, and two hundred sixty one years later in 378- another named Valens was obliterated by the Visigoths.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Today is the “national day” of Singapore, the Eastern Orthodox feast day of Saint Herman of Alaska, and the day that Jerry Garcia died. It’s also the day that history changed forever, for the second time, when the city of Nagasaki ceased to be.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the 222nd day of the 12th year of the 2nd millennia, and the anniversary of Richard M. Nixon resigning the Presidency of the United States. It’s also the United Nations “International Day of the World’s Indigenous People“.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ve just passed through the halfway point of summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, on this oddly propitious date. History is a series of coincidences, strung together after the fact, but any calendrical marker which ties together the fall of the Temple of Solomon with the rise of Caesar, the fall of Dick Nixon, the great working of Charlie Manson, and the use of an Atomic Bomb betrays something else. Dire portent abounds.

wonderful likewise

with 3 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Often spotted but seldom photographed, this is (apparently) a Great Blue Heron which has been evading my lens on the fabled Newtown Creek all year. Often too far away to claim a clear shot, or darting about the sky madly, I’ve been chasing this bird for a very long time.

from wikipedia

It is the largest North American heron and, among all extant herons, it is surpassed only by the Goliath Heron and the White-bellied Heron. It has head-to-tail length of 91–137 cm (36–54 in), a wingspan of 167–201 cm (66–79 in), a height of 115–138 cm (45–54 in), and a weight of 2.1–3.6 kg (4.6–7.9 lb). Notable features include slaty flight feathers, red-brown thighs, and a paired red-brown and black stripe up the flanks; the neck is rusty-gray, with black and white streaking down the front; the head is paler, with a nearly white face, and a pair of black plumes running from just above the eye to the back of the head. The feathers on the lower neck are long and plume-like; it also has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season. The bill is dull yellowish, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season, and the lower legs gray, also becoming orangey at the start of the breeding season. Immature birds are duller in color, with a dull blackish-gray crown, and the flank pattern only weakly defined; they have no plumes, and the bill is dull gray-yellow. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 43–48 cm (17–19 in), the tail is 15.2–19 cm (6.0–7.5 in), the culmen is 13.1–15.2 cm (5.2–6.0 in) and the tarsus is 15.7–21 cm (6.2–8.3 in).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Just in case you’re wondering, the weird background blur you see was produced entirely “in camera” rather than via the wonders of photoshop. Your humble photographer was onboard a boat headed in the opposite direction than that which the heron was traveling in, and I was horizontally tracking its flight while narrowly “zone focused”- producing the motion blur.

from harborestuary.org

Collectively known as the Harbor Herons, this suite of species includes: Great Egret (Ardea alba), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus, Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor), Green Heron (Butorides striatus), Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Herons and their allies are not new to the NY metropolitan region (Bernick and Elbin, in preparation). Since enforcement of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Harbor Herons have significantly colonized the NY/NJ Harbor Region. Water quality has improved (NJ Harbor Dischargers Group 2006), but quality wetland habitat has become scarce, degraded, and fragmented.. Birds of traditionally isolated habitats, secure from human disturbance, have adapted to human- altered landscapes (Parsons and Burger 1982). Some species thrive as ̳human subsidized‘ and learn to forage among landfills, loaf on the rip rap, and raise their young on islands nestled between barges and smoke stacks (Burger 1981a, Parsons 1987, 1990, Maccarone and Parsons 1994, Maccarone and Brzorad 1998).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always surprising to see an animal of this size and niche status here at the Newtown Creek, especially considering the comments of State officials offered to me a few months back describing the place as a “dead sea”. If you click through to the full set of images surrounding these four at my Flickr page, you’ll see the bird hunting amongst the waterline stones of a “rip rap” shoreline which is quite typical for the Brooklyn side of the Creek between Maspeth Creek and Meeker Avenue.

That’s right, this bird is flying around under the Kosciuszko Bridge through the heart of the Greenpoint and Blissville Oil Spills.

from conservewildlifenj.org

The great blue heron nests colonially and usually in tall living or dead trees. The nest is a large flat platform of twigs. Nests may be used for more than a year. The nest will become larger each year as the birds add more nesting material.

Breeding begins from early March through April and usually ends in July. Each pair lays 3 to 7 eggs and incubation lasts 25 to 29 days. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young. The young are usually ready to fly at 60 days after hatching and will leave the nest at between 64 to 90 days. They may then breed at two years of age.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Consultation is appreciated by those who are familiar with the world of birding, for- as mentioned in the past- every time I try to identify a bird I end up with egg on my face. From references found online, I seem to be correct in my identification, but have often been wrong in the past.

What do you think, gentle readers? Use the comments link below if you can bless or damn my assessment of the specie.

from dec.ny.gov

An estuary is a place where salty water from the ocean mixes with fresh water from the land and creates a unique and special place for marine species to live, feed, and reproduce. Estuaries are transitional areas where the ocean tides bring in nutrients and animals, while freshwater runoff reduces the stress caused by saltwater and carries even more nutrients. Often, estuaries have a restriction across the mouth, like a barrier beach or sand bar which offers protection from the full force of ocean waves and storms. Estuaries are a critical part of the life cycle of many different species. They are the spawning and nursery area for thousands of animals who seek out the quieter waters of estuaries to provide a protected nursery for their offspring. Estuaries also provide a food rich resting area for migrating waterfowl like black ducks, harlequin ducks, scoters, and scaup. Wading birds like the great blue heron, great egret, and glossy ibis, and snowy egret nest in colonies on islands found in New York Harbor, Long Island Sound and Gardiners Bay. Raptors like osprey and northern harriers also nest and feed throughout the marine district of New York.

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August 5th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley- This Sunday

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman will be leading a walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City, exploring the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

The currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, and the place where the Industrial Revolution actually happened, provides a dramatic and picturesque setting for this exploration. We’ll be visiting two movable bridges, the still standing remains of an early 19th century highway, and a forgotten tributary of the larger waterway. As we walk along the Newtown Creek and explore the “wrong side of the tracks” – you’ll hear tales of the early chemical industry, “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharfs”, colonial era heretics and witches and the coming of the railroad. The tour concludes at the famed Clinton Diner in Maspeth- where scenes from the Martin Scorcese movie “Goodfellas” were shot.

Lunch at Clinton Diner is included with the ticket.

Details/special instructions.

Meetup at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on August 5, 2012. The L train serves a station at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check MTA.info as ongoing weekend construction often causes delays and interruptions. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens or near the start of the walk at Grand St. and Morgan Avenue (you can pick up the bus to Brooklyn nearby the Clinton Diner).

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic as we move through a virtual urban desert. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.

Clinton Diner Menu:

  • Cheese burger deluxe
  • Grilled chicken over garden salad
  • Turkey BLT triple decker sandwich with fries
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter
  • Greek salad medium
  • Greek Salad wrap with French fries
  • Can of soda or 16oz bottle of Poland Spring

for August 5th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 3, 2012 at 12:15 am

trembling anxiety

with one comment

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent adventure carried your humble narrator from the noble hills of raven tressed Astoria unto the engineered environment surrounding that squamous exemplar of municipal neglect known as the Newtown Creek. Hardly an extraordinary destination, for one such as myself, and noteworthy only because of the early hour at which the visit occurred. Sleep is an enemy to me, surrendered to only when absolutely necessary, and accordingly both my waking and work habits are those of the late rising nocturne.

I’m all ‘effed up.

from wikipedia

Hypnophobia or somniphobia is an abnormal fear of sleep. It may result from a feeling of control loss, or from repeating nightmares. The prefix Hypno- originates from the Greek word hypnos, which means sleep.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Seldom have I gazed upon the Newtown Creek in such ante meridiem illumination. Tidal influence on the Creek, this far back, is a vertical affair. The horizontal movement of water is slight, but rises and falls a few feet following the patterns set by the East River, which the Newtown Creek is technically a tributary of. The mucoid slick observed in the shots above, I would offer, are fats which were carried out of the sewer outfalls which form a garland about the waterway.

Likely, these are cooking oils and congealed grease.

from wikipedia

Mysophobia (from Greek μύσος – musos, “uncleanness” and φόβος – phobos, “fear”) is a term used to describe a pathological fear of contamination and germs. Someone who has such a fear is referred to as a mysophobe. The term was introduced by Dr. William Alexander Hammond in 1879 when describing a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) exhibited in repeatedly washing one’s hands. This phobia is sometimes referred to as germophobia or germaphobia, a combination of germ and phobia to mean fear of germs, as well as bacillophobia, bacteriophobia, and spermophobia.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There had been rain the night before, one of the powerful bursts which have- so far- made the summer of 2012 remarkable not just for their intensity but for providing punctuation around periods of intense heat. One quarter of an inch of rain resolves, city wide, into a billion gallons of storm water pulsing into a byzantine and often century old network of weirs, tunnels, and pipes. No engineered working of men can endure such sudden volume, and during sustained events especially, should be expected to.

Friends and associates, versed in the esoteric facets of storm water infrastructure management, instruct one not to flush a toilet during a rainstorm unless absolutely necessary- in order to alleviate some of the burden on the system.

from wikipedia

Phobophobia (from Greek: φόβος, phobos, “fear”) is a phobia defined as the fear of phobias, or the fear of fear, including intense anxiety and unrealistic and persistent fear of the somatic sensations and the feared phobia ensuing. Phobophobia can also be defined as the fear of phobias or fear of developing a phobia. Phobophobia is related to anxiety disorders and panic attacks directly linked to other types of phobias, such as agoraphobia. When a patient has developed phobophobia, their condition must be diagnosed and treated as part of anxiety disorders.

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Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming boat tours of Newtown Creek

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 9, 2012 at 12:15 am

virgin aether

with 4 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

“It’s a meat grinder over there” is a phrase and analogous statement often used by modern pundits to describe a past or present war, firefight, or even a less than welcoming part of the Bronx.

Conjuring imagery of familiar butcher tools spewing out hamburger meat, the term means something else entirely to those versed in the lore of that infamous cataract known as the Newtown Creek.

To those who have stared too long at the blasted heaths of Blissville, “It’s a meat grinder over there” refers to a certain spot in DUGABO (Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp), the mention of which engenders the sudden display of wan and pale complexions upon the faces of long time area residents merely at the mention of its cursed and shunned name.

Van Iderstine.

from 1875’s “Report of the Department of Health of the City of Brooklyn, N.Y.“, courtesy google books

FAT RENDERING.

In this process animal fat, obtained from the slaughter-houses and butcher-shops, is exposed to sufficient heat to liquefy it The resulting tallow is removed to settling-vats, and finally [tacked in suitable casks to harden. Up to within the past lew years the methods in use were of the most primitive description, the fatty materia) being placed in open kettles and heat applied at the bottom. As during the heating of the mass very offensive odors are given off, consisting of sulphureted and phosphureted hydrogen and ammoniacal gases, repeated complaints were caused, and it became necessary to adopt some method of correcting the evil.

The most improved methods dispose of the noxious goses by combustion or condensation. The latter is the one adopted by the factories in this district, and consists of the following process. The fatty material is placed in a steam-tight tank (Lockwood & Everett’s), capable of holding about ten thousand pounds; the tank is double, being, in fact, a smaller tank within a larger. The fat is contained in the inner compartment, while the outer is used for holding the steam. On applying the steam heat, pressure is originated in the mass, and the offensive gases thereby forced through a condensing-pipe into Newtown creek below low-water mark. The tallow at a certain stage is passed by its proper pipe to a large open vat, from which it is dipped into casks. The residue, known as “scrap,” is subsequently removed through a trap in the bottom of the tank, and being pressed is sold for fertilizing purposes.

By this method all offense appears to be prevented, and the manufacture might be carried on without prejudice in a built-up portion of the city.

In this district there are three rendering factories of any importance, all situated on Newtown Creek, near Greenpoint avenue. The owners are F. A. Van Iderstine, S. Rosenbaeh and John Van Iderstine.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Chicago’s Phillip Armour, whose industrial methodology was contemporaneously described as “using every part of the pig except the squeal”, set a standard for the industrial exploitation of animals. Inedible parts of farm or food livestock, spoiled meat or rancid chicken eggs, dead animals such as equines, canines, feral cats- even the collected blood from slaughterhouse killing floors was (and is) a valuable commodity.

Rendering companies receive this organic “raw material” from butcher shops, slaughterhouses, dog pounds, and veterinarians.

In the days of horse and Ox drawn carriages, thousands of dead pack animals found their way to the Van Iderstine mills, which seemed to specialize in larger mammals.

I haven’t been able to locate a primary source for this not locked up behind a paywall, yet, but they apparently handled Elephants.

from fire-police-ems.com

In the early days any animal which died on the streets of New York, such as horses that pulled wagons, circus animals, some as huge as elephants, that died when the circus came to town, were taken to the Van Iderstine Factory. There, they were put into a giant funnel set-up that had huge meat grinders at the bottom which ground up their bodies. These smaller more manageable pieces were brought to other buildings on the large factory premises where the fat was rendered to make soap and glue.

Van Iderstine trucks would also go to butchers all over the city to buy their waste fat and bones.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Some detail will be presented and discussed in later postings of the subject, as the early Van Iderstine story is obscured behind distaste for their long presence in the community, and reviled on both sides of the Creek. An odd thing, considering they were a major employer and- in one corporate guise or another- the operation was in this spot for a little over a century. There’s a Green Asphalt company in the shot above, which is found in modernity at the extreme eastern side of the Van Iderstine property.

A fire in 1964, coupled with a rising tide of community activism, is said to have led to the company’s abandonment of the site and eventual move to Newark, New Jersey.

from wikipedia

The rendering industry is one of the oldest recycling industries, and made possible the development of a large food industry. The industry takes what would otherwise be waste materials and makes useful products such as fuels, soaps, rubber, plastics, etc. At the same time, rendering solves what would otherwise be a major disposal problem. As an example, the USA recycles more than 21 million metric tons annually of highly perishable and noxious organic matter. In 2004, the U.S. industry produced over 8 million metric tons of products, of which 1.6 million metric tons were exported.

Usually, materials used as raw materials in the rendering process are susceptible to spoilage. However, after rendering, the materials are much more resistant to spoiling. This is due to the application of heat either through cooking in the wet rendering process or the extraction of fluid in the dry rendering process. The fat obtained can be used as low-cost raw material in making grease, animal feed, soap, candles, biodiesel, and as a feed-stock for the chemical industry. Tallow, derived from beef waste, is an important raw material in the steel rolling industry providing the required lubrication when compressing steel sheets. The meat and the bones (which are in a dry, ground state) are converted to what is known as meat and bone meal. For many years meat and bone meal were fed to cattle. This practice is now prohibited in developed countries because it is believed to be the main route for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad-cow disease, BSE), which is also fatal to human beings. Meat and bone meal from cattle is, however, fed to non-ruminant animals and meat and bone meal from non-ruminant animals is fed to cattle in the United States. This may not prove to be a solution to the problem due to the resistant nature of the infectious agent of BSE, a misfolded protein (prion). Therefore, even if cattle is fed to non-ruminant animals and vice-versa, it will not prevent BSE from occurring. The underlying cause is that the prion survives within the system of the animal that has been fed with meat and bone meal from different animals including cattle. These animals are then eventually rendered and fed to cattle, which also results in the development of the disease.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Effluents, miasma, all sorts of ugly “humours”, hung in the air around the Van Iderstine Mill. A complex of buildings, there would have been dozens of dark blue trucks waiting to tip their loads into the yard. Workers would have sorted fester from boil, fat from bone, and would have had to be quick with both saw and hook- along with possessing a startling ability to ignore a blasting and pestilential stink.

The LIRR tracks, of course, run right alongside the property and provided the factory with freight service. These tracks were also used by passenger trains heading east from Hunters Point.

One colorful description of experiencing Van Iderstine in a passenger train advanced that the writer’s first impression of the distant scene was that a series of smoky campfires had been lit at Van Iderstine, with long plumes of black smoke trailing into an evening sky.

When the train came nearer, he realized that the smoke was actually formed by billions of flies descending on the yard from the swampy wetlands found east of the spot, past Haberman and around Maspeth Creek.

from epa.gov

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the primary air pollutants emitted from rendering operations. The major constituents that have been qualitatively identified as potential emissions include organic sulfides, disulfides, C-4 to C-7 aldehydes, trimethylamine, C-4 amines, quinoline, dimethyl pyrazine, other pyrazines, and C-3 to C-6 organic acids. In addition, lesser amounts of C-4 to C-7 alcohols, ketones, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and aromatic compounds are potentially emitted. No quantitative emission data were presented. Historically, the VOCs are considered an odor nuisance in residential areas in close proximity to rendering plants, and emission controls are directed toward odor elimination. The odor detection threshold for many of these compounds is low; some as low as 1 part per billion (ppb). Of the specific constituents listed, only quinoline is classified as a hazardous air pollutant (HAP). In addition to emissions from rendering operations, VOCs may be emitted from the boilers used to generate steam for the operation.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Sensational hyperbole is what it seems to be.

Nearly every reference to Van Iderstine and the other renderers- or distilleries like Fleischman Yeast- involves a court case or ordinance condemning them. Rest assured that the horror stories, in particular the ones offered by the NY State Board of Health, are likely true. Reports from community members old enough to remember the operation are less than glowing. It’s just odd.

The Board of Health reports, then and now, are considered sworn testimony- but…

This was the golden age of Tammany Hall.

Entirely speculative, this, but: In the 1890’s, the Tammany boys were cooking up the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, and they very well might have needed a villain or two for their political narratives. I’m just getting started on this one, I’ll let you know what can be squirreled out on the subject.

After all- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from 1894’s “Public Papers of Roswell P. Flower, Governor” courtesy google books

A continuous nuisance of a serious character is caused, (a) by Hildebrandt’s Works, located on Furman’s Island, just north of Wissel’s offal dock. This is a small wooden structure where blood and animal refuse matter are treated in an open kettle; (b) by the following rendering establishments: Preston’s Fertilizer and Rendering Works; Peter Van Iderstine, Jr.’s Fat Rendering Works; F. A. Van Iderstine’s Rendering Works; Fred. Heffners Fat Rendering Works.

These rendering establishments depend upon the water of the creek for water supply to furnish their condensers. The latter are used to condense the gases and vapors given off during the process of rendering. These gases and vapors, condensed and held in solution and in suspension in the water, are discharged into the creek with the discharge from said condensers. The creek water is utterly unfit for this purpose, and the creek itself is unfit to receive such discharge, which, under the conditions now existing thereat, is a source of nuisance that can only be abated by closing the rendering works named in this section, or by a radical change in the present method of disposing of the gases in question. The latter, under the circumstances, is not practicable.

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Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek

July 8th, 2012- Atlas Obscura Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley

for July 8th tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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