The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Maspeth Avenue Plank Road

repellant yard

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Down by ye olde Maspeth Plank Road.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The folks at Newtown Creek Alliance have a project underway, one which will rehabilitate the street end adjoining the Maspeth Plank Road and provide the first intentional point of public access to the waterfront in Queens. My role in the project is to do a couple of walking tours and raise awareness of the effort, so I swung down on one of the work days to grab some shots. Pictured is the National Grid site in Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline behind.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The fellows who were doing the actual work should receive some sort of medal for working in the muck and yuck found hereabouts. 58th road ends at Newtown Creek after a sharp fall off in elevation, and all the industrial debris and trash which rolls downhill ends up here. Normally, the plank road site is inaccessible due to muddy and or weed choked conditions. The NCA crew has already done a tremendous amount of cleanup and groundskeeping here, and they got the NYC DEP to come in and clear out a mud choked drainage sewer just last week.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the story with Newtown Creek always carries one back to sewage. Most of the industrial pollution in the Creek is historic in nature, and other than a few bad actors, most of the modern day businesses found along its banks at least try to follow the rules and be responsible to the environment. That is, of course, except for the City of Greater New York – which allows billions of gallons of untreated sewage to flow into it every year.

Today is Earth Day, by the way.

There are three 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.

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

sinister swamp

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding. 

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth Creek overflowed its banks during the surge, and flooded surrounding properties. Luckily, from a humanist point of view, these are industrial sites. Unfortunately, from an economic and environmental point of view, Maspeth Creek is pretty polluted under best case circumstances. All of the businesses nearby had pumps at work and their loading bay doors were wide open, no doubt to aid in drying the places out.

My understanding is that several of these businesses lost entire inventories, and are dealing with untold contaminations of their work place.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The day after the storm, Newtown Creek Alliance distributed video and photos of what was going on here, and it seemed that one of the videos depicted the large CSO (Combined Sewer Outfall) as submerged and emitting raw sewage into the surging water. The material so disgorged must have ended up everywhere. The fellow who was giving me a ride around the watershed, Hank the Elevator Guy, decided to stay in the car for this spot.

A point was made of stamping out my shoes before reentering the vehicle.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

We continued on to our next destination, the Maspeth Plank Road. It was impossible to approach the water, as the always swampy soil was absolutely gelatinous. Unsure as to what might be hidden in the vegetation and not wanting to accidentally pierce my skinvelope via a hidden bit of metal or glass (everything you’re looking at in these posts should be considered highly contaminated), caution was held tightly against the wind and I decided to see what I could see from the pavement.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What was visible was essentially Brooklyn, where the coastline of the former Furmans Island remained unchanged, except for one thing. There was virtually zero activity, and this stretch of Maspeth Avenue is normally abuzz with trucks and heavy equipment. The sound of pumping was not as evident coming from this direction, best described by Maspeth Avenue’s landward intersection with Vandervoort.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Some water moves between the largish “aggregates” company next door and Newtown Creek, which is the product of its workers complying with dust abatement rules by spraying water on the mounds of soil and stone they process and sell. The ground, however, was highly saturated this day. Normally, this little pathway has a trickle of water flowing through, not the small creek which you see in these shots.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Discretion, valor, and the better part of both demanded that I not try to walk closer to the water. Again, anything you might encounter close to the shore of the Creek after this event is likely coated with filth. Filth, that is, if you’re lucky. All manner of chemicals and fuel products were loosed in the flood waters, and sewer bacteria is merely the tip of the periodic table of possibilities of what you might be exposed to here.

The smell on the air here was not unlike the commercial disinfectant spray sold under the Lysol brand.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody’s friends at Riverkeeper have released a bit of an advisory on what to expect around the waters edge, and how to protect yourself in some way from it. The logic of storm surges and their aftermath demands that a tremendous amount of material will find its way into the water conventionally- down storm drains or washed over the edge- or unconventionally- as submerged fuel and chemical tanks leech their contents into the water.

Be real, real careful when nearby the shoreline, lords and ladies.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2012 at 12:15 am

forbidden zone

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Consultations with the elder tomes, Armbruster and Riker amongst others, an activity entered into during an innocent pursuit of certain historical lore about the area surrounding the conjunction of Grand Street/Avenue and the fabled Newtown Creek, revealed- or rather suggested- blasphemous realities difficult to digest. Needing a walk, and desiring to be warmed by the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself, your humble narrator found himself scuttling forth and somehow ended up at the hidden relict known to some as the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road. It was there that a corpse was discovered.

from wikipedia

Horseshoe crabs resemble crustaceans, but belong to a separate subphylum, Chelicerata, and are therefore more closely related to arachnids e.g spiders and scorpions. The earliest horseshoe crab fossils are found in strata from the late Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, are familiar with the spot. The wooden structure visible is the last remains of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road- which last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875. Connecting the ancient community of Maspeth and Newtown with the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. One did not expect to find a cadaver there, especially not of a creature whose origins stretch back to the Ordovician age.

from wikipedia

For most of the Late Ordovician, life continued to flourish, but at and near the end of the period there were mass-extinction events that seriously affected planktonic forms like conodonts, graptolites, and some groups of trilobites (Agnostida and Ptychopariida, which completely died out, and the Asaphida, which were much reduced). Brachiopods, bryozoans and echinoderms were also heavily affected, and the endocerid cephalopods died out completely, except for possible rare Silurian forms. The Ordovician–Silurian Extinction Events may have been caused by an ice age that occurred at the end of the Ordovician period as the end of the Late Ordovician was one of the coldest times in the last 600 million years of earth history.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Given its size, the departed was likely a female, and it was fairly apparent from both olfactory and visual inspection that it had emerged from the water and mounted its cairn several days before you humble narrator stumbled upon it. Clearly, its eyes had been chewed away by some scavenger. Often have I been told that this specie exists in Newtown Creek, but never have I beheld a specimen along it. Truly- who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from wikipedia

Xiphosura is an order of marine chelicerates which includes a large number of extinct lineages and only four recent species in the family Limulidae, which include the horseshoe crabs. The group has hardly changed in millions of years; the modern horseshoe crabs look almost identical to prehistoric genera such as the Jurassic Mesolimulus, and are considered to be living fossils. The most notable difference between ancient and modern forms is that the abdominal segments in present species are fused into a single unit in adults.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Often has the thought occurred to me. The relatively sudden change in the chemistry of both water and sediment over the last couple of hundred years- what process has that begun in the genome of local specie? Those who cannot adapt to the “new normal” will wither and die off, while others will alter themselves to thrive in the environment they find themselves in. Such is the very nature of life upon this world. Creatures such as this Horseshoe Crab have persisted, generation after generation, through asteroid hits and volcanic calamity and ice age. Surely they can adapt to the petroleum and chemicals in the water. They have seen dinosaurs come and go, these creatures.

from wikipedia

The Atlantic horseshoe crab, Limulus polyphemus, is a marine chelicerate arthropod. Despite its name, it is more closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions than to crabs. Horseshoe crabs are most commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico and along the northern Atlantic coast of North America. A main area of annual migration is Delaware Bay, although stray individuals are occasionally found in Europe.

The other three species in the family Limulidae are also called horseshoe crabs. The Japanese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus) is found in the Seto Inland Sea, and is considered an endangered species because of loss of habitat. Two other species occur along the east coast of India: Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda. All four are quite similar in form and behavior.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The province of science fiction, such industrially adapted animals might thrive on petroleum derivates, taking advantage of other species inability to exist in such places. It has happened before, sudden environmental change. Unfortunately, it is rather simple creatures like the horseshoe crab and those smaller who are most likely to survive. Always, it is the apex predators who dominate the landscape that die off, which in modern times – unfortunately- is us.

from wikipedia

It is generally agreed that the Chelicerata contain the classes Arachnida (spiders, scorpions, mites, etc.), Xiphosura (horseshoe crabs) and Eurypterida (sea scorpions, extinct). The extinct Chasmataspida may be a sub-group within Eurypterida. The Pycnogonida (sea spiders) were traditionally classified as chelicerates, but some features suggest they may be representatives of the earliest arthropods from which the well-known groups such as chelicerates evolved

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine the earth of a century or two from now- flooded and with vast reserves of carbon dioxide loosed within the atmosphere. Contrary to doomsayers fantasies of some parched Sahara, the historic record suggests- based on the fossil record of eras when CO2 existed in concentrations well beyond any modern day greenhouse gas scenario- that the planet will host vast forests as opportunist trees and plants drink in the stuff. We will be long gone, of course, either having escaped into space or extinct because of changes in rainfall, habitable land, and climate which will render large scale agriculture a quaint memory. If and when the monsoons fail to arrive in China and India, we will know the end is nigh.

Of course, these CO2 rich epochs were also marred by incredibly vast fires. The smoke from forest fires which consumed whole continents contributed to palls of smoke blotting out the sun which eventually cooled the planet and caused ice ages. Additionally, the precipitate of this smoke, carried down by rain, changed the pH of the oceans which dissolved the shells of mollusks and burned away the coral reefs. Ask the Xiphosura, they’ll tell you all about it, unless we wipe them all out first.


With its armored shell, ancient anatomy, and 350-million-year lineage, the horseshoe crab almost seems too inconspicuous to stir up controversy. Yet this humble creature is at the very center of a collision between three completely different species.

For many decades, humans have harvested the horseshoe crab for use as fishing bait. Since the 1970s, we have also used horseshoe crab blood for medical purposes. But we may have gone too far. Horseshoe crab numbers have declined significantly since the early 1990’s. And, naturally, so did their egg numbers.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

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

darkly hidden

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in the recent posting “Obscure World“, the location of Conrad Wissel’s notorious “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharf” has been finally nailed down and confirmed by contmeporaneous maps and photographs. A lot of people ask me where I find my information about the oft occluded history of the Newtown Creek, and are surprised when informed about my methodology.

Basically, it all boils down to this- I’ll notice something hidden in plain sight while wandering around, take photos of it, and start researching when back at HQ. There’s a whole list of mysteries in my “to do” pile, and often the answer to what they were is presented while searching for something else entirely. It’s how the whole “missing Lamp Post of the Queensboro bridge thing” got started. Accordingly, whenever accusations of pursuing some political agenda are leveled at this- your Newtown Pentacle- great amusement ensues.

The utterly forgotten headquarters of the General Electric Vehicle Company of Long Island City, which had been staring me in the face for years, revealed itself in this manner. Easy to miss the third largest factory building in Queens, I guess, even if its painted with bright yellow and green stripes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

As detailed in the posting “uncommented masonry“, one was merely poking around for some information about the “Blissville Banshee“.

A supernatural phenomena, the Banshee was reported on in 1884 by the NY Times (she was described as red haired, blue eyed, and screaming “Oh Ho” like … well… a banshee), and was an obvious jab at the largely Irish and Catholic population of Blissville by Manhattan’s patrician “Nativists”. Racial or ethnic prejudice is commonly encountered in journalism of that era, and quite unsurprising to those familiar with reportage of the period. In the 1880′s, “politically correct” meant not shooting someone on sight.

What emerged about the structure above, however, was that in 1915- a quarter of the 40,000 or so trucks then plying the streets of New York City were electric (and participated in a rail based battery exchange program). Most of them were manufactured in Long Island City within the building pictured above, by the General Electric Vehicle Company.

This is my favorite sort of posting, a product of serendipity and pure discovery.

Which brings me to the Tammany men, and why there very well might be a horse buried in Calvary Cemetery.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Abbot” from January of 2010, described a chance sighting of a curious obelisk in Queens’s Calvary Cemetery.

By the time that I was done with this post, I had found the young J.J. Scannell and Richard Croker sitting out a sentence in Manhattan’s “Tombs”. Quite a propitious meeting- in retrospect, one with far reaching consequence.

These two men would rise to the top of Tammany Hall one day, preside over the consolidation of the City of Greater New York from the shadowed world of the “smoke filled room”, and grow filthy rich on a buttery diet of political corruption.

Think Boss Tweed was something? In that case, you’ve never heard of Scannell and Croker.

All this because I enjoy strolling through Calvary in the afternoon while the Dropkick Murphys are playing on my headphones.

incidentally, something recently discovered (see how it works?) were these portraits of Mr.’s Scannell and Croker- found in Moses King’s “Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899, courtesy google books

- photo by Mitch Waxman

from some point in space“, another 2010 posting, showcases a shot of Dutch Kills acquired before a press conference which highly placed members of the Newtown Creek Alliance had asked me to represent them at (literally no one else from Queens was available).

My statement was prepared, thankfully, as I was standing next to and was introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Stage fright and hallucination inducing nervousness ruled my mood during the lead up.

To alleviate the anxiety while waiting for the event to begin… and as I happened to be standing in a south facing room within the Degnon Terminal’s former Loose Wiles building… which overlooks the waters of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek- a window was soon roughly thrown open and I shot the image above.

As it happens, while attempting to research a group of heretical Quakers operating in the area just before the Revolutionary War, I came across the following image in another one of those “old and out of copyright” municipal journals which have found their way onto the web.

- Photo from 1921′s ”The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau”, courtesy google books

Cool, huh?

An August 2011 post, called the “the dark moor“, reversed the point of view and showed the view from infinite Brooklyn into Queens from atop the digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek, and Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk (this Saturday)

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

for June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

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

laced apertures

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

An interval of soliloquy recently offered itself to your humble narrator, during a vast and shambling perambulation. Undertaken was a relaxed and lonely tour of the titan masonry which distinguishes the quite industrialized northern bank of the Newtown Creek, specifically in the hessian cursed hinterlands of Maspeth and Blissville.

Accessing obscure yet quite public locations, known to but a few, a thought occurred. Perhaps conventional wisdom is wrong, and the muddy sediments of the fabled industrial revolution- rich in all sorts of exotic materials- are actually what the great minds of earlier epochs were trying to achieve.

Could the Black Mayonnaise be some sort of vast environmental Peloid?

from wikipedia

Peloid is mud, or clay used therapeutically, as part of balneotherapy, or therapeutic bathing. Peloids consist of humus and minerals formed over many years by geological and biological, chemical and physical processes.

Numerous peloids are available today, of which the most popular are peat pulps, various medicinal clays, mined in various locations around the world, and a variety of plant substances. Also, health spas often use locally available lake and sea muds and clays. Peloid procedures are also various; the most common of them are peloid wraps, peloid baths, and peloid packs applied locally to the part of the body, which is being treated.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The grinding heel of finances, omnipresent and dire, drives one toward desperate fancies and fantastical schemes. Idiot plans, plots- even gambling- are possible when one’s outlook is grimly narrowed by looming disaster.

Moments so described will weigh heavily upon even those possessed of wholesome aspect and character, let alone a misshapen void in space in the approximate shape of a man that is a humble but quite disgusting narrator.

An unthinkable ideation… unknowable and indescribable… utterly and inconceivably hatched.

from wikipedia

Haitians consume a large variety of different non-traditional foods in an attempt to quelch hunger pains. Mud cakes are traditionally fashioned and consumed, but items such as clay and chalk can also be eaten. Due to recent increases in food prices and growing starvation in Haiti, this habit has been extended and received much media attention.

Outside of hunger, mud and dirt can be consumed accidentally during sports and other outdoor activities. This has led to dysphemisms for poor-tasting food such as “tastes like dirt”, based on the experience of getting mud, dirt, etc. in one’s teeth.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Clove like the belly of a rotten fish, or Zeus’s brow when Athena was explosively born, this extranormal notion flowered approximately three and one half inches behind my eyes.

Gaining the product would be laughably easy, one would suspect that officials and administrators would be overjoyed just to be rid of the stuff. Historical precedent exists. During the halcyon days of the Newtown Creek’s early chemical industry, when a byproduct of the large scale manufacture of sulphuric acid at the works of M. Kalbfleisch or William Henry Nichols – called sludge acid- was dumped directly into the water, kids would collect the stuff where it pooled up downstream (in glass lined buckets) and bring it to some small operators in the chemical business for use as raw material for distillation and refinement.

That’d be making lemonade, if handed lemons.


The routing of potential Newtown Creek Flushing Tunnels along with the locations and sizes of the pumping stations were developed in a previous study (URS, 1994), which are shown on Figure 7-7. Two tunnels would be constructed, each with a water intake located along the East River. One tunnel would go to Dutch Kills and have a 70 cfs pumping station near the terminus at the head end of Dutch Kills. The other tunnel is proposed to go to English Kills and then on to East Branch with 150 cfs pumping stations near the head ends of each tributary. Both tunnels were routed as much as possible under existing rights-of-way to minimize the potential costs associated with easement acquisition. However, due to the number of dead end tributaries to Newtown Creek and their distance from the East River the flushing water option would require around three miles of tunnels, two water intakes, and three pumping stations. In addition, the background conditions in the East River are not substantially better than the target water quality and thus flushing requires larger flushing volumes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaining financial freedom by mining the muds of Newtown Creek and offering it to the nations apothecaries as a miracle cure, growing rich off… a moment of lucid fantasy, then detonated and disintegrated with the force of an exploding bladder. These sediments were left here for a reason, laid down by the great and gregarious- men like Charles Pratt and Peter Cooper and John D. Rockefeller. These men were public benefactors, underwriters of great charities as well as medical and scholastic institutions, and hailed as exemplars by their contemporaries.

Surely there must something beneath the water, hidden away in subterrene pockets and masonry clad voids, something horribly and anomalously uncanny which spurred these titans of an earlier age to action and seal it in.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

from wikipedia

A molehill (or mole-hill, mole mound) is a conical mound of loose soil raised by small burrowing mammals, including moles, but also similar animals such as mole-rats, marsupial moles and voles. They are often the only sign to indicate the presence of the animal.



June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk (this Saturday)

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boat Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at

for June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page


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