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Gloomy Mansions

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NY Harbor – photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent trip to the cyclopean waterfront of the Port of Newark was marred and occluded by a pervasive blanket of precipitant fog. Suffering from the cold wind and occasional bursts of rain, all around me a ghost city dithered into atmospheric perspectives. Ghosts have been everywhere, during our metropolitan hour of the wolf, in the first decade of the 21st century- here in New York City- where the Terror Wars started.

As the ship carrying the Working Harbor Committee party to its destination left the East River and entered the Upper Harbor approaching Staten Island, one ghost in particular came to mind. A spirit of spectral power is invoked and controlled by knowledge of its true name, according to the hermetic traditions, and the true name of god itself offers the key to mastery of the universe.

Names have power, and in the case of this ghost, the name is Willowbrook.

from wikipedia

The Harbor reached its peak activity in March 1943, during World War II, with 543 ships at anchor, awaiting assignment to convoy or berthing (with as many as 425 seagoing vessel already at one of the 750 piers or docks). 1100 warehouses with nearly 1.5 square miles (3.9 km2) of enclosed space served freight along with 575 tugboats and 39 active shipyards (perhaps most importantly New York Naval Shipyard founded 1801). With a staggering inventory of heavy equipment, this made New York Harbor the busiest in the world.

Verrazano Narrows Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

A well known film director, whose cinematic subject matter suggests familiarity with Theosophy and other bizarre occult concepts, once opined “that haunted houses are like stone tape decks playing back an endless loop of the suffering and negativity recorded within them”. If one considers such fancies as true, Willowbrook might be considered as a recording studio.

In 1942, a residential hospital facility’s construction was completed on Staten Island. It was commandeered by the Army to act as a hospital for wounded combatants from WW2. In 1947, New York State’s Dept. of Mental Hygiene took over the complex and renamed it the Willowbrook State School. The intended population of the facility was to be the “mentally retarded” (an archaic term from before the advent of modern NewSpeak which describes this group as “Developmentally Disabled“).

from wikipedia

The natural depth of New York Harbor is about 17 feet (5 m), but it has been deepened over the years, to about 24 feet (7 m) controlling depth in 1880. By 1891 the Main Ship Channel was minimally 30 feet (9 m). In 1914 Ambrose Channel became the main entrance to the Harbor, at 40 feet (12 m) deep and 2,000 feet (600 m) wide. During World War II the main channel was dredged to 45 feet (14 m) depth to accommodate larger ships up to Panamax size. Currently the Corps of Engineers is contracting out deepening to 50 feet (15 m), to accommodate Post-Panamax container vessels, which can pass through the Suez Canal. This has been a source of environmental concern along channels connecting the container facilities in Port Newark to the Atlantic. PCBs and other pollutants lay in a blanket just underneath the soil.

In June 2009, the Bloomberg administration announced plans for 200,000 cubic yards of dredged PCBs to be “cleaned” and stored en masse at the site of the former Yankee Stadium, as well as at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. In many areas the sandy bottom has been excavated down to rock and now requires blasting. Dredging equipment then picks up the rock and disposes of it. At one point in 2005 there were 70 pieces of dredging equipment in the harbor working to deepen the harbor, the largest fleet of dredging equipment anywhere in the world. The work occasionally causes noise and vibration that can be felt by residents on Staten Island. Excavators alert residents when blasting is underway.

Drydocks, Kill Van Kull – photo by Mitch Waxman

Willowbrook was notoriously overcrowded, performed experimental and grossly unethical scientific explorations, and because of it- the Federal “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980” was instituted to guarantee the civil rights of the vulnerable souls housed in these “snakepits”. Geraldo Rivera, when he used to be a reporter, brought the case to national prominence. Long time New Yorkers still shudder at just the mention of the word.

But, there’s another Willowbrook story- another ghost.

from wikipedia

Geologically, Staten Island was formed in the wake of the last ice age. In the late Pleistocene between 20,000 and 14,000 years ago, the ice sheet that covered northeastern North America reached as far south as present day New York City, to a depth of approximately the same height as the Empire State Building. At one point, during its maximum reach, the ice sheet precisely ended at the center of present day Staten Island, forming a terminal moraine on the existing diabase sill. The central moraine of the island is sometimes called the Serpentine ridge because it contains large amounts of serpentine group minerals.

At the retreat of the ice sheet, Staten Island was connected by land to Long Island because The Narrows had not yet formed. Geologists’ reckonings of the course of the Hudson River have placed it alternatively through the present course of the Raritan River, south of the island, or through present-day Flushing Bay and Jamaica Bay.

As in much of North America, human habitation appeared in the island fairly rapidly after the retreat of the ice sheet. Archaeologists have recovered tool evidence of Clovis culture activity dating from approximately 14,000 years ago. The island was probably abandoned later, possibly because of the extinction of large mammals on the island. Evidence of the first permanent American Indian settlements and agriculture are thought to date from about 5,000 years ago (Jackson, 1995), although early archaic habitation evidence has been found in multiple locations on the island (Ritchie 1963).

Salt Barge, Kill Van Kull – photo by Mitch Waxman

A homeless man who called himself Andre Rand, a one time employee of Willowbrook, set up a squatters residence for himself in the tunnels below and on the grounds of the abandoned hospital (which was finally closed in 1987, although parts of its grounds are used by CUNY in modernity).


Andre Rand at his arrest, from

Mr. Rand was convicted for the death of a 12 year old girl who was went missing on Staten Island in 1987. He has since become implicated in a string of area child disappearances stretching back to the 1960’s and refers to himself as “the Ted Bundy of child killers”. Rand is profiled in a recent film I’m anxious to watch, called “Cropsey“.

from wikipedia

The boroughs of New York City straddle the border between two geologic provinces of eastern North America. Brooklyn and Queens, located on Long Island, are part of the eastern coastal plain. Long Island is a massive moraine which formed at the southern fringe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last Ice Age. The Bronx and Manhattan lie on the eastern edge of the Newark Basin, a block of the Earth’s crust which sank downward during the disintegration of the supercontinent Pangaea during the Triassic period. The Palisades Sill on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River exposes ancient, once-molten rock that filled the basin. Tough metamorphic rocks underlie much of Manhattan, providing solid support for its many skyscrapers.

Salt Barge, Kill Van Kull – photo by Mitch Waxman

I find it disturbing, that a serial killer was loose on Staten Island and I had no idea about it. Even more unsettling, from the “urban explorer point” of view, is that Rand had set up camp in exactly the sort of place that the intrepid photographer is looking for when searching for “locations”. I’ve often mentioned that I don’t cross fences, admonished those who do trespass (while admiring their work), and offered advice on the cultural temperatures and urban hazards encountered when entering certain extant locales. Part of the reason for doing this is that you never know who you’re going to meet back there, alone and cut off from help.

There are weird things that happen, in the City of Greater New York.

a recent clipping from a wire service, for instance, makes me wonder- and more than wonder…

3 Bags Containing Body Parts Are Found in Brooklyn. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS- Published: August 30, 2009- The police said three plastic bags containing the skeletal remains of various body parts were found in Brooklyn. The bags, two of which enclosed suitcases containing the remains, were found Sunday on a street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The medical examiner was working to identify the parts, as well as the sex, race and cause of death. There have been no arrests.


According to the National Research Council, we Americans dump between 8 million to 12 million tons of salt on our roads per year. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York report the highest level of salt use, with New York weighing in at 500,000 tons per year. The New York State Department of Transportation requires a road-salt application rate of 225 pounds per lane-mile for light snow and 270 pounds per lane-mile for each application during a heavy snow storm.

When you consider that there are approximately 6,000 miles of paved roadways near New York watersheds, you begin to see how all that road salt adds up. Some roads may get up to 300 tons of road salt per lane-mile each year. Recently, many scientists have begun to study the effects of so much road salt on ecosystems, water quality, public health and road quality. Here are a few things you should know before your break out that sodium chloride, the most commonly used de-icer.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2009 at 1:48 am

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