The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Who can guess…

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hatches abound in the Newtown Pentacle, dimly lit tunnels to another world. On the surface- logo, design, manufacturers marks- all indicate the existence of former incarnations of the City. The BSBQ identifier on the one above means that it was installed by the Bureau of Sewers, Borough of Queens, and I saw it in ancient Maspeth.

an incomplete list from wikipedia

This is a list of manhole cover markings found in New York City.

  • Bell System
  • BMT = Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation
  • BRT = Brooklyn Rapid Transit
  • BSBQ = Bureau of Sewers, Borough of Queens
  • CT&ES Co. = Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company
  • ConEdison = Consolidated Edison
  • Con Edison Co. = Consolidated Edison
  • ECS Co. LIM = Empire City Subway Company Limited
  • EDISON = Edison
  • GAS = Brooklyn Union Gas
  • IRT = Interborough Rapid Transit
  • LIC = Long Island City
  • NYM = New York Municipal Railway
  • QMT = Queens Midtown Tunnel
  • RTS = Rapid Transit System
  • NY&QEL&PCo = New York & Queens Electric Light & Power Company
  • BPM = Manhattan Borough Monument

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the lid of a coal chute, found on Broadway in Astoria. A near identical model was shot by Kschlot1 at flickr, check it out. This kind of relict is actually the origin of one the mottos here at Newtown Pentacle- Who can guess, what else there may be, that might be buried down there?


The Knickerbocker sewer is a 12-foot wide intestinal tract that runs beneath the streets of Brooklyn. Flashlight beams falter at 50 feet against the tunnel’s swirling vapors. Wading knee-deep through the bacterial wash, it’s difficult not to imagine what, exactly, constitutes the inches of silt between the sole of one’s rubber boot and the sewer floor. It is here, where the city breathes and belches, where Steve feels most at home.

As he wades upstream one winter night, he runs his hand along the sewer’s red masonry walls, a 120-year-old vestige of a time when New York was a city built in brick. Duncan is wearing hip-high rubber boots, a headlamp and a respirator to protect him from the fumes. He also brought his tripod, a camera bag and Shane Perez, a 26-year-old photographer with a mohawk, whose personal interest in urban exploration centers on shooting nude women in abandoned industrial plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commonly referred to as manhole covers by everyday New Yorkers, these iron plates can serve as guideposts to the hidden underworld and occluded past. Often, wonderings of this underground system and all that which might dwell in the sunless depths below our great human hive spark moments of terror in your humble narrator. This one is from Ridgewood, incidentally.


For decades, city workers and contractors who want to make any change to New York’s vast water and sewer networks have had to retrieve browning maps, drawn by draftsmen and stored away in each borough hall and the department offices in Queens. To help them find the sewer and water main maps — some dating back to the Civil War — city clerks have had to consult indexes, created by each borough before the city was unified in 1898. The maps were cataloged on 3-by-5-inch cards.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 25, 2010 at 5:05 am

Posted in Photowalks, Pickman

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Great post! These covers are some of the oldest stuff still found in our built environment, and they are right under foot. A more comprehensive reference is Diana Stuart’s excellent book Designs Underfoot. She photographed and researched hundreds of NYC covers, and provides the locations as well.


    May 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

  2. Really liked your “coverage” on the manhole covers! Do you recall the location of the Atlantic Iron coal chute cover?

    Sukwoon Noh

    November 25, 2010 at 8:30 am

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