The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

symbolism and phantasm

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another item in my “catch-up” file was when I got to witness the redoubtable employees of Consolidated Edison blowing off some steam at the South Street Seaport back in June.

from wikipedia

SS Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France for the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built.

Her novel design and lavish interiors led many to consider her the greatest of ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. During service as the flagship of the CGT, she made 139 transatlantic crossings westbound from her home port of Le Havre to New York and one fewer return. Normandie held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing at several points during her service career, during which the RMS Queen Mary was her chief rival.

During World War II, Normandie was seized by the United States authorities at New York and renamed USS Lafayette. In 1942, the liner caught fire while being converted to a troopship, capsized and sank at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal. Although salvaged at great expense, restoration was deemed too costly and she was scrapped in October 1946.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A zone of the greater city that I normally avoid like the plague, South Street Seaport is a tourist mecca which also happens to host a museum. Said museum had initiated an event wherein the vast sonics of the legendary SS Normandie would be activated and displayed for the public.

from youtube

and at travelfilmarchive.com there’s this great newsreel clip that tells the Normandie story

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The engineers of ConEd informed me that these pipes and hoses were connected into the high pressure steam lines that underlie lower Manhattan, and were carrying 150 PSI of steam to the Normadie’s whistle.

The NY Times folks were in attendance, apparently, so here’s what the professionals said.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Knowing the effects that high pressure steam might evince upon the human body, I stepped backwards a few feet, but in reality- if anything went wrong, there would be pieces of me found across the river in Brooklyn.

from wikipedia

The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Consolidated Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world, now known as Con Edison Steam Operations, providing steam service to nearly 2,000 customers and serving more than 100,000 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan to 96th Street uptown. Roughly 30 billion lbs. (just under 13.64 megatons) of steam flow through the system every year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A small crowd of dignitaries gathered, and the ConEd guys gave the go ahead for the Normandie’s phantom to sound its voice.

from wikipedia

Regular cricket matches were held near Fulton Market in 1780 when the British Army based itself in Manhattan during the American Revolution. Robert Fulton became famous for his steamship in 1809 though he did spend time in Paris during the American Revolution.

Fulton Street is named for Robert Fulton, an engineer instrumental in the development of steam ships in the United States. Ferries connected Manhattan across the East River to Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

The street has a Beaux-Arts architectural feel with many buildings dating back to the Gilded Age or shortly thereafter. The early 19th century buildings on the south side of the easternmost block are called Schermerhorn Row and are a Registered Historic Place.

The Fulton Fish Market was located nearby at the South Street Seaport until 2005, when it moved to Hunts Point in The Bronx.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At this distance, as the scalar waves of sound were reflecting off the building walls and masonry clad street, it sounded for all the world as if the gates of hell had just fallen off their hinges and that demon trumpeters were signaling the impending war of apocalypse.

from wikipedia

A steam whistle is a device used to produce sound with the aid of live steam, which acts as a vibrating system [1] (compare to train horn). The whistle consists of the following main parts, as seen on the drawing: the whistle bell (1), the steam orifice or aperture (2), and the valve (9).

When the lever (10) is pulled, the valve opens and lets the steam escape through the orifice. The steam will alternately compress and rarefy in the bell, creating the sound. The pitch, or tone, is dependent on the length of the bell; and also how far the operator has opened the valve. Some locomotive engineers invented their own style of whistling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator has often found himself vulnerable and sensitive to high volumes, and has noted a curious phenomena in the presence of extreme loudness. The visual field narrows, as one’s brain attempts to make sense of the overload of auditory information, which has been remarked upon scientifically by insurance industry specialists who describe a similar effect when one drives an automobile with loud music playing and it’s corollary of higher accident rates.

from straightdope.com

It’s been well documented that jets of high-pressure gas (which is what superheated steam is) can cause injuries even without the added complication of heat. OSHA warns against possible amputation from high-pressure gas and limits air pressure for industrial cleaning to 30 PSI. High-pressure gases can easily penetrate the skin, especially via an existing cut or wound, and potentially lead to gas embolism–bubbles in the bloodstream that can migrate to the heart, lungs, or brain and cause serious trouble. U.S. Army medical reports tell of numerous gas-penetration injuries suffered during training with blank firearm rounds. Just 12 PSI can likely pop your eyeball from its socket. Less than 80 PSI of air from 12 inches away reportedly swelled up a woodworker’s hand “to the size of a grapefruit.” One source reports that high-pressure nitrogen cut into a worker’s leg like a knife, and other references warn that high-pressure gases can cut fingers, toes, and other body parts. Again, I didn’t find an actual case of high-pressure gas cutting anyone in half, but it’s not going out on much of a limb to say it sure would smart.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Such incidences of altered perception are commonly encountered at festival concerts, and military science is exploring the strategic use of sonics as we speak. Modern Cruise ships are equipped with sonic devices used to deter piracy, and the United States military possesses an inventory of experimental “non lethal” sonics.

from wikipedia

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a crowd-control and hailing device developed by LRAD Corporation.

According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the equipment weighs 45 pounds (20 kg) and can emit sound in a 30° beam (only at high frequency, 2.5 kHz) from a device 83 centimetres (33 in) in diameter. At maximum level, it can emit a warning tone that is 146 dBSPL (1,000 W/m2) at 1 metre. The maximum usable design range extends to 300 metres. At 300 metres, the warning tone (measured) is less than 90 dB.

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) is a crowd-control and hailing device developed by LRAD Corporation.According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the equipment weighs 45 pounds (20 kg) and can emit sound in a 30° beam (only at high frequency, 2.5 kHz) from a device 83 centimetres (33 in) in diameter. At maximum level, it can emit a warning tone that is 146 dBSPL (1,000 W/m2) at 1 metre. The maximum usable design range extends to 300 metres. At 300 metres, the warning tone (measured) is less than 90 dB.

Note: Friend of the Pentacle, chronicler of the sixth borough. and oddly peaceful guy Will Van Dorp from tugster was standing right next to me when he recorded the following video.

Now, I didn’t ask him if it was OK to link to his video, but I don’t think he’ll mind if y’all just take a peek…

One Response

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  1. […] lost in the above soliloquy one afternoon, I was walking from Astoria to South Street Seaport‘s Pier 17, when I found this scene in Long Island […]


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