The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for February 2011

Newtown Creek Waste Water Plant Time Capsule

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I received this email a couple of weeks ago- how could I resist going?

New York City Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway Invites you to join him for the Newtown Creek Time Capsule Ceremony.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Visitor Center at Newtown Creek, 329 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn

As is usually the case with such events, local political figures and high officials of the municipality can be expected to turn up. DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, and City Council Member Stephen Levin were in attendance, as were several prominent citizens and business leaders of the Greenpoint community were there as well.

The kids in the shots were Class 5-313 of the Samuel P. Dumont P.S. 31 Magnet School for the Arts and Humanities, who placed drawings in a time capsule not to be opened some in 50 years. Other items placed in the capsule included the latest infrastructure and strategic plans of the DEP, periodicals, and other City documents concerning the water system of New York City.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2011 at 2:01 am

a ghastly plot

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“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” is a fully annotated 68 page, full-color journey from the mouth of Newtown Creek at the East River all the way back to the heart of darkness at English Kills, with photos and text by Mitch Waxman.

Check out the preview of the book at, which is handling printing and order fulfillment, by clicking here.

Every book sold contributes directly to the material support and continuance of this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” by Mitch Waxman- $25 plus shipping and handling, or download the ebook version for $5.99.

Project Firebox 21

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The stout forearms and colorful urban patois which once identified and distinguished those who emanate from storied Greenpoint no longer betray the origins of all its residents, due to the caste of bohemians and esthetes who have lately made the ancient village their home. Observe the ironic wit, sardonic smile, and postmodern vacuity of this long suffering alarm box at the terminus of Greenpoint Avenue where it collides with the East River.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 11, 2011 at 12:28 am

reticence shown

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I fear that I’ve become quite focused on Calvary Cemetery again. Recent caches of primary sources have been discovered which have all but confirmed certain hypothetical precepts, and illumined certain unimagined parameters to my studies. As yellowed maps and time blasted books have passed before my startled eyes, dawning realizations about the structure which underlies the place torment my curiosity.

Allow me to explain…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek guy, that’s me- part of the history crowd from Queens- harmless.

The history part is what I’m interested in, and everything I’ve read or witnessed around the Newtown Creek indicates that while First Calvary Cemetery was incorporated in 1848- when the first recorded interment took place (more on that in a later post)– an interval of roughly 5-10 years preceded the beginning of an era which saw as many as 20 funerals conducted during a single day. Immigration patterns can explain this, of course, but the primary sources which have been consulted describe something else.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s the sewers.

Two interesting leads have presented themselves, the first having led to:

The Rosary Magazine, in a report from 1908, via Google Books, offers this snippet:

On November 11, Archbishop Farley of New York dedicated a new mortuary chapel which was recently erected under the title of St. Callistus in Calvary Cemetery, Long Island. The Mass on the occasion was sung by Mgr. Lavelle and the sermon preached by Mgr. Mooney. The new structure will serve the double purpose of chapel and mausoleum. Below the chapel floor there is a crypt containing one hundred and fourteen vaults, in which hereafter will be buried the priests of the New York Archdiocese. The idea of such a building was first conceived by Archbishop Farley some four years ago. The structure is quite an imposing one, built of granite and Saracenic in its style of architecture. It is ninety-six feet long and sixty-four feet wide. The auditorium will accommodate two hundred and fifty persons. Surmounting the dome is a fine figure of the risen Christ, designed by Miss Melro Beatrice Wilson. When finished the total cost of the building will approximate $200,000. The building was designed by Raymond F. Almirall.

Here’s the cutaway architect drawing, courtesy again- Google Books:

Long time readers will remember that the Chapel has been previously profiled at this- your Newtown Pentacle- in the post “scenes familiar, and loved“.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The catacombs beneath the Calvary Cemetery Chapel are fairly old news to long time readers, but… back to those sewers.

The second interesting nugget that I’ve turned up recently is (other than fascinating references to an excommunicated and controversial 19th century Catholic priest named McGlynn) that there seems to have been a legal issue settled by the State of New York which involved the removal of tens of thousands of tons of Calvary topsoil, and it’s eventual disposition on Catholic owned farms in Jamaica which aroused and infuriated the largely Protestant agricultural community of Newtown. This topsoil was removed “during the building of Calvary Cemetery, with its modern sewerage system”.

The building…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I haven’t screwed the lid down on this one yet, so I’m not sharing links on this, but- the various sources I’m working on have opened up the reality that the hill of Laurels is in fact engineered ground. Discussions of enormous underground culverts and diversion channels for water, titan work forces, and a decade long struggle to turn the marshy waste land around the Newtown Creek into the well drained and immaculately landscaped structure we know today have consumed me- and driven Our Lady of the Pentacle to near madness.

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm

weird lyric

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

After having fallen into a hole earlier in the day, and suffering from a torn knee and possibly fractured finger, your humble narrator nevertheless opted to end the day with a walk through Calvary Cemetery.

A miscalculation on my part was made by this decision, as the cemetery itself was encased in several feet of rain and ice polished snow. Never one to display good sense or reason, the encircling boundary road (which was quite clear, no doubt due to the expert ministrations of the groundskeeping crew) was avoided and a cross section path through the frozen substrate was embarked upon.

At the end of this difficult perambulation, however, I was rewarded by the company of a bird of prey (which I believe to be a juvenile Red Tail Hawk).

from wikipedia

The Red-tailed Hawk is carnivorous, and an opportunistic feeder. Its diet is mainly small mammals, but it also includes birds and reptiles. Prey varies with regional and seasonal availability, but usually centers on rodents, comprising up to 85% of a hawk’s diet.Additional prey (listed by descending likelihood of predation) include lagomorphs, shrews, bats, snakes, waterfowl, fish, crustaceans and insects. Prey range in size from beetles to White-tailed Jackrabbits, which are double the weight of most Red-tails. In captivity in winter, an average Red-tail will eat about 135 g (4-5 oz) daily.

The Red-tailed Hawk hunts primarily from an elevated perch site, swooping down from a perch to seize prey, catching birds while flying, or pursuing prey on the ground from a low flight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bird was a good fifty feet above me, perched on the statuary crowning one of those mighty obelisks which typify the older and grander sections of the vast polyandrion that men call First Calvary. It seemed to be gazing at the shield wall of Manhattan- the Shining City.

The particular locale within the cemetery itself has been observed in past visits to support a population of “groundling burrowers“, any one of which would provide a good meal to the predator during these lean months of winter. Knowing that predators can sense weakness and injury at a distance, I began to carefully back away owing to my profound physical cowardice.

What if it smelled the blood trickling down my leg due to the wound incurred at the knee of my skinvelope, caused when I fell in that hole?


These birds of prey are also known as buzzard hawks and red hawks. By any name, they are keen-eyed and efficient hunters. Red-tails prefer open areas, such as fields or deserts, with high perching places nearby from which they can watch for prey. But these birds are adaptable and also dwell in mountains and tropical rain forests. Hawks have even embraced human habitats. They often perch on telephone poles and take advantage of the open spaces along the roadside to spot and seize mice, ground squirrels, rabbits, reptiles, or other prey.

Breeding season initiates a spectacular sequence of aerial acrobatics. Hawk pairs fly in large circles and gain great height before the male plunges into a deep dive and subsequent steep climb back to circling height. Later, the birds grab hold of one another with their talons and fall spiraling towards earth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the past, I’ve mentioned that the grounds of First Calvary serve as an oasis to heterogenous forms of both migratory and quite native life forms. The “groundling burrowers” are here (as mentioned), and  birds often use the arboretum as a way station on their long seasonal journeys. There are dogs and cats here, of course, and second hand rumor has suggested that Opossum, Raccoon, and other more esoteric forms of life exist within the stout iron gates.

This is the first time I’ve spotted a raptor here, though.

It was just last month that a photographer named Marcelo Barrera managed to get a shot of a Coyote in Calvary, check out the story here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually interesting that a Red Tail chose to roost here, in that psychic cauldron of squashed hope and severed ambition known as First Calvary.

Aboriginal tribesmen prized the feathers of these birds for use in ritual, and even today- the plumage of Red Tail Hawks fall under the jurisdiction of the “Eagle Feather Law“. Apparently, for those who believe in something, the presence of such a Hawk in a cemetery would be quite a profound experience.

I’d also point out that “hawk’s gifts” in the quotation below would indicate madness and megalomania if manifested in a primate, and would make great PR copy to describe a politician. As proof of this, the second quote replaces references to “hawk” with the name of the Mayor (just as an example).


The hawk’s gifts include clear sightedness, being observant, long distance memory, messages from the universe, guardianship, recalling past lives, courage, wisdom, illumination, seeing the bigger picture, creativity, truth, experience, wise use of opportunities, overcoming problems, magic, focus.

Hawk is associated with the number 14, with the tarot card Temperance. The Temperance card represents the teaching of higher expressions of psychic ability and vision.

The Hawk represents a messenger in the Native American culture. It often shows up in our life when we need to pay attention to the subtle messages found around us, and from those we come into contact with. As with all messages received, it is important to recognise the messages underlying truth. We will be taught to be observant and also pay attention to what we may overlook. This could mean a talent we aren’t using, a gift or unexpected help for which we haven’t shown our gratitude for, or a message from the Universe. As there are so many hawk varieties, the messages vary and can affect all levels of our psyche.

Hawks are the protectors and visionaries of the Air. They hold the key to higher levels of consciousness. This power animal enables us to awakens vision and inspires a creative life purpose. Having Hawk as power animal means your life will be filled with responsibility, because Hawk people seek the overall view. You will most probably be aware of omens and spirit messages.

modified version

Michael Bloomberg’s gifts include clear sightedness, being observant, long distance memory, messages from the universe, guardianship, recalling past lives, courage, wisdom, illumination, seeing the bigger picture, creativity, truth, experience, wise use of opportunities, overcoming problems, magic, focus.

Michael Bloomberg is associated with the number 14, with the tarot card Temperance. The Temperance card represents the teaching of higher expressions of psychic ability and vision.

Michael Bloomberg represents a messenger in the Native American culture…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Being scientifically minded, of course, your humble narrator rejects such fantastic interpretations of the birds presence here. A cigar, after all, is just a cigar. I would point out that a visit to “The City Birder” will reveal several spottings of similar animals all around the megalopolis, and you’ll find a few “things to do” in their recent “upcoming nature trips” posting.

The NYTimes presented this piece in 2007, which discusses the presence of Red Tail Hawks in another garden cemetery- Greenwood in Brooklyn

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the great discomfort caused by my injuries, immense difficulty was found in trying to leave Calvary Cemetery on Sunday afternoon. Social obligation, however, drew me ineluctably back to Astoria to attend a party- during which a televised tournament of some kind would be exhibited that held special significance to others in my peer group.

Happily, some number of photographs of First Calvary blanketed in winter colors were captured, many of which will be gathered into future postings of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm

the loved dead

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday I fell in a hole…

Literally, a pothole on 49th street (which adjoins the hideous Maspeth Creek tributary of that answer to civilization known as the Newtown Creek) swallowed your humble narrator. Banged up a bit, an injury to the left knee punctured my skinvelope and the jury was out on whether or not a finger on the right hand might have been fractured. Of all the things that can go wrong or happen to you around the Newtown Creek, falling in a hole was absolutely the last thing I worried about.

Actually, I’ve worried a lot about falling into a hole at Calvary and Mt. Zion…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Monday my computer died.

The funeral montage for my newly deceased G5 plays unheralded in my mind. With me for quite a number of years, the Mac was a workhorse, and despite its steadily declining capabilities (it hadn’t been able to burn a DVD for years, and recently required replacement of several internal components) it never let me down. I remember the first time we went to the park together, the long nights working on freelance jobs… sigh. If you have a Windows based machine, you don’t understand this, but Mac owners develop a certain emotional bond with their gizmo and it is painful to part with it. Luckily, I salvaged the hard drive from it, and the soul of the beast was intact. So, off to the Apple store at 1AM, back home deeper in debt than ever. The good news is that the new Mac has been able to read everything, the “migration assistant” was able to transfer my files in a fairly seamless fashion, and I seem to be back in business.

Still, bad things are supposed to happen in threes, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, I’m living in fear of further possible torment and death.

Mental notes have been made to both back up the computer more often and to ensure sure footing before shifting my weight from one foot to the other.  I saw a few interesting things on Sunday, which will be discussed in forthcoming postings of this- the winter session of your Newtown Pentacle.


The Newtown Creek Alliance meeting which was cancelled due to the recent ice storm on has been rescheduled for February 17th- here’s the details:

When: Thursday, February 17th, 6:30pm

Where: LaGuardia Community College, Building E, Room 501

The agenda as listed is:

At the meeting we will be discussing:

  • The recent designation of Newtown Creek as a Superfund Site
  • The Greenpoint Oil Spill Settlement Agreement between the NYS AG, Riverkeeper, and ExxonMobil
  • The distribution of Newtown Creek Sewage Treatment Plant Environmental Benefit Funds
  • DEP’s signage for the Newtown Creek Nature Walk
  • The NYC Green Infrastructure Plan and its potential impact on Newtown Creek
  • The status of Newtown Creek Alliance’s application to incorporate as a not-for-profit organization.

The “NYC Green infrastructure plan” section of the discussion promises to be VERY interesting. Come and meet some truly smart people, in Long Island City of all places.


Written by Mitch Waxman

February 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm

nemesis bearing

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

If only a tugboat was passing by…

The BW shot presented below was shot in 1921, and pictures the Phelps Dodge site which was still Nichols’ General Chemical at the time of the photo.

The color shot above was shot last Friday at Meeker Avenue in Greenpoint, standing on the concrete bulkhead of the long gone Penny Bridge.

– photo from The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau, 1921, courtesy Google Books


1901 On the plant grounds, General Chemical erected the tallest chimney in the United States to blow the smoke and gases from its furnace away from the neighborhood. For the past number of years neighbor surrounding the plant complained vociferously about the pollution from the factory. Only after a study found that nitric, muriatic, and sulphuric acids from the plant were destroying local cemeteries’ tombstones did the company try and alleviate the problem by building the chimney. This same year the company filed plans with the New York City’s Department of Buildings in Queens to build another 150 foot chimney, an ore breaker, a storage tank, a boiler house, and a stable.

1903 A fire, started in a building used to manufacture sulphite of copper, destroys this building and two others causing $250,000 worth of damage, to this date it was the most costly fire in Newtown.

1904 For $42,500 the company purchased from Alice H. Stebbins a major tract of land whose border was 200 feet on Locust Avenue (now 44th Street), 725 feet on River Avenue (47th Street if it extended to Newtown Creek), 825 feet on Clinton Avenue (now 56th Road), and 195 feet on Newtown Creek. That same year for $25,000 they purchased another tract from Alice H. Stebbins, Mary S. Dodge, Mary J. and William J. Schiefflin, and Eleanor J. Taft whose border was 828 feet on Clifton Avenue (46th Street if it extended to Newtown Creek), 200 feet on South Avenue (a street that was on the south side of the South Side Rail Road tracks), 755 feet on River Avenue (47th Street if it extended to Newtown Creek) and 195 feet on Newtown Creek.

1912 Another major fire occurred at the plant causing $100,000 worth of damage to a building 200 feet along Washington Avenue (now 43rd Street) and 200 feet along the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

1913 During this year the landscape of the neighborhood changed considerably with the removal of the streets, Washington, Clay, Hamilton, Fulton, Clifton, and River Avenues, on plant property between the railroad tracks and Newtown Creek. Also the railroad tracks were elevated and the remaining part of Washington Avenue was made a private road. This same year the company stated that they will be increasing their workforce from 1200 to 5000 people.1914 The plant received 150,000 tons of copper ore.

1916 The company received approval from the New York City Board of Estimates to build a boardwalk on the stretch of land on the north side of the railroad tracks, nicknamed “Death Avenue” for the many pedestrian fatalities involving trains.

1919 The company employees 1,750 people. Along with other companies along the creek they petition the city to close the streets that were not officially opened between the railroad tracks and Newtown Creek. The petition was denied by the city and the borough because it would eliminate miles of streets and cut off public access to the waterfront.

1920 Property is expanded when the company filled in some of Newtown Creek. That same year the company was expected to be tried for illegally building a freight shed on a portion of Creek Street (57th Avenue if it extended into the plant).

1920’s In exchange for stock in the company Phelps Dodge invested $3.5 million in Nichols Copper Company’s plant modernization projects. This increased the production of copper dramatically at the plant.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 7, 2011 at 1:25 am

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