The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for June 2011

unending steps

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

By email, I was contacted by a personage who claimed that the long desired location of a certain interment at First Calvary Cemetery in Queens- the burial site of “he who must not be named“- was in his possession. Further, it was asserted that while anonymity and certain other odd conditions were required, the occluded information so long sought would be mine for the taking.

A meeting was hastily arranged at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Manhattan’s Mulberry street, and your humble narrator scuttled off to the Bloody Sixth Ward and the House of Dagger John.

What greeted me was not to my liking.


The recent elevation of New York as an Episcopal see with its own bishop inspired the increasing Catholic population to build the original Cathedral of New York under the name of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. The site chosen belonged to the corporation of Saint Peter’s Church and was located on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan. The cornerstone was laid in June 1809.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is habit and curse, an early arrival was attempted and achieved, and a hidden vantage point amongst the venerable pews was attained. The odd fellow who had contacted me described his aspect and appearance accurately, and recognition was instant when he strode confidently into the ancient church. He did not arrive alone, as he had implied in his missives, however.

The disturbing aspect of his companions, leathery creatures best described as men, and the hushed instructions he seemed to be offering them, brought me to a peak of nervous excitedness and a panic set in upon me. Stupidly, I had walked directly into a spiders web, lured in by forbidden fruit.

Had some sort of diabolical plot, hatched by those malign forces whose secretive occupations and desires and unguessed at existence has been inadvertently hinted at and offended by this- your Newtown Pentacle, been set in motion to snare and silence me?

from wikipedia

Until 1830, the Cathedral was the ending place of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. After that, it ended on Ann Street at the Church of the Transfiguration, whose pastor, Father Varela, was Cuban, but was a fervent nationalist and the chaplin of the Hibernian Universal Benevolent Society. Eventually, the parade moved uptown to pass in front of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In 1836, the cathedral was the subject of an attempted sack after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing nativists led to a number of riots and other physical confrontations. The situation worsened when a brain-injured young woman wrote a book telling her “true” story – a Protestant girl who converted to Catholicism, and was then forced by nuns to have sex with priests, with the resulting children being baptized then killed horribly. Despite the book being debunked by a mildly anti-Catholic magazine editor, nativist anger at the story resulted in a decision to attack the cathedral. Loopholes were cut in the church’s outer walls, which had just recently been built, and the building was defended from the rioters with muskets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As previously described, vast physical inadequacy and cowardice are my hallmarks. The least of all men, my only recourse is flight, and I seem to have descended into some sort of fugue state.

I remember leaving the sepulchral darkness and unnatural cool of the old Cathedral, but from the moment that the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself shone upon me, it’s a total blank.

My next conscious memory is that of having arrived back at HQ in Astoria some hours later with blistered feet and chafed thighs, and an odd crusty residue around my eyes reminiscent of the dehydrated tears which adorn the occulum of a recently awakened sleeper.

During this multi hour episode, I seem to have been taking hundreds of pictures as I scuttled instinctually and inexorably homeward.

I’ve pieced my somnambulist route together from the shots on my camera card and for some reason, seemed to be subconsciously following an ancient street car route, the one that went to Calvary via Williamsburg as I later scried.


In 1850 a line of two horse stages was running from Grand Street ferry past the Dutch Church on the Old Woodpoint Road out to Newtown. Grape arbors extended from Leonard Street to Humboldt Street.

Martin J. SUYDAM ran a stage from Peck Slip and Grand Street. Ferries through Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue to Newtown.

The Grand Street and Newtown Railroad Co., was chartered in 1860. At the foot of the street was the office of the Houston Street Ferry Association and later of the Nassau Ferry Co. A long wooden stairway led from the ferry to the American Hotel, latter, #2 & 4, kept by Jackson HICKS.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some sort of odd symmetry presents itself, of course, in this dreamt of photowalk. The vast numbers who lie within the emerald devastations of Laurel Hill made the same journey themselves, although most did not take the Williamsburg Bridge- rather a connecting ferry and streetcar line which would have joined some forgotten 19th century Manhattan pierage (near its own Grand Street) with the gentry of Brooklyn. Don’t forget, in the 19th century, Manhattan was a pestilential hell hole of factories and open sewers populated by a starving horde of refugees- Brooklyn was in it’s own golden age.

The Bridge didn’t come along until 1883 after all, and First Calvary was nearly full by then.

from “An East-Side Ramble” William Dean Howells Impressions and Experiences (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1896) courtesy

I suppose there are and have been worse conditions of life, but if I stopped short of savage life I found it hard to imagine them. I did not exaggerate to myself the squalor that I saw, and I do not exaggerate it to the reader. As I have said, I was so far from sentimentalizing it that I almost immediately reconciled myself to it, as far as its victims were concerned. Still, it was squalor of a kind which, it seemed to me, it could not be possible to outrival anywhere in the life one commonly calls civilized. It is true that the Indians who formerly inhabited this island were no more comfortably lodged in their wigwams of bark and skins than these poor New-Yorkers in their tenements. But the wild men pay no rent, and if they are crowded together upon terms that equally forbid decency and comfort in their shelter, they have the freedom of the forest and the prairie about them; they have the illimitable sky and the whole light of day and the four winds to breathe when they issue into the open air. The New York tenement dwellers, even when they leave their lairs, are still pent in their high-walled streets and inhale a thousand stenches of their own and others’ making. The street, except in snow and rain, is always better than their horrible houses, and it is doubtless because they pass so much of their time in the street that the death rate is so low among them. Perhaps their domiciles can be best likened for darkness and discomfort to the dugouts or sod huts of the settlers on the great plains. But these are only temporary shelters, while the tenement dwellers have no hope of better housing; they have neither the prospect of a happier fortune through their own energy as the settlers have, nor any chance from the humane efforts and teachings of missionaries, like the savages. With the tenement dwellers it is from generation to generation, if not for the individual, then for the class, since no one expects that there will not always be tenement dwellers in New York as long as our present economical conditions endure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evidenced in the shot above, I seem to have proceeded south along Mulberry Street, past the high walls of the Old Cathedral which were erected by Dagger John and the Hibernians to protect the sanctuary from the violent attentions of Nativist rioters during those starry years when this neighborhood was known as “the bloody sixth ward”.

from History of the Second company of the Seventh regiment By Emmons Clark, courtesy google books

The Sixth Ward was noted for its disorderly character, and the frequent skirmishes which took place within its borders, with the consequent black eyes and bloody noses, gave it the well-known sobriquet,—”the Bloody Sixth.” On the first day of the election, in the spring of 1834, it was said that the anti-bank, Democratic, and Irish citizens of the Sixth Ward, had blockaded the polls and prevented the Whigs from voting. On the second day, the Whigs from other districts rallied in large numbers to the Sixth Ward, resolved to break the blockade and give their friends an opportunity to cast their ballots. The result was a series of engagements, in which both parties maintained their positions in the field until the polls closed for the day. A ship, mounted on wheels and adorned with Whig banners, was drawn through the ward, and used to convey voters to the polls, and this insulting invasion of the Democratic stronghold increased the excitement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This grand walk carried me, in a seemingly dream like state, through the lower Manhattan neighborhoods known to Dagger John and his compatriots as either “Jewtown” or “the Ghetto”, over the Bridge, into Williamsburg, through Bushwick and then Maspeth in Brooklyn and Queens respectively, into Berlin and then Blissville in the Creeklands, and ultimately Calvary Cemetery itself. Over the next few days, and from the comfort and safety of a well fortified Newtown Pentacle HQ (which sports a cadre of Croatian Varangians dedicated to my health and well being, should these malign forces decide to visit… as well as other… more esoteric defenses) I’ll be presenting the fruits of this journey. As mentioned, I somehow kept shooting the whole way.

from wikipedia

Basil II’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, led him to employ them as his personal bodyguards. This new force became known as the Varangian Guard (Greek: Τάγμα των Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn). Over the years, new recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway kept a predominantly Scandinavian cast to the organization until the late 11th century. So many Scandinavians left to enlist in the guard that a medieval Swedish law from Västergötland stated that no one could inherit while staying in “Greece”—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire. In the eleventh century, there were also two other European courts that recruited Scandinavians: Kievan Rus’ c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið). Steven Runciman, in The History of the Crusades, noted that by the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos, the Byzantine Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”. The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and after the Norman Conquest of England there were many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and looked for a living elsewhere.

Additionally, for those who might be interested in a FREE boat tour of Newtown Creek on City of Water Day – which is Saturday, July 16th- this web page bears monitoring.

athwart the desert

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Many things find a piquant and interested perch in my thoughts.

Autocthonic, these wonderings are often based on observations of a block or two of grandiose structures which seem out of place in modern context, Greenpoint Avenue between Manhattan Ave. and the East River is just one.

There is a distinct and obviously missing element which once defined its “reason for being”, and like many of the other occlusions which abound along the coastline of North Brooklyn and Western Queens- the answer is presented by First Calvary Cemetery.

from the “DIGEST OF SPECIAL STATUTES By THE CITY OF NEW YORK” courtesy google books

1865: This act incorporates the Green Point and Calvary Railroad Company, and authorizes the construction of a railroad, to be operated by horse power only, from at or near the Green Point and Tenth street ferry, at the foot of Green Point avenue, in the city of Brooklyn, thence along Green Point avenue to Green Point avenue plank road, across the bridge over Newtown creek; thence easterly along said road to the easterly side of Calvary cemetery at or near the point where the, said road intersects the main road leading from Calvary cemetery to Hunter’s Point; thence to Central avenue; thence along Central avenue and Commercial street to Franklin avenue, to Freeman street, to Washington street, to the place of beginning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s no accident that Almiralls chapel is clearly visible from the paramount of Greenpoint Avenue at Manhattan Avenue.

It’s a latecomer to the scene of course, having been built in the early years of the 20th century, but in 1865 when the Streetcar Line described above was mandated there were 1,000 interments a day going on at Calvary. Some portion of those were the graves which were being uprooted over in Manhattan of course, when cemeteries there were outlawed by the Rural Cemetery Act of 1848, but the majority of the dead coming to Queens were from a sausage grinder called the Five Points and the Tenth Street Ferry was how you got from points A to B for the funerals.

from “A history of the city of Brooklyn By Henry Reed Stiles” courtesy google books

The Green-point Ferries are from the foot of Green-Point Avenue, Brooklyn, E. D., to the foot of East Tenth and East Twenty-Third streets, New York. The first named route was established in 1852 (lease dated 1850), by the efforts of Mr. Neziah Bliss, of Green-Point; and was soon transferred to Mr. Shepard Knapp, being now held by G. Lee Knapp. The Twenty-Third street route was established in 1857, and held by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, per G. Lee Knapp. Rent of the Tenth street ferry, $1,300, and of the Twenty-Third street, $600 per annum, both expiring in 1874.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not the facts of the Ferry or Streetcar that make me curious, of course.

What I’ve been wondering about lately is how the ethnic neighborhoods in the boroughs came to be. Everybody started in Manhattan on the Lower East Side, yet the Jews of Bayard Street and the Italians of Mulberry found a path to Williamsburg and Greenpoint (Tenth Street Ferry?), while the Catholic Germans found their way to Ridgewood and Astoria (86th Street Ferry?). The Irish were everywhere, but made colonies of Woodside and Rockaway.

What natural synergies drew large populations of ethnic brethren to these neighborhoods?

Work was certainly a factor (garment and stone industries in the industrial mills of Newtown Creek and Williamsburg, etc.), but I’m wondering if it wasn’t the lost Ferry and Streetcar connections which allowed and encouraged these ethnic populations to agglutinate.

from “The Sun’s guide to New York” in 1892 courtesy google books

Tenth Street Ferry Branch (color cream): Runs from foot Chambers St., cor. West (ferry to Pavonia Ave., Jersey City and Erie R. R. Depot), through West to Charlton, to Prince, to Bowery, to Pitt St., to Ave. C, to foot E. 10th St. (Tenth St. Ferry to Greenpoint Ave., Brooklyn), returning by E. 10th St., to Ave. D, to E. llth St., to Ave. C, to E. 3d St., to 1st Ave., to Houston St., to West, to Chambers, cor. West.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 28, 2011 at 12:51 am

Project Firebox 24

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Vernon Avenue at 38th, in venerable Ravenswood, stands this soldier of the city.

Clearly overburdened by duty, task, and “what could happen”- it nevertheless stands a lonely vigil as the throbbing harmonics of Big Allis wash over and through it.

What sights has it known, here in the fortress neighborhood of western Queens, and what stories might it tell?

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

lined with sorrow

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my little phrases, that I bandy about as if I know what I’m talking about, is “Newtown Creek is where the Industrial Revolution actually happened”.

Ruminating on this, literally this morning, I started putting this post together, picking a random and unremarked spot along Newtown Creek (which I had ok photos of, naturally) and shining a light on it. The semi modern history of this spot, an auto impound lot which was a “Gaseteria” facility more recently than it was the Ditmas Oil Terminal, which lies along the English Kills tributary of the Newtown Creek isn’t that hard to find out.

Child’s play, if the child happens to be 40 and change years old, and refers to himself constantly as your “humble narrator”, that is.


During the early nineteenth century, the portion of present-day Brooklyn between the village of Williamsburgh and New town Creek was a rural farm area dotted by small settlements. Beginning in the second decade of the nineteenth century, at the time the ferries to Manhattan were initiated, the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Plank Road was established on the route of the present-day Metropolitan Avenue.

Around the same time, the Newtown and Bushwick Turnpike, also known as the North Road to Newtown, was built on the present-day Meeker Avenue. The turnpike crossed Newtown Creek at a site where a ferry had operated since the late 1600s; in 1836 a toll bridge was built which came to be known as the “Penny Bridge” after the fee charged to pedestrians. Bushwick Avenue, which connected with Humboldt Street, was an important north-south route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This part of the English Kills canal follows the grid of the surrounding Brooklyn streets and looks nothing like the vernal wonderland of salt marsh and game laden grasses described by the Dutch and so carefully mapped by the English. This is the work of 19th century engineers, who were trying to put nature right, imposing right angles and impossible angles upon the water. It’s not too far from the intersection of Metropolitan and Grand Avenues in East Williamsburg.

It’s also pretty close to where the Bushwick Chemical Works of M. Kalbfleisch & Sons once stood, if it’s not the actual spot.

from “A history of American manufactures from 1608 to 1860” via google books

The Bushwick Chemical Works—M. Kalbfleisch & Sons,

Situated in the Eastern District of Brooklyn, a few miles from New York, are among the most important and extensive Chemical manufactories in the United States. The Works are composed of numerous buildings of various sizes, the largest being from one hundred and sixty to two hundred feet in length, and from sixty to seventy feet in width. Among them is a Glass House and Pottery, in which are made all the Retorts and Bottles used in manufacturing and packing the Acids and other products of the Chemical Department. The whole group of structures, with their extended walls, spacious roofs, and lofty chimneys, covers an area of over five acres, and presents an imposing appearance even at a distance. The interior appointments and equipments are of a character corresponding with the extent of the buildings. One of the chambers, for manufacturing Sulphuric Acid, is two hundred and seventeen feet long by fifty feet wide, no doubt the largest in existence, and is a model in every particular. Among the noticeable objects that attract the attention of visitors, are three Platina Stills, imported from France, at a cost of about fifteen thousand dollars each.

The products of these Works include a great number of those articles recognized as standards in the commerce of the world. Of Sulphuric Acid they have a capacity for producing three hundred thousand pounds weekly, and of Muriatic Acid, about three hundred and fifty carboys weekly.

Besides these, they manufacture Aquafortis, Muriate of Tin, Strong Ox. Muriate Tin, Soda Ash, Aqua Ammonia, Tin Chrystals, Nitrate of Iron, Sulphate of Zinc, and other officinal chemicals. The firm employ constantly from seventy to eighty workmen, for whom they have provided comfortable dwellings in the vicinity of the Works. The Office and Salesrooms are in the City of New York, at the corner of Fulton and Cliff streets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the precursor of Phelps Dodge over on the Queens side of the Creek (which was known first as Nichols and then as General Chemical) M. Kalbfleisch & Sons manufactured the wonder chemical of the early 19th century- sulfuric acid.

The chemical itself had been around in one form or another for centuries, but its manufacture was the provence of jewelers and alchemists, and its manufacture was a particularly ugly process and produced limited quantities of the stuff. It required large glass or earthenware vessels to distill, which were prone to breakage, which is bad when acid is involved.

One would either burn sulfur and saltpeter along with sodium nitrate and combine the ashes with water, or distill the stuff from a mixture of ferric sulfate and silica. The former mixture is also known as Brimstone, and the latter as Oil of Vitriol to esotericists.

from America’s Successful Men of Affairs , An Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography via google books

MARTIN KALBFLEISCH, chemist, a native of Flushing, Netherlands, born Feb. 8, 1804, died in Brooklyn, N. Y., Feb. 12, 1873. In 1822, the youth sailed to the island of Sumatra, but finding that the Asiatic cholera was raging there, he promptly returned with his ship to Antwerp Thence he went to Havre, France, and spent four years in commercial enterprise. In 1826, he came to the United States with small means but splendid pluck.

In New York city, hard work as a clerk and chemist brought him a little money and, in 1835, he started a manufactory of colors and chemicals in Harlem. After several changes of location, the business, which had prospered under his energetic management, was finally moved to Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn.

The works now occupy eleven acres of ground on Newtown creek.

Mr. Kalbfleisch was a man of clear head, strong common sense and ability. He served in various public offices in Brooklyn and was elected Mayor in 1861. In 1862, his fellow citizens sent him to Congress and in 1867 and 1871 again made him Mayor.

Later, they offered him the nomination for Governor of the State on the same ticket with Horace Greeley.

In 1854, he was married to Elizabeth Harvey. Eleven children were born to them: Elizabeth W., wife of Robert Robinson; Frederick W. Kalbfleisch; Helen M., wife of Rodney Thursby; Edward L. G., Charles H., Albert M., and Franklin H. Kalbfleisch; Josephine M. L., wife of Robert S. Fleet; Isabella G., wife of James E. Weaver; and John and George Kalbfleisch.

He retired from business in 1868 in favor of his sons, who thereupon organized the firm of Martin Kalbfleisch’s Sons, which controlled the business until 1886.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sulfuric acid part of the industrial revolution started when a fellow in Great Britain named Roebuck figured out that he could produce the stuff by the pound, and then the ton, using an innovative series of lead tanks to distill the acid. The method spread and evolved, and even today, sulfuric acid accounts for nearly 40% of total U.S. chemical industry volume output.

Manufacture of sulfuric acid has advanced considerably, of course, since the days of M. Kalbfleisch & Sons. The company itself seems to have suffered a premature decline, due to mismanagement (and I’ve found hints of some sort of Standard Oil interference with it as well but nothing I could back up). The fellow who got the property in receivership was a manufacturer of electrical glass, the sort of material you see on high tension wire connections.

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

from A history of the city of Brooklyn, By Henry Reed Stiles via google books

maniacal force and fury

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Special Note: I’m going to fill in for Newtown Creek Alliance’s Michael Heimbinder at the DEP speaker series tomorrow night at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Mike has a family obligation to fulfill, and Shawn Shaffner of the POOP project asked me to sit in his chair. For more on the (free) event in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on Thursday the 23rd of June, click here. The official press release text follows:

Newtown Creek: Past, Present, and Future

When: Thursday, June 23rd, 6:30-8:30pm

Where: Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Visitor Center, 329 Greenpoint Ave.

Join us for the NYC Dept of Environmental Protection’s speaker series where we will be hearing from Michael Heimbinder (Founder and Executive Director, HabitatMap), Kate Zidar (Coordinator, SWIM Coalition) and Paul Parkhill (Director, Place in History). The panel discussion will be moderated by Shawn Shaffner of the The People’s Own Organic Power Project.

Now, on with the Pentacle:

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had participated in Working Harbor Committee’s “student cruise” (an effort to introduce the concept of maritime career opportunities to kids from the landlocked core of the City who might otherwise never consider such a path) and found myself with several hours to kill before a second Working Harbor trip in the evening which would be leaving from South Street Seaport and Pier 17.

Luncheon at “the Frying Pan” was achieved, and your humble narrator found himself enjoying the Hudson River Park’s amenities and scenic possibilities. When I lived in Manhattan, of course, I seldom left the apartment except for the bacchanal nights spent at certain favorite bars.

For most of the 1990’s my place was Hogs and Heifers, which was opened by a buddy of mine in a desolate and dangerous stretch of the west side known as the “meat packing district”.


The bar was started by Michelle Dell’s husband, Allan Dell, in 1992, when the Meat Packing District was known for transvestite hookers and crack, not fancy restaurants and clubs. Dell slowly built the business, and in the process helped to turn around an entire neighborhood, turning Hogs and Heifers into a major tourist destination, and the Meat Packing District into one of the hottest club and restaurant destinations in the world.

Allan Dell died on June 7th, 1997, at age 31. Michelle Dell continues to operate the bar as its sole proprietor, as well as operating the much larger location, opened in 2005, in Las Vegas, NV.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend of mine from art school, who was a confidant and companion of the infamous Lydia Lunch, gave this neighborhood the unforgettable motto “we’ve got the reddest, we’ve got the rawest, just step inside” and the place was no joke “back in the day”. The high line was the worlds longest homeless camp, and the baser elements of New York society stalked the streets untrammeled by the attentions of police or polite society. Things have changed here, as everywhere else, in the Shining City.

Debauchery and drunkenness is much beloved by the uniformed services of our City, and the early bar soon became a magnet for off duty cops, firefighters, and representatives of the various trade unions. After 911, however, I found myself going there less and less. Not to run away from what had happened of course, but simply speaking- my life had changed when Our Lady of the Pentacle arrived on the scene and my nightlife activities had been tapering off anyway as age began to set in.

from wikipedia

The West Side Highway (officially the Joe DiMaggio Highway) is a mostly surface section of New York State Route 9A (NY 9A) that runs from West 72nd Street along the Hudson River to the southern tip of Manhattan. It replaced the West Side Elevated Highway, built between 1929 and 1951, which was shut down in 1973 due to neglect and lack of maintenance, and was dismantled by 1989. The term “West Side Highway” is often mistakenly used, particularly by the news media traffic reporters, to include the roadway north of 72nd Street which is properly known as the Henry Hudson Parkway.

The current highway, which was completed in 2001, but required some reconstruction due to damage sustained in the 9/11 attacks, utilizes the surface streets that existed before the elevated highway was built: West Street, Eleventh Avenue and Twelfth Avenue. A short section of Twelfth Avenue still runs between 129th and 138th Streets, under the Riverside Drive Viaduct.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the demographics of the neighborhood began to change as well, as the success of Hogs had spawned dozens of other- more upscale- watering holes which catered to an entirely different population of fashionable and moneyed customers. You didn’t see Celebrities slumming anymore, they came here instead “to be seen”.

Basically, it just stopped being fun in the meat packing district, in the same manner that the Lower East Side ceased in the late 80’s. In my mind, Manhattan as a whole is no fun anymore, just expensive.

Recently, I noted that a fruit cart on Park Avenue in the lower 20’s was selling oranges at $1 each. A dollar for an orange?

from wikipedia

In 1900, Gansevoort Market was home to 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants, but by the 1980s, it had become known as a center for drug dealing and prostitution, particularly transsexuals. Concurrent with the rise in illicit sexual activity, the sparsely populated industrial area became the focus of the city’s burgeoning gay BDSM subculture; loosely embracing the business model of disco impresario David Mancuso, over a dozen sex clubs — including such notable ones as The Anvil, The Manhole, and the heterosexual-friendly Hellfire Club — flourished in the area. At the forefront of the scene was the members-only Mineshaft on Little West 12th Street. A preponderance of these establishments were under the direct control of the Mafia or subject to NYPD protection rackets. In 1985, The Mineshaft was forcibly shuttered by the city at the height of AIDS preventionism.

Beginning in the late 1990s, the Meatpacking District went through a transformation. High-end boutiques catering to young professionals and hipsters opened, including Diane von Furstenberg, Christian Louboutin, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Theory, Ed Hardy, Puma, Moschino, ADAM by Adam Lippes, Jeffrey New York, the Apple Store; restaurants such as Pastis and Buddha Bar; and nightclubs such as Tenjune, One, G-Spa, Cielo, APT, Level V, and Kiss and Fly. In 2004, New York magazine called the Meatpacking District “New York’s most fashionable neighborhood”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been watching the so called Freedom Tower rising from the pit of national despair, an aspirant memorial and architectural experiment. Like the towers that were raised by the Rockefellers in the 70’s or the Newsboy Governor’s Empire State Building, it’s meant to connote that no matter how hard times get, NYC will always grow higher and farther than any other city.

What is odd for me, however, are the throngs of tourist pilgrims who make a point of visiting the construction site. During this Hudson walk, I was diverted from my path by the construction project and I found myself taking a sit down break on the gated wall in front of St. Paul’s on Church and Vesey.

Amazing, the numbers of foreign tourists, who make their way here from across the globe.

from wikipedia

The design of 1 WTC generated controversy due to the limited number of floors in the previous design (82) that were designated for office space and other amenities. The overall office space of the entire rebuilt World Trade Center will be reduced by more than 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2) as compared with the original complex. The floor limit was imposed by Silverstein, who expressed concern that higher floors would be a liability in another major accident or terrorist attack. In a subsequent design, the highest space that could be occupied became comparable to the original World Trade Center.

An unofficial movement to rebuild the lost towers instead of building a single tower, called The Twin Towers Alliance, collected more than seven thousand signatures supporting the rebuilding of the Twin Towers. Developer Donald Trump proposed a twin building design called World Trade Center Phoenix (Twin Towers II). The twin design would look similar to the original twin towers, but the buildings would be considerably taller with improved safety measures and would feature much larger windows.

Former New York Governor George Pataki faced accusations of cronyism for supposedly using his influence to get the winning architect’s bid picked as a personal favor for a close friend.

The base of the tower (fortified because of security concerns) has also been a source of controversy. A number of critics (notably Deroy Murdock of the National Review) have suggested that it is alienating and dull, and reflects a sense of fear rather than freedom, leading them to dub the project “the Fear Tower”.

In May 2011, detailed floor plans of the tower were displayed on New York City’s Department of Finance website resulting in an uproar from the media and citizens of the surrounding area who questioned the potential use of the plans for a future terrorist attack. New York Police Department Chief Ray Kelly described One World Trade Center as “the nation’s number one terrorist target”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My own travels in Europe have often been illuminating, for when these folks are comfortable in their own environment, they discuss the United States in the same context as they would Nazi Germany and I’ve been told by English, Dutch, and Frenchman alike that “we had it coming”.

I find it paradoxical, as there is some truth to their point of view- the same Rockefeller money that built the first World Trade Center was generated by Standard Oil, whose worldwide operations supported and in many cases created the oppressive North African and Arabian governments which would prove to be so friendly to the petrochemical industry back in the 1950’s.

Conversely, the so called “American hegemony” which allowed the petrol companies to guarantee cheap energy to the “west” also created the longest period of peace in European history. The economics of maintaining a large military, or not, is what allowed the shattered landscape of post war Europe to be rebuilt- and many of the modern European birthrights- free or relatively cheap higher education, great roads, and universal health care- are what you can have if you don’t have to maintain a standing army.

from wikipedia

The “Seven Sisters” was a term coined in the 1950s by Italian businessman Enrico Mattei to describe the seven oil companies which formed the “Consortium for Iran” and dominated the global petroleum industry from the mid-1940s to the 1970s. The group comprised Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil Company of New York (now ExxonMobil); Standard Oil of California, Gulf Oil and Texaco (now Chevron); Royal Dutch Shell; and Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP).

In 1973 the members of the Seven Sisters controlled 85% of the world’s petroleum reserves but in recent decades the dominance of them and their successor companies has been challenged by the increasing influence of the OPEC cartel and of state-owned oil companies in emerging-market economies.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2011 at 12:36 pm

betwixt the horns

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me paranoid, but the Fireboat Three Forty Three seems to be following me around. Everywhere I go these days, there it is. Has anyone ever been stalked by a crewed ship on its shakedown cruise?


from wikipedia

140-foot, 500-ton, $27 million dollar boat will be the country’s largest fireboat with a maximum speed of 18 knots. The Three Forty Three will provide the FDNY with the latest technology available for Marine vessels, including the capability of pumping 50,000 gallons of water per minute; nearly 30,000 gallons more than its predecessor. The need for this increased pumping capacity was graphically displayed as FDNY’s existing fireboats supplied the only water available for many days after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. However, the technological advances of these new boats do not end there. The boat’s original design by Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C. will catapult FDNY’s Marine Division into the 21st century and beyond.

Because of the very real threat of additional terrorist attacks after 9/11, the boats will also be capable of protecting firefighters from Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear agents (CBRN). While performing in any of these hostile environments, the crew will be protected in a pressurized area that will also have its air supply filtered by special charcoal and HEPA filters. Assistance on the design of the CBRN system was provided by engineers from the U.S. military’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense and Naval Sea Systems Command. United States Navy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Day two of a particularly interesting summer cold, and as you’re reading this (assuming it’s daylight) your humble narrator is most likely aboard a Circle Line and talking on the microphone describing the sights and hidden meanings of NY Harbor to a group of 700 Octa, Nona, and Centenarians.

Such odd moments in life are, of course, owed to the Working Harbor Committee and the Borough President of Manhattan, who makes money available for his constituents in nursing homes to “get out for a day”.


Scott M. Stringer, a native New Yorker, is the 26th Manhattan Borough President.

Since taking office at the start of 2006, he has dedicated himself to making Manhattan more affordable, livable…and breathable – preserving the sense of neighborhood for the 1.6 million residents of what is best known as a world capital of culture and commerce.

The foundation for much of the borough president’s work is the change he’s brought to Manhattan’s community boards. Energizing these formal institutions of neighborhood democracy was a top priority of Stringer’s upon becoming borough president. A new merit selection process, combined with an infusion of badly needed resources – such as dedicating to each board a graduate student from the city’s architecture and planning schools – has served to strengthen the voice of Manhattan’s neighborhoods in debates over city planning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was actually a recent Working Harbor trip, this time a program for kids in which representatives of certain maritime organizations like Coast Guard and Port Authority commune with a group of “city kids” onboard a boat, which had brought me to the Hudson on the day these shots were taken. The goal is to introduce to them the idea of a career on the harbor, something not often considered in the wilds of central Brooklyn or Queens.

Another maritime engagement would require me to be at South Street Seaport in the evening, and I had a few hours to kill so I decided to walk from 42nd street to South Street the long way, around the Battery.

from wikipedia

Battery Park is a 25-acre (10 hectare) public park located at the Battery, the southern tip of Manhattan Island in New York City, facing New York Harbor. The Battery is named for artillery batteries that were positioned there in the city’s early years in order to protect the settlement behind them. At the north end of the park is Castle Clinton, the often re-purposed last remnant of the defensive works that inspired the name of the park; Pier A, formerly a fireboat station; and Hope Garden, a memorial to AIDS victims. At the other end is Battery Gardens restaurant, next to the United States Coast Guard Battery Building. Along the waterfront, ferries depart for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and there is also a New York Water Taxi stop. The park is also the site of the East Coast Memorial which commemorates U.S. servicemen who died in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean during World War II, and several other memorials.

To the northwest of the park lies Battery Park City, a planned community built on landfill in the 1970s and 80s, which includes Robert F. Wagner Park and the Battery Park City Promenade. Together with Hudson River Park, a system of greenspaces, bikeways and promenades now extend up the Hudson shoreline. A bikeway might be built through the park that will connect the Hudson River and East River parts of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway. Across State Street to the northeast stands the old U.S. Customs House, now used as a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian and the district U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Peter Minuit Plaza abuts the southeast end of the park, directly in front of the South Ferry Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In planning my route, however, I forgot to factor in the Freedom Tower and the 911 site, which is something I normally avoid like the plague. As a rule, I stay away from this subject, don’t discuss my dead friends who were Port Authority cops or Fire Fighters, and don’t engage in conversational speculation about the event with either the “Truthers” or the conspiracists.

On the other hand, I think that naming a Fireboat “Three Forty Three” is extremely appropriate while the term “Freedom Tower” is just silly and smacks of bad comic book writing.

from wikipedia

One World Trade Center (1 World Trade Center), more simply known as 1 WTC and formerly known as the Freedom Tower, is the lead building of the new World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan in New York City. The tower will be located in the northwest corner of the World Trade Center site, and will occupy the location where the original 8-story 6 World Trade Center once stood. The north side of the tower runs between the intersection of Vesey and West streets on the northwest and the intersection of Vesey and Washington streets on the northeast, with the site of the original North Tower/1 WTC offset to the southeast. Construction on below-ground utility relocations, footings, and foundations for the building began on April 27, 2006. On March 30, 2009, the Port Authority confirmed that the building will be known by its legal name of ‘One World Trade Center’, rather than the colloquial name ‘Freedom Tower’. Upon completion, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the United States, standing at a height of 1,776 feet (541.3 m), and among the tallest buildings in the world.  It will be taller than the Empire State Building, and will be completed by the beginning of 2014.

damnable man-lizards

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffering from the early stages of a summer cold, your humble narrator nevertheless keeps calm and carries on…

Today, a set of images captured in the “fancy” part of Brooklyn, the estimable Williamsburg itself. I should explain that no love has been lost for the fanciful desolation of the Creeklands, and The Newtown Pentacle is not “upping its brand” by exploring the tonier parts of town- instead, I had the pleasure of accompanying the colorful Ms. Heather (of on a photo walk one recent afternoon.

The shot above, which is as “ich ein Brooklyner” as a photo could possibly be, is one of the products of this perambulating with the queen of Brooklyn’s northern extant.

from wikipedia

Williamsburg is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, bordering Greenpoint to the north, Bedford-Stuyvesant to the south, Bushwick to the east and the East River to the west. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 1. The neighborhood is served by the NYPD’s 90th Precinct. In the City Council the western and southern part of the neighborhood is represented by the 33rd District; and the eastern part of the neighborhood is represented by the 34th District.

Many ethnic groups have enclaves within Williamsburg, including Hasidic Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. It is also an influential hub for indie rock, hipster culture, and the local art community, all of which are associated with one of its main thoroughfares, Bedford Avenue. The neighborhood is being redefined by a growing population and the rapid development of housing and retail space.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We wandered in a generally south eastern direction, along the coastline, and I regaled my companion with tales of 1980’s Brooklyn, and the absolute hell on earth that Williamsburg once was. Bedford avenue, for instance, was once typified by burnt out buildings and empty brick lots. One job I held- located in a rat stricken factory (on Kent avenue at South 5th street) where I was employed cutting color separations for screen printed apparel from a material called “rubylith”, placed signage in the men’s room warning against use of the local prostitutes due to various venereal diseases which they were rumored to carry- especially a new and terrifying one called “SIDS” at the time which we now affectionately refer to as “HIV”. There were distinct groups of whores, some worked the parking lots (as in our particular building) while others were consigned to the street. Believe it or not, hipsters, Bedford and South 4th used to be like that HBO “hookers at the point” movie.

from wikipedia

“Prostitute” is a direct borrowing from the Latin prostituta, the feminine past participle of the verb prostituere (to set forth in public, to expose to dishonor, to prostitute, to put to unworthy use). The Latin verb is a composition of pro (forward) and statuere (to cause to stand, to station, place erect). A literal translation therefore would be: “to place forward”. “The notion of ‘sex for hire’ is not inherent in the etymology, which rather suggests one ‘exposed to lust’ or sex ‘indiscriminately offered.'” The word statuere is a derivative of stare (to stand), which derives from the proto-Indo-European root stā.

A variety of terms are used for those who engage in prostitution, some of which distinguish between different kinds or imply a value judgment about them. Common alternatives for prostitute include escort and whore; however, not all professional escorts are prostitutes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots are from early May, which most likely describes the vast backlog of photos which are in the process of digital development or haven’t been published here yet. It’s been a very interesting month, with lots of exciting sights and disturbing portents- I’m taking a breath this week at the urging of Our Lady of the Pentacle and medical staff alike. My tremulous health is finely balanced and controlled by an extensive schedule of prescripted pharmaceuticals, after all, and if care is not exercised I may fall into a decline- “one of my states”.

All work and no play makes Mitch a Mitch Mitch Mitchity Mitch.


Nervous breakdown isn’t a medical term, however, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness. But that doesn’t mean it’s a normal or a healthy response to stress. A nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem that needs attention, such as depression or anxiety.

Signs of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person and depend on the underlying cause. Exactly what constitutes a nervous breakdown also varies from one culture to another. Generally, it’s understood to mean that a person is no longer able to function normally. For example, he or she may:

  • Call in sick to work for days or longer
  • Avoid social engagements and miss appointments
  • Have trouble following healthy patterns of eating, sleeping and hygiene

A number of other unusual or dysfunctional behaviors may be considered signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Needless to say, what I consider a break is what other folks call a dissertation. Look forward to daily, but quite ephemeral postings this week, stuff I’ve seen and wondered about but have chosen not to delve too deeply into.

There’s a massive load of hardcore creek stuff in the pipes, and a couple of cool announcements about tours and events I’m either participating in or leading coming as well. Let’s just say that July 16th, which is “City of Water Day“, we’re going somewhere cool by boat…

Additionally, I’ve been haunting and annoying the DEP staff at the Temple of Cloacina in Greenpoint and have personally witnessed the actual bowels of New York City- with my camera. Additionally, the Working Harbor Committee has resumed it’s summer schedule of boat tours and I have been onboard whenever possible.


…Sewage originating south of E. 73rd Street is conveyed to the Newtown Creek WPCP. Sewage is transferred by combined sewers along E. 70th Street and E. 71st Street, which connect with the combined sewer along York Avenue.  The Newtown Creek WPCP, with a rated design capacity of 310 mgd, discharges the effluent into the East River.  The 2002 average dry weather flow of the Newtown Creek WPCP is 216 mgd and the average total flow is 229 mgd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve also been riding the East River Ferry a bit, and must comment on the lamentable appointments at the dock in Hunters Point. I’m not going to post my reactions to the ferry dock, it’s horrible state, or the profoundly odd manner in which it is being managed for a little while. The shaming photos of it’s first days are in my possession, and one hopes that what these shots show are merely growing pains and not a horrible confirmation of what people in Queens believe to be a bias shown by the Manhattan elites toward us. Please ride the ferry yourself, get off in Brooklyn, get off in Manhattan, and then come to Hunters Point and decide for youself.

Lastly, I have no idea what this milky white substance in the mason jar is or represents. As is my policy, such items are never touched, only recorded. Perhaps its the property of one of the newer residents of Williamsburg recently migrated from the continent.

from wikipedia

The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp (also known as the Lizard Man of Lee County) is a humanoid cryptid which is said to inhabit areas of swampland in and around Lee County, South Carolina along with the sewers and abandoned subways in towns near the swamp…

The first reported sighting of the creature was made by Christopher Davis, a 17 year old local, who said he encountered the creature while driving home from work at 2 AM on June 29, 1988. According to his account, Davis stopped on a road bordering Scape Ore Swamp in order to change a tire which had blown out. When he was finishing up he reported having heard a thumping noise from behind him and having turned around to see the creature running towards him.

Davis said the creature tried to grab at the car and then jumped on its roof as he tried to escape, clinging on to it as Davis swerved from side to side in an effort to throw it off. After he returned home, Davis’ side-view-mirror was found to be badly damaged, and scratch marks were found on the car’s roof, though there was no other physical evidence of his encounter.

“I looked back and saw something running across the field towards me. It was about 25 yards away and I saw red eyes glowing. I ran into the car and as I locked it, the thing grabbed the door handle. I could see him from the neck down – the three big fingers, long black nails and green rough skin. It was strong and angry. I looked in my mirror and saw a blur of green running. I could see his toes and then he jumped on the roof of my car. I thought I heard a grunt and then I could see his fingers through the front windshield, where they curled around on the roof. I sped up and swerved to shake the creature off.”

In the month that followed the Davis sighting there were several further reports of a large lizard like creature, and of unusual scratches and bite marks found on cars parked close to the swamp. Most of these are said to have occurred within a 3 miles (5 km) radius of the swamps of Bishopville.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

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