The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 2011

Project Firebox 25

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

24th Street and 42nd Road in Long Island City, in addition to being a geographic palindrome, hosts this centuried sentinel of the realm. It’s crown is long lost, and core functionality is suspect, yet its columnar presence still affirms the presence of redoubtable guardianship and an omnipresent vigilance. It has been too long since the watchtowers of Long Island City have graced these postings, and so we celebrate a seasonal return to Project Firebox.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 24, 2011 at 12:15 am

forgotten hands

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On another one of the long marches across the concrete desolations of Western Queens, it occurred to me that I should pay more attention to the steel fingers of the Great Machine than has been formerly applied. This is a problematic notion, of course, as we live in the age of terror- and taking pictures of transportation infrastructure is largely frowned upon by governmental institutions such as the NYPD for understandable and prosaic reasons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my outlandish sense of entitlement, imagined largesse, and pompous self importance demands that I do not allow such entities to inhibit my activities.

I’m happy to be questioned by the gendarme whenever they might approach me with queries as to identity and purpose. Law demands that a citizen must carry some form of identification, otherwise the police may detain you with the intention of assessing your identity (for a limited period of time), which is something I always comply with. No such law allows law enforcement to demand that you show them what you’re shooting (they need a warrant for this kind of search), explain why you’re shooting it (that’s what you tell a judge), or to delete images from your camera- or so I am told by those versed in the finer points of law.

If you are in a place which is “in public”, you can feel free to do whatever you want with your camera, within certain limitations (defined around the commercial use of likenesses and editorial implications implied thereof). If on private property, however, the owner or its representatives can ask you to vacate the locale and you must comply with their wishes or be charged with trespassing (however these private entities are similarly restricted in not forcing you to display, delete, or otherwise explain yourself to them).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, this is an ideal presentation of encounters between photographers and those who wish that the only cameras which existed were those monitoring the citizenry for criminal transgression and evidentiary collection.

Often, one will experience an encounter with a rookie cop, unusually aggressive private security guard, or criminal who does not hold to this liberal interpretation of constitutionally guaranteed free speech. Refer to the recent controversies surrounding the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the widely rebuffed handling of mainstream press photographers by the NYPD for an example of how things can go wildly wrong in the real world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once, whilst capturing an image of the charming St. Irene’s Church here in Astoria, an angry chorus of Greek women took it upon themselves to brand me a terrorist and chased me for several blocks- all the while hurling Hellenic invective. Many of them curled their hands into balls and stuck their thumbs out between middle and ring fingers, and one of them called me “A Bin Laden”.

That’s when I turned around and confronted the group asking “Wouldn’t a Terrorist have a car?”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Regardless of risk and the malign attentions of both private and public security, your humble narrator is nevertheless highly motivated to capture and record the magnificent transportation infrastructure which forms the fingers of the Great Machine. I’m sure that they won’t let me take the DSLR into central booking with me, but as I’ve never been accused of anything but driving too fast on the Taconic Parkway and Pennsylvania Turnpike by law enforcement, it sure will be interesting standing in front of a judge.

And by the way, Happy Festivus.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 23, 2011 at 12:15 am

abominable iniquity

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “Psalm 53, verse 3” which is referred to in the graffiti scrawl above, as recently observed, is offered by the King James variant of the Bible as: “Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.”

A passing truck blotted out the background of the scene, and although it is a little hard to make out, the writer included an affirmation of love for the christian godhead just below the main credo.

from readersandrootworkers.org

Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers and root doctors who recite Psalms on behalf of clients may work with Psalm 53 during altar work and prayers to protect the client from enemies, both known and unknown. If the client is beset by enemies, this Psalm can be used to keep them safe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the truck passed, it becomes- to careful observers- obvious that this lamp post is on Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn, and one begins to wonder about an intended contextual meaning for the scrawl.

Just for the heck of it, here’s the way that the whole 53rd Psalm reads, and most biblical scholars indicate that the legendary King David was the author- although most agree that David probably just got credit for it.

To him that presides upon Machalath; an instructive Psalm of David.

  1. The fool has said in his heart, There is no god. They are corrupt, they have done abominable iniquity; there is none that does good.
  2. God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of man, to see if there were any that is intelligent, that seeks god.
  3. Every one is gone back; together are they become corrupt: there is none that does good, not even one.
  4. Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon god?
  5. Then shall they, who had no fear, be greatly afraid; for god will scatter the bones of them that encamp against you; you shall put them to shame, because god has rejected them.
  6. O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When god shall bring back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

from over at bible.cc, where they’ve got a few different interpretations of what these apparent song lyrics mean, as well as differing translations of the thing.

53:1-6 The corruption of man by nature. – This psalm is almost the same as the 14th. The scope of it is to convince us of our sins. God, by the psalmist, here shows us how bad we are, and proves this by his own certain knowledge. He speaks terror to persecutors, the worst of sinners. He speaks encouragement to God’s persecuted people. How comes it that men are so bad?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, this missive adorned a lamp post on Greenpoint Avenue, one which is directly across the street from the high temple of Cloacina, known to most as the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

One wonders, and more than wonders…

from jamesbradfordpate.wordpress.com

What does “Mahalath” (or, actually, “Machalath”) mean?  It could be an instrument, or even a dance, for E.W. Bullinger associates the term with the Hebrew word mecholoth, which refers to dances (Judges 21:21; Psalm 149:3; 150:4), and Bullinger speculates that this Psalm relates to David’s dance after God had brought David through difficulties.  Jewish and Christian interpreters have related the term to the Hebrew word machalah, which means “sickness”

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2011 at 4:02 am

corporeal presence

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Presented today are a few shots of a very common occurrence presented from a fairly uncommon point of view. The Amtrak train above is traveling down the Hudson toward Manhattan, approaching the Spuyten Duyvil bridge, and the vantage point is onboard a small boat bobbing around in the river.

From Wikipedia

The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is a swing bridge that carries Amtrak’s Empire Corridor line across the Spuyten Duyvil Creek between Manhattan and the Bronx, in New York City. The bridge is located at the northern tip of Manhattan where the Spuyten Duyvil Creek meets the Hudson River, approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) to the west of the Henry Hudson Bridge. It was built to carry two tracks, but now carries only a single track on the east side of the bridge.

A wooden railroad bridge across the Spuyten Duyvil was first constructed by the New York & Hudson River Railroad in 1849. The current steel bridge was designed by Robert Giles and constructed in 1900; the piers rest on pile foundations in the riverbed. Trains stopped running across the bridge in 1982 and the following year the bridge was damaged by a vessel and left stuck in the open position.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amtrak runs a passenger line down the Hudson River which occupies a historic corridor of tracks. As is Newtown Pentacle policy on the subject, your humble narrator freely admits to “don’t know much more than squat” status about the rail system, but the Spuyten Duyvil bridge seems to have suffered a lot of bad luck over the years.

From Wikipedia

Spuyten Duyvil Creek (pronounced /ˈspaɪtən ˈdaɪvəl/) is a channel connecting the Hudson River to the Harlem River Ship Canal, and on to the Harlem River in New York City, separating the island of Manhattan from the Bronx and the rest of the mainland. The neighborhood named Spuyten Duyvil lies to the north of the creek.

Spuyten Duyvil Creek originally flowed north of Manhattan’s Marble Hill. The construction of the Harlem River Ship Canal to the south of the neighborhood in 1895 turned Marble Hill into an island, and in 1914, when the original creekbed was filled in, Marble Hill became physically attached to the Bronx, though it remains part of the borough of Manhattan.

Another realignment of the creek occurred in the 1930s, to the west of the original realignment. This had the opposite effect: It separated a portion of the Bronx and resulted in its attachment to Manhattan as a small peninsula where the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center is now situated.

“Spuyten Duyvil” literally means “Devil’s Spout” or Spuitende Duivel in Dutch; a reference to the strong and wild currents found at that location.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several times have I encountered the rumors that these tracks are haunted, in both modern and historical accounts. A long history of tragedy, including a ghoulish 1882 collision, seems to be associated with this place. Fires, maritime and vehicular accidents, pedestrians crossing the tracks being struck, even the weather has nearly done this bridge in more than once. There were sightings of spectral locomotives in the 19th century along this stretch (and all up and down the tracks between here and Albany as well).

From washington-heights.us

There has been much speculation concerning the origin of the name “Spuyten Duyvil.” Dutch in origin, Spuyten Duyvil can be translated in two ways, depending on the pronunciation. One translation is “Devil’s whirlpool,” and indeed, sections of the creek were sometimes turbulent during high tide. The second interpretation is “to spite the Devil.” This translation was popularized by Washington Irving’s story in which a Dutch trumpeter vowed to swim across the turbulent creek during the British attack on New Amsterdam “en spijt den Duyvil (in spite of the Devil).”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Practical, private, and stern- the iron visage of the laborers who captain these locomotives do not discuss such frivolous subjects with outsiders, and instead focus on craft and profession. It is a sad thing to see the rich folklore of the rails fade away from the American mind, since these were once the miracle machines of “progress”.

You don’t hear kids talking about “John Henry” or “Casey Jones” anymore, for instance, or threaten their parents with jumping onto a passing train and living life as a “Hobo“.

From Wikipedia

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak (reporting mark AMTK), is a government-owned corporation that was organized on May 1, 1971, to provide intercity passenger train service in the United States. “Amtrak” is a portmanteau of the words “America” and “track”.It is headquartered at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

All of Amtrak’s preferred stock is owned by the U.S. federal government. The members of its board of directors are appointed by the President of the United States and are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate. Common stock was issued in 1971 to railroads that contributed capital and equipment; these shares convey almost no benefits but their current holders declined a 2002 buy-out offer by Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Folkloric to the generations of the latter 19th century, rail offers up some of the greatest stories. Here’s a couple:

Express Train to Hell, Lincoln Death Train.

From Wikipedia

With primarily passenger services, the Northeast Corridor is a cooperative venture between Amtrak and various state agencies. Amtrak owns the track between Washington and New Rochelle, New York, a northern suburb of New York City. The segment from New Rochelle to New Haven is owned by the states of New York and Connecticut; Metro-North Railroad commuter trains operate on this segment. North of New Haven, ownership again reverts to Amtrak, whose tracks stretch to the border between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The final segment from the border north to Boston is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Under Amtrak’s ownership, the Northeast Corridor suffered from several high-profile electric-power failures in 2006 and other infrastructure problems. Intermittent power outages caused delays of up to five hours for Amtrak and commuter trains. Railroad officials have blamed Amtrak’s funding woes for the deterioration of the track and power supply infrastructure, which in places is almost a hundred years old.

Amtrak owns Pennsylvania Station in New York, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore, and Union Station in Washington.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passenger service is remarkably unexciting, of course, what you want to see are long chains of variegated freight cars hauling lumber and coal and who know what else beneath a stretching trail of steam and smoke painted across the sky. Unfortunately, New York isn’t in that kind of business anymore.

From Wikipedia

The tale of how Spuyten Duyvil got its name is said to be that Peter Stuyvesant, then Governor of New Amsterdam, got wind that the British Navy was going to invade the city. He dispatched Anthony Van Corlaer, to ride up to the northernmost point of Manhattan Island and blow his trumpet, a common means of summoning the people. As he neared the shores where the Hudson meets the Harlem River, Van Corlaer couldn’t cross. It was a stormy evening when he arrived at the upper end of the island, and as no ferryman was available he vowed to swim across the river “in spite of the devil” (Dutch: “in spuyt den duyvil”). Halfway across, legend has it that the devil pulled Van Corlaer under, and while he was able to escape his grasp, he was too tired to continue swimming and drowned there despite his escape. From then on, the little area in the Bronx where Van Corlaer would have come to shore is called Spuyten Duyvil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the first of several postings detailing certain sites and scenes which were observed along the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers on a brisk Saturday in the month of November. The small boat I was on is operated by the good folks at Riverkeeper and a hearty thanks is sent for both their good work and for allowing me to ride along on one of their regular patrols.

From Wikipedia

The P32AC-DM locomotive was developed for both Amtrak and Metro-North so it can operate on power generated either by the on-board diesel prime mover or a third rail electrification system at 750 volts direct current. The P32AC-DM is rated at 3,200 horsepower (2,390 kW), 2,900 horsepower (2,160 kW) when supplying HEP, and is geared for a maximum speed of 110 mph (177 km/h)

The Dual Mode P32AC-DM is unique not only because of its third-rail capability, but also because it is equipped with GE’s GEB15 AC (alternating current) traction motors, rather than DC (direct current) motors as used in the other subtypes. The type is confined to services operating from New York City, where diesel emissions through its two fully enclosed main terminals are prohibited. The P32AC-DM are seen only on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor between Penn Station and Buffalo, the Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited (New York section), Adirondack, and Maple Leaf services, and locomotive-hauled Metro-North Railroad commuter trains to and from Grand Central Terminal. Metro-North Railroad Genesis locomotives have an escape hatch in the nose.

The Amtrak model third-rail shoes are for use on the over-running third-rail in Pennsylvania Station and the Metro-North Model are for under-running third-rail in Grand Central Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A proper historical workup of the bridge, with the patented Newtown Pentacle multi view technology in place, will be forthcoming at some point in the future. You’d be doing your inner geek a disservice by not clicking on the diagram rich PDF linked to below.

an in depth analysis of this bridge (with diagrams, plans, and detailed engineering), and the herculean task of maintaining it, can be found in this 2004 PDF at arema.org

The bridge was originally constructed in 1899 by the King Bridge Company for the New York Central Railroad, and served for many years as a key link for freight delivery by rail to the west side of New Y ork City’ s main borough of Manhattan. Freight rail service to Manhattan dwindled in the years after World War II, but continued through the takeover of the line by Conrail in the 1970s, and into the 1980s. In the 1980s, Conrail discontinued all service on the line. Amtrak acquired rights to the line and initiated a program to start passenger service on the line.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

flopping animals

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the day of the New York City Marathon, which I was unable to photograph this year due to a variety of personal reasons, an effort was made to find some time to walk through the largely deserted Queens Plaza and get some shots of the place on the one day of the year it isn’t teeming with vehicular traffic. This got me thinking about Queens, and some of the people I’ve met walking along the streets here.

Showing up, I believe, is a substantial part of life. Attendance counts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few folks over at another blog have decided to ride me down for the announcement of the Blissville Oil Spill the other day. A fairly typical case of “killing the messenger”, the best name I’ve been called – so far- is “Pompous Coward”. That’s up there with a name granted me by a coworker many years ago when I worked at Ogilvy Interactive – “Feckless Quisling”.

Seriously, here’s the link, these are actually kind of funny.

I would also point out that it has always been Newtown Pentacle policy to discourage people from eating whatever animals they might find along Newtown Creek or at Chernobyl.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What kind of struck me though, was that not a single one of those commenters reacted to the Blissville Spill itself, which brought me back to thinking about the people I’ve met walking around these streets with a camera. What a grand bunch- cops and firemen, politicians and gangsters, city planners and urban explorers, environmentalists and industrialists, moms and dads. The one common thread in all of Queens seems to be that there is no common thread, except for a sure sense that someone else is getting a bigger piece of the pie than you are and that you are honor bound to knock anyone who is demanding attention- even if they are telling you that your house is burning.

That’s kind of a crossroads, ain’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Allow me, in these closing weeks of 2011, to affirm and refute certain things. First, the various “groups” which I’ve become affiliated with aren’t paying me a dime. I’m receiving no money from government or private sources to produce this blog, and when you may see ads appear at the bottom of a page- that’s WordPress (the Webhost), not me inserting them. Accordingly, I am betrothed to no particular ideology or didactic political world view, and instead operate in the manner of what the Japanese would call a Ronin. I believe it is better to talk than argue, as the latter is something I do only with family members.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Several of my little mottoes rule my actions, and betray my morality. “What would Superman do”, “Do what you say, and say what you do”, “It’s not good, nor bad, it just is”. Also- “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”, and “Fish, cut bait, or get out the way” are rather influential in governing my days. I bristle at the accusations others make about my motivations, which betray their own corruption. As a statement of principal, understand that I have no agenda or hidden motive, and that I am what and who I seem to be- someone in love with the oft overlooked and obfuscated story of Queens.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 16, 2011 at 10:12 am

crooked boughs

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

This Tug, the Gramma Lee T. Moran, was mentioned in a Newtown Pentacle posting of November 26- “loose and displaced“. As it’s one of my favorite tugs in New York Harbor to shoot, I felt a little bad that the starring role in that posting had gone to a cargo ship- and that Gramma Lee T. Moran had to share the second banana position with another Moran Tug- the estimable Marion Moran.

Can’t tell you why I like the esthetics of this ship so much, nor can I say why exactly it always reminds me of the Millennium Falcon (from the Star Wars movies) as it slides along the Kill Van Kull.

from wikipedia

The Kill Van Kull is a tidal strait approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1,000 feet (305 m) wide separating Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, USA. The name kill comes from the Middle Dutch word kille, meaning “riverbed” or “water channel.”

Kill Van Kull connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. The Robbins Reef Light marks the eastern end. Historically it has been one of the most important channels for the commerce of the region, providing a passage for marine traffic between Manhattan and the industrial towns of New Jersey. Since the final third of the 20th century, it has provided the principal access for ocean-going container ships to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the busiest port facility in the eastern United States and the principal marine terminal for New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These two shots are from just a few months ago, captured in the fall of 2011. It’s always odd seeing a tugboat operating without a barge, or tending a larger vessel which can be hundreds of times larger than itself. The majesty of these ships, and their crews, come alive when they are tasked with bearing such sisyphean burdens.

Can you imagine what it must be like guiding a fuel tanker into the narrow Kill Van Kull or down the East River? It must take nerves of steel to muster the confidence needed to Captain such tasks.

from tugboatenthusiastsociety.org

Tugs are “displacement” hull vessels, the hull is designed so water flows around it, there is no consideration for having the vessel “plane”. Because of this the hull form is limited to a maximum speed when running “free” that is about 1.5 times the square root of the waterline length. As the tug approaches this speed when running “free” it is perched between the bow wave and the stern wave. Since the hull cannot plane, application of additional power when approaching maximum hull speed only results in a larger bow wave, with the tug “squatting” further into the trough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, and the one below are from earlier in 2011- April to be exact.

Moran is a well established company which operates tugs all over North America. A century and a half old, the company’s fleet can be found on the USA’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts and within the Great Lakes, both along the west coast of- and in the Gulf of- Mexico, and within the inland waters of the eastern United States. They’ve been known to operate periodically as far away as the Caribbean Sea and South American waters.

from morantug.com

The LEE T. MORAN is an expression of brute power and utility that belies the refinements of technical engineering below her waterline. There, twin ports are cut into the steel hull to make room for the tug’s Z-drive units. On the floor of the shop they look like the lower units of giant outboard engines. Made by Ulstein, a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce, the Z-drive functions much like an outboard. Imagine two outboards extending straight down through the hull, each having the ability to rotate 360 degrees. That makes even a heavy, 92-foot tug with a 450-ton displacement very maneuverable. “It can turn on a dime,” says Doughty. “The hull bottom is slightly flatter to adjust to the two drive units. By turning each drive out 90 degrees, the captain can go from full-ahead (14 knots) to a dead stop in no time.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s the low slung aspect of the wheelhouse, or the gentle curves observed in its hull… I can’t say, but there is just something pleasing about the design of this boat. A big toot goes out from this, your Newtown Pentacle, to one of my favorite citizens of the NY Harbor- the Gramma Lee T. Moran.

from tugboatinformation.com

Moran Towing began operations in 1860 when founder Michael Moran opened a towing brokerage, Moran Towing and Transportation Company, in New York Harbor. In 1863, the company was transformed from a brokerage into an owner-operator of tugboats when it purchased a one-half interest in the tugboat Ida Miller for $2,700. Over time Moran acquires a fleet of tugboats. It was Michael Moran who painted the first white “M” on a Moran tugboat stack, in 1880.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

An Oil spill… in Queens

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– photo by Mitch Waxman (February 16, 2009) 

Sadly, oil is seeping out of a bulkhead on the Queens side of the Newtown Creek.

Famously, the Greenpoint Oil Spill (click here for a link to newtowncreekalliance.org for more) occurred just across the water from this spot, but every indication points to this as being a separate event. The former site of Charles Pratt’s Queens County Oil Works, which was an approximately 18 acre parcel which would later be called the “Standard Oil Blissville works”, the sites occupation in modernity has little or nothing to do with petroleum.

Welcome, by the way, to Newtown Creek- and to the “Blissville Oil Spill”.

Just a note: For the purposes of this posting, I’m departing from the normal formatting, and the photos are presented along with the dates upon which they were captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (September 14, 2008)

My practice for the last several years has been to shoot everything I see along the Newtown Creek, whether or not it seems significant at the time. This practice evolved out of the paucity of photographic documentation of the place which survived the 20th century, and the effort has been made with the notion of leaving behind something for future researchers to work with. As time has gone by, and my technological capabilities have expanded, I’ve developed quite a library of shots.

The photo above depicts the site in question during the autumn of 2008, and shows the historic condition of the bulkheads.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (September 14, 2008)

A standard codex for interpreting what one sees along the Newtown Creek states that wooden bulkheads are 19th century, reinforced concrete dates from the early to mid 20th, and steel plating is late 20th and early 21st century. This rule is not “scientific” but allows one to approximate the manufacture of these fallen docks to a relative time period. As you can observe in the shot above, the risible decay of the wooden bulkheads, and their manner of construction, speak to a long period of disuse and lack of maintenance as far as September of 2008.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (February 20, 2010)

In the winter of 2010, a crew began to install modern steel plating along this frontage, which drew my interest. Again, anything that is in a state of flux along the waterway is a point of interest for me. This project went on for several months, and was conducted from a barge with a small crane installed on it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (February 4, 2011)

By the same period a year later, in February of 2011, the modern installation was complete. Conflicting reports on this style of bulkhead are often heard. The older wooden structures offer a structure for biological organisms to nest and shelter, but “slow” the already tepid flow of water through the narrow passages of the Creek. The steel ones “quicken” the flow, but offer no toeholds for organic life.

Modern day, (December 2011) google maps screen capture, click here or the image above for the dynamic google map. This is an industrial cul de sac today, accessed by a private driveway. The companies which use this space are largely waste management oriented, warehouse operations, furniture refinishing, or other truck based businesses. Despite the presence of freight tracks through the middle of the site, few of these companies utilize their sidings. Calvary Cemetery and the Kosciuszko Bridge loom large and distinguish the area.

1924 view of the area, screen capture from “NYCityMap” at nyc.gov.

The oil tanks in the center of the site betray the presence of the “Queens County Oil Works” of Charles Pratt, which were also known as the “Standard Oil Blissville Works”. Blissville, of course, is the historic name of this part of Queens which was once a residential area.

Clear plans of the area in 1936 overlaid with the 1924 aerial projection from NYCityMap. Click here to see a large version of the overlay.

Detail view of the area, click here for larger incarnation. The works were here as late as 1951, but at this point, I still haven’t been able to confirm the date they were closed down.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)

In the summer of 2011, I was tasked with photographing a “Bulkhead Survey” which members of the Newtown Creek Alliance were conducting. The good folks at Riverkeeper volunteered to take our party out on the Newtown Creek onboard their patrol boat, and when we were passing by the former Queens County Oil Works, we noticed the presence of both containment booms on the water and petroleum product flowing freely from the shoreline itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)

The theory which has been advanced by knowledgeable sources is that when the steel bulkheads were installed, a process in which the plating is slid down into place and then secured, and that a sealed chamber or buried pipeline was likely ruptured during the construction process which freed “the product”.

I have been asked to mention (by Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper itself) that investigation of the situation is underway, and the State and City officials responsible for policing this sort of thing are fully and enthusiastically engaged in the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)

The story of Charles Pratt, his “Astral Oil”, and their involvement with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust will be discussed in a later posting on this subject, as the lengthy history would divert attention from this otherwise serious issue. Suffice to say that the Blissville works were some 18 acres in size, and suffered several “total loss” fires in the late 19th century.

Note that this is a distinct property (and event) from the adjacent State Superfund site which is referred to as the Quanta Resources site.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)

Again onboard a Riverkeeper patrol, this time in November of 2011, the overt visual presence and subtle aroma of petroleum was encountered. The black and yellow structure is what is known as a hard boom, and is designed to contain surface contamination and “floatables”. It extends to a few inches below the surface.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)

The steel plating at the site is painted with oil, undoubtedly splashed up by wave action during storms at high tide. The white objects which are saturated with petroleum products are absorbent booms, designed to wick up the free floating product.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)

The leaves in the shot above are literally stuck into the gluey residues of the oil. You can see the high tide mark left by the water on the cleaner bulkhead which is just beyond the hard boom. Perhaps this is the source of oil, which many have reported to me over the course of the last year, which has been witnessed as it floats toward the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)

It is not news that there are environmental contaminants floating freely in this troubled waterway, nor is there any revelation to be found in the fact that petroleum products are commonly observed pooling and flowing about the Newtown Creek watershed.

What is news is that this is in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (August 6, 2011)

Much of the attention, and deservedly so because of the large and growing population of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which Newtown Creek receives is all about Brooklyn. The north shore of the Creek in Queens is often left out of discussion (and from both remediation and environmental benefits funding)  because of its relatively tiny population and industrial character. One of the questions which this blog has asked since day one has been “Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there?”.

In the case of the Blissville Oil spill, the question might as well be “How much there might be?”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman (November 19, 2011)

This is just the beginning of a new Newtown Creek story, the tale of the Blissville Oil Spill. I fear it will be the first of many such stories, as we move into the Superfund era.

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