The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for July 6th, 2012

lands adjacent

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Found along Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, in the stretch between 21st Street and Queens Plaza, there are several truncated little blocks. Part of an earlier street grid pre dating the 20th century and the Queensboro Bridge, some host residences while others are partly residential while others are entirely industrial. All of these lanes share one commonality, which is ending where the Sunnyside Yard begins. Dutch Kills Street starts at Jackson Avenue and ends a mere block later at the fenced in rail yard.

from wikipedia

Dutch Kills is an area within Long Island City, in the New York City borough of Queens. It was a hamlet, named for its navigable tributary of Newtown Creek, that occupied what today is centrally Queensboro Plaza. Dutch Kills was an important road hub during the American Revolutionary War, and the site of a British Army garrison from 1776 to 1783. The area supported farms during the 19th Century, and was finally consolidated in 1870 with the villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Hunters Point and Blissville to form Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perpetual shadow stains the street here, titan masonry is sky flung and the steel of mighty Queensboro’s exit ramps is singing high above the pavement. Tumultuous passings of rail on the other side of an overgrown fence declare themselves loudly, and all around is evidence of poor drainage. A lonely dead end, it is one of the places where the residents of Queens enjoy indulging in the two art forms that the Borough is known for- illegal dumping and graffiti.

from wikipedia

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) completed construction of the yard in 1910. At that time Sunnyside was the largest coach yard in the world, occupying 192 acres (0.78 km2) and containing 25.7 mi (41.4 km) of track. The yard served as the main train storage and service point for PRR trains serving New York City. It is connected to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan by the East River Tunnels. The Sunnyside North Yard initially had 45 tracks with a capacity of 526 cars. The South Yard had 45 tracks with a 552 car capacity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lurking menace is sensed here, the surety that one is being watched from cover. A risible smell colors the air, one which betrays the odors of mold and rot and urine. It is odd to be so close to the center of the human infestation, yet so totally alone. It would be very easy to disappear here, and imagined perils spring into the forefront of ones mind. The shining promise of the Degnon Terminal glowers with ambition and thwarted aspiration, providing backdrop and counterpoint.


PROGRESS is the watchword of Queens Borough at the present time, especially of the Queensboro Bridge Plaza and the adjacent parts of Long Island City. Never before have there been so many striking object lessons of this forward movement in that long-neglected borough as may be seen today within a few blocks of the spacious approach to the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some poor soul calls this place their own, living in a makeshift shanty. So many of the “working homeless” are observed around these back alleys and forgotten corners, lonely vagabonds ekeing out a subsistence living while living in squalor, surviving by craft and guile. What strange experiences and odd tales could they relate about what happens in the dark of night, here on Dutch Kills Street?

from wikipedia

Modern homelessness started as a result of economic stresses in society and reductions in the availability of affordable housing such as single room occupancies (SROs) for poorer people. In the United States, in the 1970s, the deinstitutionalisation of patients from state psychiatric hospitals was a precipitating factor which seeded the homeless population, especially in urban areas such as New York City.

The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 was a predisposing factor in setting the stage for homelessness in the United States. Long term psychiatric patients were released from state hospitals into SROs and supposed to be sent to community mental health centers for treatment and follow-up. It never quite worked out properly, the community mental health centers mostly did not materialize, and this population largely was found living in the streets soon thereafter with no sustainable support system.

Also, as real estate prices and neighborhood pressure increased to move these people out of their areas, the SROs diminished in number, putting most of their residents in the streets. Other populations were mixed in later, such as people losing their homes for economic reasons, and those with addictions (although alcoholic hobos had been visible as homeless people since the 1890s, and those stereotypes fueled public perceptions of homeless people in general), the elderly, and others.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Although nothing of the sort was observed on this visit, one often sees candles and small altars to unknown gods in these places. Offerings of coins, foodstuffs, and cigars have often been noted amongst these arrangements. Peasant superstition and magicks are often the recourse of the desperate and desolated, however.

from wikipedia

Beliefs in witchcraft, and resulting witch-hunts, existed in many cultures worldwide and still exist in some today, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. in the witch smellers in Bantu culture). Historically these beliefs were notable in Early Modern Europe of the 14th to 18th century, where witchcraft came to be seen as a vast diabolical conspiracy against Christianity, and accusations of witchcraft led to large-scale witch-hunts, especially in Germanic Europe.

The “witch-cult hypothesis”, a controversial theory that European witchcraft was a suppressed pagan religion, was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the mid-20th century, Witchcraft has become the self-designation of a branch of neopaganism, especially in the Wicca tradition following Gerald Gardner, who claimed a religious tradition of Witchcraft with pre-Christian roots.


Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek

July 8th, 2012- Atlas Obscura Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley
(note: there was just one ticket left for this one when I hit “publish”)

for July 8th tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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