The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for May 20th, 2013

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself is drawn to certain locales normally shunned by the teeming masses of the vast human hive. Obsessive, my long standing fascination with the processes and mores of the waste disposal and handling industries have led me to waste transfer stations, sewer plants, even cemeteries. Luckily, my beloved Newtown Creek offers exemplars of each, but there has always been a certain spot which has caught my fancy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Located at the junction of Newtown Creek with its tributary, Dutch Kills, a particular industrial site has long tantalized. Several years of stalking the place have provided for a extraordinary images, and whether onboard a vessel or on foot, visitors to the watershed are seldom disappointed by this singular location with its frenetic activity, maritime splendor, and constantly moving heavy equipment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It isn’t a terribly large facility, by Newtown Creek standards, which hosts massive properties like the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant, the former Standard Oil properties along Kingsland and Norman, Calvary Cemetery, the former Phelps Dodge location, or the enormous National Grid parcel. It is fortuitously located, with maritime bulkheads and along a rail line.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sites history is storied, for this was once the home of the LIRR Manure dock, wherein the rail company’s freight operations collected that which the age of horse and carriage produced. Infamous in the historical record- this dock exhibited, in the open air, a 30 foot high and three football field long mound of human and animal manure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The material was largely destined for use as fertilizer on the catholic estates in Jamaica, Queens, and some was shipped to points further east where it was sold as a commodity to Long Island farmers. There was also a market for the stuff, along the creek, as a raw material in the acid and fertilizer factories which lined the Queens or northern bank during the late 1800’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often remarked upon by those of us who puzzle over the Newtown Creek’s unique history- during the hypercapitalist 19th century era, recycling and repurposing waste materials was referred to with the aphorism “waste not, want not” and great profits could be realized by “using every part of the pig but the squeal” as Chicago’s Philip Armour once said.

Modernity strives to achieve such profitable utility in the handling and “recycling” of our waste materials, something that seemed to have been forgotten during the decades of excess following the Second World War and which is painfully and expensively being reimagined by engineers today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long have my eyes desired to look upon this place directly, and not dependent on the focal and resolution of long lenses. Recent happenstance, running into an acquaintance who could arrange a site visit at a waterfront conference, finally allowed your humble narrator to approach and inspect this object of my affections.

This week we will be exploring the Queens Terminal of Sims Metal Management, found in Blissville, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

Upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley– Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

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