The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 10th, 2013

different place

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More goings on at 400 Kingsland Avenue with Jan Mun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For one such as myself, the simple fact that I was occupying a spot on the property of ExxonMobil in Greenpoint during the summer of 2013 was a spectacular and unheralded surprise. As a member of an environmental and community advocacy group whose devotion to “reveal, revitalize, and restore” Newtown Creek is taken quite seriously, being the invited guest of the ExxonMobil corporation on the former SOCONY (Standard Oil Company of New York) property- which stands at the very center of the remediation efforts aimed at cleaning up the Greenpoint Oil Spill- was startling. I was thrilled, frankly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in earlier posts, this was the navel of the oil business on Newtown Creek, part of an economic machine which was once called Standard Oil. This is where an industrial revolution occurred, right on the spot where artist Jason Sinopoli was placing a burlap bag of sterilized hay and mushroom spores (as pictured above), was a gargantuan oil refinery complex which by 1911 had occupied some 50 acres of Greenpoint. So much of the history of North Brooklyn and Western Queens revolves around the energy industry, it was staggering to be on this spot which has always been forbidden to inspection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1882, lightning struck and the whole complex burned down.

In 1919, the rebuilt refinery operation completely burnt down a second time, and at the time this property stretched from Kingsland Avenue to Sutton, Norman to the Creek. Standard Oil was able to rebuild the entire operation in just 90 days that time. Between the two fires, Standard reported losses exceeding 140 million gallons of petroleum products- according to contemporaneous accounts published at the NY Times. Pictured above, for the curious, is what a bag of the mushroom spores which Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli were working with looks like. This is the stuff which was combined with the inoculated hay mentioned in yesterday’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While pondering the lucky fate which had carried me here (a destiny which had been engineered by NCA’s Kate Zidar and ExxonMobil’s Kevin Thompson), Jan Mun and Jason Sinopoli toiled away in the terrible heat and humidity suffered on our work days. It was pretty rough, I have to say, and all I was doing was standing around and taking pictures. Zero cover from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself coupled with the sort of high humidity one would expect to encounter in a low lying spot next to a slow moving water body, and all the while clad in a mandated “safety” costuming of hard hat, vest, long sleeves and pants, steel toe boots, and rubberized gloves. My little dog Zuzu wouldn’t come near me, upon returning home, until after I had a shower.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were of course there to work, not muse about the Greenpoint Oil Spill, ponder the dichotomies inherent in the relationships between the oil industry and Newtown Creek, or worry about heat stroke. The hardship was made worth it, of course, when the mushrooms began to grow.

Upcoming Tours

Saturday – October 19, 2013
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek with Atlas Obscura- tickets on sale now.

Sunday- October 20th, 2013
The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek with Brooklyn Brainery- tickets on sale now.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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