The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

odd debris

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It’s National Chocolate Cake Day, here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress. That’s what they used to call it. The reclamation of wetlands for profitable municipal or private use, and the installation of some sort of useful industry upon the new land. Here in Queens – Northern Blvd., or Jackson Avenue depending on where you are standing, used to be a raised road that rolled through a swampy lowland. Queens, and LIC in particular, were remarkable in the post Civil War era for the prevalence of water borne diseases suffered by occupants of the various towns and villages found along its route. Typhus, malaria, cholera – all of the mosquito vector illnesses were quite common.

It’s the reason that Queens was so open to large scale development in the early 20th century when technologies emerged that allowed for the draining of swamplands and marshes. In a sudden burst of activity at the start of the last century – you see the emergence of the Queensboro Bridge, the Sunnyside Yards, and the appearance of the subway system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the critters go, they’re still following their old patterns even though the ancestral waters are buried tens of feet below the surface. It’s why you’ll still see clouds of gulls flying around at Sunnyside’s northern border or over in Woodside, miles from the East River or Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The automobile represented “progress” to the generations who fought the World Wars. The City was remade and rebuilt by Robert Moses and the armies he led in pursuance of progress. The highways and local streets which divide us also provided the opportunity to raise the level of land over the water table and install sewerage systems. These sewers quicken the flow of water, which in turn did away with the languid puddles and marshes in which the disease spreading clouds of mosquitos could breed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no more potent symbol of “progress” in the late 19th century however, than the railroad. Unfortunately, it was ruled by opportunist financiers like JP Morgan and predatory capitalists like John D. Rockefeller, both of whom contributed to the industry becoming less and less profitable to operate. Robert Moses was no friend to the railroads either. Ultimately, by the late 1960’s, all of the private rail companies that handled passenger and freight were bankrupt and brought under government control.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress seems to be a forgotten concept in the modern day. It’s about maintaining what we’ve inherited, rather than dreaming big, of what we could have. We no longer reach for the stars, even on National Chocolate Cake Day.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I wouldn’t say that Typhus or cholera were mosquito vector diseases.


    January 27, 2017 at 2:04 pm

  2. Thus says the Evil Black Raven that the lies we cling to are most often more pretty than the harsher truth and when one seeks refuge in the pretty lie, reality is ignored to one’s own detriment or peril.

    The Raven further says the answer to your question is found here.



    January 27, 2017 at 2:19 pm

  3. Not to cheer the government control of the railroads, there is more inefficiency and corruption and regular rate increases than had there simply been more rail competition. Do not assume at all that under government control that things are better.


    January 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm

  4. Hmmm railroads? There is nothing far worse than railroads by government. Your slighting of Morgan and Rockefeller as evil venture capitalists, sees that what they created has had lasting positive affects on our modern day world. Much better than had government run the railroad business as they now do today. I cite the money loosing and corrupt, inefficient MTA that does nothing more than raise rates and diminish service to the public.


    January 27, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    • Didn’t mean to imply that gov control was good at all. The consolidation of the RR industry into the Penn Central era was indeed Morgan’s “thing” however. It was Rockefeller abandoning RR transport for his oil and embracing pipelines instead that ultimately bankrupted them of their most profitable cargo

      Mitch Waxman

      January 27, 2017 at 3:10 pm

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