The Newtown Pentacle

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witchcraft panic

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It’s National Caramel Apple Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rich Melnick is no witch, as far as I know. Instead, Mr. Melnick is instead one of the longstanding leaders of the Greater Astoria Historic Society, a heck of a guy, and last Saturday he performed and presented his “Haunted Waters Tour” along Hells Gate and Hallets Cove here in the ancient village. I hadn’t seen Rich for awhile and since I had my first weekend off in months, decided to tag along. As you can see, Rich pulls a pretty nice crowd. Still, he’s probably not a witch, but if he were that would be ok with me. This is America, after all, and if you want to be a witch, nobody can say “boo” to you. First Ammendment, yo! 

I’ve been on this “Haunted Waters” tour several times, I would mention, and upon my arrival volunteered to act as a second set of tour guide eyes for Mr. Melnick and so I took up a station at the back of the group, sometimes repeating something he had just said for somebody who missed it. While Rich was busy at the front of the group narrating, I helped keep the them from stretching out along multiple blocks, and assisted him with street crossings. Rich didn’t need me of course, but since I was there, why not help out? We’re all one big happy family out here in Western Queens, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One noticed a couple of strange things over the course of the afternoon, while acting as “sweeper” for this tour of Hells Gate, as Rich Melnick explored and described the long history and fairly macabre lore concerning this riverine section of Astoria. He was discussing the odd history of Hells Gate, when I noticed the coppers were doing their thing.

The NYPD Harbor Unit seemed unusually busy for a Saturday afternoon in late October, and were buzzing around the river a bit, moving back and forth under the two bridges that define the former maelstrom of Hellegaat – as the decadent Dutch of New Amsterdam might have called it. 

There are legends about this spot which suggest that the largest intentional explosion in human history – until the advent of the Atomic Age – which the United States Army Corps of Engineers detonated under the river here at Hells Gate in 1885, was only partially in the name of eliminating the navigational dangers presented by the so called “Bright Passage.” These legends say that there was something else down there, something older than Henry Hudson, Adriaen Block, or even the aboriginal civilization of the Lenape (who avoided this spot like the plague). It was a “something” which the Federal Government saw fit to obliterate, as part of a clandestine nationwide campaign initiated after discoveries of certain conditions in a decayed Massachusetts fishing town – shortly after the Civil War – were revealed to the War Department. The Corps did a LOT of explosives work in the waters all around the northeast between the Civil War and the First World War, all supposedly in the name of “navigational improvements.” 

Yeah, right… pffft.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While Mr. Melnick was telling the tragic tale of the General Slocum disaster, a humble narrator decided to climb around a fenceline in pursuance of getting a shot of the two bridges which wasn’t occluded by foliage. Denied my desire, this red brick structure leading off into the river caught my attentions instead.

All sorts of individuals talk to me, it should be mentioned. 

Cops and robbers, ordained priests and devil worshippers, abolitionists and addicts. I know people who – if they say “run,” you do. I also know those whom “run” is followed by sitting down and asking them what’s wrong and inquiring as to whether or not they’re still “on their meds.” A few of the latter and far more numerous grouping – whom I consider to be “a few steps off the beaten track, and more than most” – have reported to me that they’ve seen man like “things” pulling themselves out of the water here in the dead of night. Fish like and unblinking eyes, accompanied by  an unbelievable stink and dripping with riverine slime – those are the commonalities. One or two highly circumspect witnesses describe these fish or frog men as wearing jewelry and tiaras made out of some queer kind of gold. 

Nonsense, say I, hallucinations arrived at by combining cheap liquor with questionable narcotic powders. Still… I wonder, and more than wonder…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walk led by Mr. Melnick continued beyond Shore Road and Astoria Park, towards the sub neighborhood known as Old Astoria Village. While passing by an enormous and out of scale apartment house along the route, I noticed the handiwork of the Queens Cobbler. The single shoe phenomena, left behind by a probable serial killer whom I’ve christened as the “Queens Cobbler,” continues to grow in intensity in the area. 

As a note, Rich Melnick didn’t mention any of this to his group, neither the Nest of the Deep Ones which existed at Hell Gate until 1885 nor the reports of their continued occupancy, or the whole Queens Cobbler thing.

That’s because Rich pretty much sticks to a provable and sane version of reality, unlike me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anyway, that’s what I did last Saturday. Today, of course, is Hallomass, or Halloween if you must.

I’ll be in Astoria tonight, sitting outside with Our Lady of the Pentacle at the neighborhood saloon, giving away candy to kids and asking their parents if I can take photos of their costumery for future presentation at this – your Newtown Pentacle. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

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