The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for November 1st, 2021

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before another word gets mentioned, a humble narrator must confess that he is an absolutely goof for funicular railways. A cable car arrangement, which uses haul ropes and a system of sheaves to exchange the positions of the two cable cars from top to bottom, this is a pretty early example of “people movers.” I got to ride on one or two of these in Europe a few years back, and so was one of my nerd obsessions born. Pittsburgh has two working funiculars, but they call them “inclines” there. Both are found on Mt. Washington and are operated and maintained by the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The Monongahela Incline, pictured above, is the oldest operating funicular in the United States, having operated continuously since 1870, and later in the week you’ll come for a ride on it (and the other one too) with me.

Amazingly, one of the features of these “inclines” is the presence of a large terrace or “overlook” platform open to the public, to take in and appreciate the views from high up on the prominence of Mt. Washington. Before I got busy with “nerding out,” the camera and tripod were deployed and I got busy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pittsburgh is famously sited at the conjunction of three rivers – Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela. The latter is on the south side of the city and pictured above. This was day two of the Pittsburgh leg of my September travels on Amtrak, and all in all I was in the city for about 72 hours. A late afternoon boat tour ticket was in my pocket, but for now I was in the cat seat high above the Golden Triangle of Downtown.

I kept on thinking to myself that about a hundred years ago you wouldn’t be able to even see the city for all of the smoke stacks belching coal smoke into the air. Steel mills, power plants, railroads – that’s what Pittsburgh used to be before the deindustrialization of the 1960’s and corporate reorganizations of the 1970’s and 80’s which reduced Pittsburgh’s population by half and annihilated its tax base.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge at the center bottom of the shot above is small but spectacular, and as I learned later in the day, kind of special and noteworthy from a Civil Engineering point of view. Especially so if you happen to live in NYC’s Queens. More on that in a later post.

It was about 65 degrees, overcast, and the forecast called for passing showers. I never got rained on, but from up here on Mt Washington, you could see that it was raining just a few miles away in different sections. Again, the weird topology of Pittsburgh and its riverine continental climate just fascinated me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured is a pretty major bridge for the City, the Fort Pitt bridge, which connects to the Fort Pitt Tunnel which carries southbound traffic out of Downtown and towards their airport and suburbs. Behind it is Point Park, with its fountain, and the convergent intersection of the three rivers. Again – more on all that in future posts.

This city has 446 bridges, and I could spend months talking about the “who, why, where, and significance of” each one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the south side of the Monongahela River, the bridges cross over still quite active freight tracks. The bridge closest to the camera is a rail bridge, whereas the other three are vehicular crossings.

We’ll talk about – again – the granular details about them when the posts from the boat tour reach you in the near future. At this stage of the morning, a humble narrator was deep in photo mode.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What a spectacular place this is. I’ve been to Pittsburgh before, but that was back in the early 1990’s when I was in town hawking a comic I had drawn which was just published. One used to spend his weekend’s traveling from place to place, usually by car, doing “shows.” Shows were Comic Conventions. You’ve got your “big shows” like San Diego Comicon, or the New York and Atlanta ones, but there’s a comic convention happening in a hotel ballroom in some analogue of Wayne, New Jersey each and every weekend in the United States. For the Pittsburgh one I attended – during the Presidential administration of George Bush Senior – I was actually the featured guest and the promoter flew me out and paid for my hotel room. A friend from college is from Pittsburgh and she gave me the nickel tour when I was here, but even at that time I had made a mental note to return here someday and explore.

More tomorrow.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 1, 2021 at 11:00 am

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