The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Pepperoni Pizza Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Positively cinematic, First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville of Queens is. The Roman Catholic Church acquired Laurel Hill, found along the troublesome Newtown Creek, from the Alsop family back in 1848. The Alsops had held the land since 1648, when a fellow named Thomas Wandell acquired it from the Dutch colonial authorities. Wandell, an associate of Oliver Cromwell’s who had fallen out of favor with the Lord Protector, died in 1691 and the land passed to his nephew Richard Alsop (who died in 1718). The last Alsop who actually worked the land died in 1837, and it was a distaff member of the family who was a member of Manhattan’s “Knickerbocracy” that sold it to the church.

The Church sent armies of laborers to Blissville, who altered Laurel Hill into its current shape, installed a drainage system, and by 1860 or so there were as many as fifty interments a day taking place here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a few simply gorgeous structures in First Calvary Cemetery (ultimately, there are four Calvary Cemeteries in Queens, with the other three found over in Woodside) such as the Almirall Chapel.

Archbishop Farley had returned from a visit to Rome in 1908 with the intention of creating a new funerary chapel at Calvary which would also host an ossuary for the nuns, monks, and priests of his diocese. Architect Raymond Almirall designed the structure pictured above, which is one of the earliest poured concrete buildings in New York City. The dome of the chapel is forty feet across and eight eight feet high. Atop it is a statue of “Christ the redeemer” designed by a female sculptor (her sex is mentioned as it is quite significant that a female was chosen for this commission during the particular time period) named Merro Beatrice Wilson. The Almirall Chapel sits atop a shaft which leads down a hundred feet to a partially completed cruciform vault where the bones of Farley’s priests and nuns lie.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The real show stopper at Calvary Cemetery is the Johnston Memorial. Erected in 1873, at a cost of $200,000 (that would translate to about $4 million in modern terms) the Johnston Memorial, like the Almirall Chapel, forms a centerpiece of the section it’s found in. There were three Johnston brothers, who operated a very successful milliners business on Manhattan’s “Lady’s mile,” specifically on Fifth Avenue and 22nd street. Brother Charles died in 1864, and brother John left the world in 1887. The remaining Johnston brother, Robert, went mad with grief and fell into poverty. He died in a barn on the grounds of a an upstate nunnery, during a thunderstorm, in 1888.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Johnston memorial is well appointed with some exquisite carvings, and luckily the brothers sprang for granite rather than marble. The marble monuments all over Calvary Cemetery have the appearance of melting ice cream, due to the former presence of an acid factory in nearby Maspeth. A marble frieze over the entrance to the mausoleum, however, displays the characteristic damage from exposure to Newtown Creek’s corrosive atmospherics which one can see all over the cemetery’s acreage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary sits upon, and in, Laurel Hill. A natural prominence left behind by the glaciation process, Laurel is one of the foothills which lead through Maspeth towards the beginning of the terminal morraine of Long Island, which truly begins at another Roman Catholic cemetery called Mount Olivette. This “Y” shaped ridge of actual bedrock is what the elluvial shoals of the landform of Long Island are supported by, and they continue all the way to eastern shore with the the two branches of the Y terminating at Montauk and the Hamptons.

The view from Calvary is astounding, and I always remark that “you can see the whole soup bowl” of NYC’s inner harbor from up here. You used to be able to see a lot more, but… y’know… luxury towers and the real estate guys.

As a note, burial in First Calvary is quite desirable for Roman Catholics. Accordingly, the price of a grave hereabouts is astronomical, making this – from a square footage vs pricing ratio POV – the most valuable real estate in all of Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Adorning the dome of the Johnston Mausoleum, in addition to the statue of Jesus at its top, are granite renderings of four angels who gaze out at the sky from the cardinal points of a compass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, the industrial zone of West Maspeth is hard to miss. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Koscisuzcko Bridge are just out of frame in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Calvary Cemetery is positively cinematic. It’s where Bruce Wayne’s parents, and Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, were buried in the movies. It’s also where Vito Corleone was interred in the Godfather movie. The place is seen regularly in television and movies as a set piece when you need a New York City backdrop for a funeral.

You never know what you’re going to find at Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville section of Queens, along the fabulous Newtown Creek, I always say. Bring a camera, and wander around the place without a plan, see what Calvary wants you to see. It’ll still be there the next time you come back, this history book etched in stone.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 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.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

less piercing

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It’s National Cherry Popover Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is indulging in a bit of down time this week, and single images will be greeting you from now until Labor Day on September 4th. I should mention that I, and the rest of the Working Harbor Committee, will be spending the week preparing for and organizing the 25th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race on the morning of September 3rd. The festivities will be occurring at Pier 43 over in Manhattan (nearby the Intrepid museum) and there’s an opportunity to get out on the water during the race onboard a Circleline Spectator boat if that’s your bag. For full details visit the workingharbor site.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in animals, birds

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latent idiosyncrasies 

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It’s National Creamsicle Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst watching a bird eating some random drunk’s vomit here in Astoria recently, a humble narrator found himself contemplating the news of the day. One soon realized that he’d rather watch a bird feeding on puke than deep dive into another pointless conversation about the news of the day. Nazis…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is disgusted, depressed, and despondent.  

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I just do not have anything to say. I just can’t. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Two Newtown Creek Boat Tours, with Newtown Creek Alliance and Open House NY – Wednesday August 16th, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek are home to the densest collection of these garbage facilities anywhere in the city and collectively, the waste transfer stations around and along Newtown Creek handle almost 40% of the waste that moves through New York. Join Newtown Creek Alliance’s Mitch Waxman and Willis Elkins  to learn about the ongoing efforts to address the environmental burden that this “clustering” has caused. details here.

DUPBO Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with NYCH20 – Thursday August 24th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Explore Greenpoint and Hunters Point, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

odd purchases

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It’s National Martini Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we, as in the environmental and activist community along Newtown Creek, have been asking officialdom about for years is about why there is zero signage advising the citizenry about not fishing or crabbing in the Newtown Creek. I know this might strike you as odd, but folks actually do fish and crab hereabouts. Observationally, these are people who were born overseas, so the signage issue becomes a bit complicated given the legendary “diversity” of Western Queens and North Brooklyn. The Albany people have always questioned as to why you’d need signage, as it’s illegal to fish without a license, and every NYS licensee has been advised about the environmental conditions encountered on the inland waterways of NYC – which is one of the most “Albany people” things I’ve ever heard.

Luckily, the Feds at EPA realized what we’ve been asking for is necessary and have begun the process of creating advisory signage, and the PRP (Potentially Resonsible Parties) consortium which styles itself as the “Newtown Creek Group” volunteered to manufacture the placards, which EPA would in turn design and install. The signage is pretty close to its final design iteration, and the latest version looks like this. As to where the signs should be placed? Who has carefully documented every little pocket and corner of the streets surrounding the Creek? Who can tell you where people commonly fish? That’s a Newtown Creek Alliance job, anyone can tell you that.

Let’s face it, who ya gonna call?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, one found himself in Greenpoint recently at nine in the morning as the EPA team assembled. Civilians cannot ride in Government vehicles (which is an odd rule, as we technically own them) so the third party contractor who will do the actual installation of the things did the driving. We hit every little corner of the Newtown Creek where people can find access to the water, even the hidden spots where the “utes” of Greenpernt like to experiment with cannibinoids.

It was actually quite a beautiful morning, and the light was fantastic, so while the Feds got busy with the tape measures and GPS’d the various locations we visited, I waved the camera around a bit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We did encounter an “enforcement situation” in Brooklyn alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. There’s a protocol for “who’s responsible for what” along the Newtown Creek. Short version is this – EPA is in charge of Superfund, which is specifically related to the sediments under the water. New or ongoing pollution entering the water is the provence of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NYC DEP is responsible for absolutely nothing anywhere or anytime, it’s not their fault at all, and they have no idea why they were named as a PRP in the first place as it’s all Exxon or National Grid’s fault.

The fellow from EPA I was on the bridge with confirmed my belief that “I should call this in” and the NYS DEC Spill Response hotline was called. If you spot oil slicks, plumes of floatable contaminants, or as in the case of the shot above – hundreds of gallons of milky white mystery juice exiting one of DEP’s open sewers – the protocol is to first photograph it, as documentation, and then to call 1 (800) 457-7362 to let DEC know about the situation so they can investigate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were, as mentioned above, visiting every conceivable spot that the citizenry could find their way to the water.

That included “off limits” locations like the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge over the English Kills tributary. As you can see from all the interesting graffiti on the bridge, which carries lead tracks of the Bushwick Branch LIRR, trespassing is pretty common back here. This is the reason that EPA asked Newtown Creek Alliance to send somebody along with them, as there’s the “official story” and a “real story” found along the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This family of Canada Geese were encountered at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, and were being predated by a feral cat who was anxious for breakfast. Momma and Poppa Goose were just out of frame to the left, so the cat made a brilliant decision and continued on into the brush to look for some easier prey. We encountered a couple of broods of Geese over the course of the morning. Geese can be ornery, as a note, and will smack you up if they’re annoyed.

One of these illegal alien avian bullies, at Maspeth Creek, actually hissed at us as we neared, and stuck its tongue out at me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reasoning behind the signage is based around science rather than good humored politics, incidentally. When you’re chatting with environmental officials, they don’t refer to oysters or mussels as shellfish, rather they call them “bioaccumulators.” Animals that are high up in the food chain have internal organs – livers in particular – and muscular tissues which have amassed dangerous levels of whatever pollutant is found in the sediments of the waterway, which they’ve attained by consuming all the prey critters who are below them in the food chain hierarchy. In the case of crabs, in particular, you can encounter a fantastic amount of chemical concentrates due to their particular niche and occupations.

Newtown Creek is – of course – a Federal Superfund site. The sediment beds hereabout are a goulash of petroleum and petroleum byproducts, organocopper compounds, volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, coal tar, sewage, and everything else that has ever been dumped or spilled into the water. The sediment is referred to as “black mayonnaise” and it’s where the crabs live. It’s also where most of the invertebrates that form the bottom of the food chain for the fish population live. Itty bitty critters eat the decaying organics of the black mayonnaise, and slightly less itty bitty critters eat handfuls of the little guys, and the larger critters eat hundreds of them – you get the idea.

You don’t want to eat fish or crabs that you catch in the Newtown Creek. Really.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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It’s National Escargot Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is fairly crispy around the edges, and in a state best described as “too little butter scraped over too much bread.” The ridiculous schedule I’ve been keeping throughout the months of April and May is beginning to wear me down a bit, and I’ve got literally thousands of photos to process and deliver to various entities. Busy is good, admittedly, but “man alive” do I need a day or two off.

Pictured above is one of the Cormorant breeding/habitat stands which are observable beneath the Bayonne Bridge, at the intersection of the Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, it’s the dog who suffers. Poor Zuzu the dog didn’t get out for her slow motion walk last night until after midnight. She’s a bit pissed off at me, my dog. Saying that, she was quite engaged with the late night sniffing, probably because every other dog in the neighborhood had already taken care of business and every tree pit was redolent with their scents and “pee mail.”

Pictured above, the spring blossoms of a tree you might observe on the corner of 45th street and 34th avenue in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s entirely likely that, as we descend into the madness of a holiday weekend, you’re going to be greeted with single image posts tomorrow, Friday, and Monday, so apologies are offered. My services have been engaged by one of the local newspapers to photograph the Maspeth Memorial Day parade on Sunday, incidentally, so if you’re there and you see some weird looking old guy with a camera and a Newtown Creek Alliance hat, say hi.

Pictured above, a double entendre laden bit of signage from Third Avenue in Manhattan. If you don’t know the street slang meaning of “Toss my salad” I’d suggest you google it, as this is a family blog.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper Visioning, June 3rd, 1-4 p.m..

Imagine the future of Newtown Creek with Riverkeeper and NCA at the Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) details here.

Newtown Creek Alliance History lecture with NCA historian Mitch Waxman, June 3rd, 5:00- 7:30p.m.

An free hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) followed by a walk around the roof and a Q&A – details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 24, 2017 at 1:00 pm

heavy spring

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It’s National Liver and Onions Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is deep within a web of “have to’s,” “wish I hadn’t’s,” and “should have done better’s” at the moment. All of this coincides with a fiendishly tight schedule of “things to do.” Luckily, after Friday, my burdens will ease up a bit. In the meanwhile, it feels like I’ve drank too much coffee too quickly.

As a note, as you’re reading this, I’ve been onboard a boat with the Waterfront Alliance and attending their annual harbor conference for a good couple of hours. Odds are pretty good that I’ve annoyed the Mayor and several other elected officials by now with stupid questions, asnine observations, and generally sarcastic comments. It’s what I do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I was wandering though Sunnyside the other day, this bagged bear was spotted and it’s probably the saddest thing I’ve seen in a while. My thoughts as I was shooting it were along the lines of “well, I guess somebody’s childhood just ended” and “wow, that’s just weird looking.”

I also considered the idea of grabbing the thing and finding it a home at a clothing bin or in front of a church, as it was in fairly pristine shape, but I’m a big softie when it comes to stuffed toys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found it odd that the bear was in a recycling bag, incidentally. Who recycles a stuffed toy?

Curious. 


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

hushed conversation

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It’s National Cheeseball Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lots of odds and ends today. A supposition which opines that I live on the most exciting corner in Astoria continues to play out, as evinced by a deployment of the ever reliable FDNY the other night. It seems that one of the neighbors discerned the olfactory evidence of combustion emerging from a storefront occupied by the local bagel shepherds, which was a report which the FDNY responded to with a fairly large deployment. The fellows on the big red trucks soon determined that this was a false alarm, and it all ended up being just another Astoria hullabaloo. 

My suspicions that I live on the most interesting corner in Astoria will soon bear a different kind of fruit, however, as the trickle of water which I reported to 311 as bubbling out of a manhole cover on the next block – about two weeks ago – has now grown into a small flowing stream. Never quiet – here in Astoria, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hypothetically – due to having had to sign a non disclosure agreement with the State of New York today, one cannot tell you where I am this morning or what I am doing. I am precluded from sharing photographs or discussing my visit to some mysterious location where my camera has been brought to today until some indeterminate time in the future when the embargo on such collected material has been rescinded by NYS officials. There are no specific penalties described for violating this embargo (which is odd), nor was it originally offered with an “expiry” date, which is fairly standard for such situations (an open ended NDA contract for such matters isn’t strictly “kosher” legally, anyway, and there’s also that whole first amendment thing which NYS doesn’t get to suspend). Saying that, a humble narrator made a big stink about the imposition of an open ended image embargo with certain hypothetical people whose offices would be found in some theoretical minor City – which would be found around two hundred miles to the north of the de facto Capitol of New York State at the other end of the Hudson River – and eventually I will be able to describe in some excruciating detail where I went this morning and what I saw at some later date whenever they decide it’s no longer a state secret. 

The photo of the two Kosciuszcko Bridges seen above is merely a decorative addition to this post – filler, if you will – and does not in any way indicate where I am, or what I may be walking upon or over as you’re reading this. The shot was gathered a week ago in Greenpoint, on April 9th, for the legally minded and prosecutorially inclined amongst you. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the bagel shop which drew the attentions of the FDNY to Astoria one recent night, while waiting for the bagel shepherds to construct a sandwich for me one recent afternoon, one was standing outside in the rain and glowering at passerby when I noticed these two pigeons working a flooded tree pit for bits of food and drinking from the puddles. Our normal flock of pigeons, who live in Astoria in fairly considerable numbers, have lately been harassed by a sudden explosion of super aggressive sparrows. This flock of avian bullies has been chasing the pigeons about, and driving them from their ledges. The Sparrows, on the other hand, have recently begun to be harassed by a bunch of Ravens. The multitudinous Sparrows will be loudly chirping when a single “caw” is sounded, which shuts them all up. Down below, the street cats watch, and wait. Luckily, after the bagel shepherds completed the construction of my sandwich, I was able to remove myself from this internecine urban warfare and return to the tranquil safety of HQ where my little dog Zuzu polices the behavior and habits of all the lower life forms. 

Gang warfare, of the feathered variety, affects us all. It’s best to have an elderly dog around to keep things straight.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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