The Newtown Pentacle

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dark figures

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If only I could be laconic, if.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday last, I conducted a tour for the NY Transit Museum onboard an NYC Ferry. The narrative was governed by the history of ferries in NYC, with a general historical overlay of the East River corridor. There’s a lot of information to pass on, and I will admit that it’s a bit of struggle to fit it all in. The tour left from Pier 11 in Manhattan, and we debarked the boat in LIC. Given that it’s a transit museum group, the last third of the tour focuses in on the former ferry services of the Long Island Railroad offered out of Hunters Point and then I take the group a few blocks into LIC. I can usually produce a LIRR engine sitting on a sidetrack thereabouts, and there’s always the Sunnyside Yards to talk about as well.

It was really, really cold for April last Sunday, in the 30’s when I left HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the second time I’ve narrated this particular tour, and hopefully will be presenting it again in the near future. Saying that, now that it’s been spoken aloud a few times, I’ve got some rewriting to do in the name of brevity and clarity. It’s so easy to bog down in historical minutia when discussing the East River, you have to be careful when narrating lest you lose the audience’s attention in a swirl of details. I never structure what I’m going to say as a dry recitation of facts and dates, which is the worst possible way to relate historical data, in my view. It’s a story, so tell it like a story, with a beginning/middle/end.

The cool thing about the Transit Museum is that they outfit me with a little closed circuit radio microphone and all the tour participants get these little radio headsets, so I don’t need to yell the whole time. That took a bit of adjustment time for me, as I’m used to using a booming voice and certain style of pronunciation on tours. Speaking into a mike is more a “radio  situation” where you want to get all mellifluous in terms of vocalizations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suffice to say that shortly after the Civil War there were as many as 21 seperate “official” ferry lines crossing back and forth between Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan. Like a lot of 19th century industries, a politically connected monopoly emerged out of a company founded by Livingstone and Fulton which made regulation and inspection by Government officialdom go away, creating a lassez faire system whose excesses eventually led to the General Slocum disaster in 1915 1904 which made the idea of getting on a ferry rather unpalatable to early 20th century New Yorkers in the same way that entering a giant office building in the years following 9/11 was an unsettling experience. The Coast Guard was put in charge of safety matters, and they began to enforce strict safety regulations and practices on the ferry industry.

Then came Robert Moses…


Upcoming Tours and Events

April 14 – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?
Tickets and more details here.

April 15- Newtown Creekathon – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be held on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. This will be quite an undertaking, last year half the crowd tagged out before we hit the half way point. Have you got what it takes the walk the enitre Newtown Creek?
Click here to reserve a spot on the Creekathon.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

yellowed paper

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Reaching into the archives, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sidelined as I’ve been for the last few weeks by holiday obligations, food poisoning, and my vulnerability to extreme cold – a humble narrator has little new to share with you today but the show must go on. Reaching into the archives, the shot of a Night Heron above was gathered while in the company of the Audubon Society on North Brother Island in 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A pod of Dolphins surfacing was witnessed while onboard one of the inaugural “Whale watching” trips offered by the American Princess boat company, which hails from Breezey Point, back in 2010.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 2013, I met this kitten who was living in the rip rap shoreline of Staten Island, not far from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Back tomorrow with something a bit more in depth, I hope, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 4, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Posted in animals, birds, cats

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hidden picture

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If my plans work out properly, while you’re reading this post, I’ve actually managed to drag myself away from the slothful indifference to all things which have distinguished the last couple of weeks and I’m somewhere in Manhattan pointing my camera at things and humans. The shots in today’s post are from the archives.

That’s a juvenile Red Tail Hawk at Calvary Cemetery in LIC, as seen on a wintry morning a few years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I like all the seabirds, but will be damned if I can tell you with certainty what speciation they are. Everytime I try, I’m wrong, which somebody gleefully points out and then all my credibility is shot. It’s like that game “Jenga,” pull out the wrong brick and the whole tower crashes down, credibility is. It’s best to say “I don’t know” and muster up my Brooklyn accent for “Issa Boid.”

I enjoy taking pictures of birds, it’s rather challenging. The ones above and below are from this past summer, at Hallets Cove in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually… come to think of it, the one above of the murmurating flock was gathered on 48th street in Sunnyside, nearby that shopping center off of Northern Blvd. There’s always a lot of seabirds thereabouts for some reason. Maybe the birds are passing on some genetic or inherited memory of where there used to be water to their kids. Maybe they’re just hanging around the Stop and Shop parking lot because they’re in a gang. Who knows?

That whole zone used to be quite swampy, as a note, prior to the whole Sunnyside Yards happening.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little war monster decided to die on my porch in Astoria. It still had a little life left in it when I found it, so I scooped it up on a piece of paper and let it die while lying on soil in the shade offered by a potted plant. What can I tell you, I’m a giant softie for well armored pollinators. I also didn’t want the dog to get too interested in it either.

The next morning, after having poked at it with a pencil to assure that it had met its demise and wouldn’t vaingloriously sting me as part of some futile last stand, I had my way with its corpse. Photographically, I mean… sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that Red Tail Hawk was hanging around Calvary Cemetery in the first shot is exemplified by the subject of the one above. There’s a population of these groundling burrowers which exist in the loam at the polyandrion. Groundling Burrowers is what I call ’em, of course, but the kids all just say “Bunny!”

I’ve seen what happens when the aforementioned birds of prey achieve their intentions, regarding these burrowers, and it ain’t a pretty sight – I’ll tell ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is actually a fairly old photo, depicting one of the yellow eyed black cats which manifest sometimes as I scuttle along and around the Borough. The one above used to live on 29th street in LIC, and I often saw it hunting along the bulkheads of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary. When I see one of these golden eyed swivel eared shadow beasts, I know it’s going to be a productive day photographically, and Queens has something special in store for me.

I just have to keep walking and find it. Queens is coy like that.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

sojourn abroad

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A variety of obligations and impediments have caused one to come up short on content this week and last. Additionally, given that we are sidling towards Thanksgiving, and historically speaking there will be less of you reading the Newtown Pentacle this week than any other during the year, I’m going to continue on with my little vacation.

As is my custom, accordingly, single shots which I like for one reason or another will be presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Regular programming will resume on Monday the 27th after the holiday weekend.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

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flowing ichor

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the moment, one is not even sure what day it is, due to multitudinous “things I have to do” which have played out over the last two weeks. A lot of these have involved leaving the house before the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has risen and arriving back at Newtown Pentacle HQ after it has occluded itself behind New Jersey. It is impossible for me to focus on or make “small talk” at the moment, as a tidal force swirls behind my eyes and between my ears.

In short, I’m pooped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll have another set of Koscisuzcko Bridge shots ready for you which I captured yesterday before having to utterly change gear and put on a suit to go to a fancy pants gala dinner over in the city. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen was a speaker, and in pursuance of not heckling her, I went outside instead and chatted with a lovely fellow who had spent 28 years in the NYPD who was sharing some of his war stories with me.

I really cannot stand listening to any member of the De Blasio executive team blowing their own horns.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that’s a Monarch Butterfly in the shot above. It’s kind of a pretty shot, I think, which is made interesting by the fact that the flowering plants the butterfly is inspecting are growing at a sewer plant in Greenpoint, and that the water forming the background of the shot is Newtown Creek.

Never know what you’re going to see along my beloved creek, so it’s best to always carry a camera whe you’re there, otherwise no one will believe what you tell them without some sort of photographic backup.


Upcoming Tours and events

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.

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

moulder through

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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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in animals, birds

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