The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Blissville’ Category

secret societies

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It’s National Brandied Fruit Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another few weeks to go and then I get to become gods lonely man again, a situation which a humble cannot wait for this year. There’s been a couple of days in the last week wherein my “full armor” has been deployed, and a filthy black raincoat has been observed by the hard hats of Newtown Creek as it flaps about in the wind beyond their fences. The “me” who conducts the tours is by design a very nice fellow, generous with his time, and entirely mission oriented towards my portion of the Newtown Creek Alliance motto of “reveal, restore, revitalize.” I’m on the “reveal” side of things, incidentally. As far as the other two go, I’d advise you visit newtowncreekalliance.com and check out the various street end projects in Maspeth and Greenpoint being worked on my colleagues at NCA, as well as the very promising “North Henry Street project” and Living Dock. NCA is loosely affiliated with multiple organizations around the Newtown Creek watershed, sharing both members and goals.

One of those organizations is the frankly spectacular Smiling Hogshead Ranch on Skillman Avenue at Pearson Place in Long Island City. A community garden and urban farm, the Hogshead folks are presenting a Harvest Festival at their site tomorrow – Saturday the 21st – between noon and seven p.m. I’m going to conduct three short walks for them, free, starting at 2, 3:30, and 5 if you want to come along and meet the folks who turned a derelict set of rail tracks into a verdant green space with little more than the sweat of their brows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that he is deluding himself about just being able to button up the raincoat and disappear into the miasmic air of the Newtown Creek for a while, since I’ve become fairly familiar to the folks who work around the creeklands and despite all of my best efforts to remain isolated from humanity… one will end up having to talk to them. Unfortunately, I have become… some how… garrulous and affable. This shakes my entire self image.

How the hell did this outsider end up being affable? Just the other day, one opined to “Our Lady of the Pentacle” that I have somehow become “approachable” in recent years. Used to be that when I walked into a shop, security would follow me around and old ladies would clutch at their purses out of shock and fear. I’d see some monster staring at me from across the room, and then while reaching out to touch its horrible countenance, suddenly realize that I was looking in a mirror and touching a pane of silvered glass. Our Lady informed that I’m old now, which makes me seem less “edgy” than formerly.

Saying that, a couple of rather inexpensive but recent additions to my camera bag have created new possibilities for night shooting, which is something I plan on doing a LOT of in the coming months of sepulchral darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, to dance along the bulkheads again. Filthy black raincoat flapping in the wind, camera in hand, dodging trucks and trains. Recording the truth of our times in graphic narrative and garish color, and uncovering the tales of days gone by when clear eyed mariners plied the grease choked water in steam powered vessels. Poking my lens into the nooks and crannies of that lugubrious cataract of urban decay known as the Newtown Creek…


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

local inquisitiveness

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There is no National Food day on October 5th!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in Tuesday’s post, one headed over to Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville section of Long Island City to check out the scene after the October 1st “energetic felling” or demolition of the approaches of the Koscisuzcko Bridge. Given that Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery is carved into, offers some altitude and commanding views of the bridge(s) it’s a pretty good choice as far as “point of view.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that this bridge replacement project has been explored before.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

Most recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the south side of the job site, the Breeze company’s demolition crews are hard at work, and they were chipping and grinding away at a section which must be blocking the Lower Montauk tracks and the LIRR’s right of way. This section of the tracks is known as “dead man’s curve” due to it having been the site of the legendary Blissville Rail disaster and for the number of laborers employed by the now vacated Phelps Dodge company who thought that they could outrun a freight train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is somewhat surreal, this current landscape in DUKBO. This view is looking north towards Sunnyside’s 43rd street, which is found on the other side of the Long Island Expressway viaduct that forms a shield wall between the industrial zone and the residential neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This view is looking eastwards towards West Maspeth, from a prominence inside the cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a link to a FAR larger incarnation of the stitched panorama above, which captures the entire scene. This is a HUGE file, for those of you reading this on your phones, btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I promise this will be the last Kosciuszcko Bridge post for a bit. In my defense though, in my roll as Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, part of my “job” is to record the events of the Superfund era and to document the seismic changes happening along the fabulous Newtown Creek for posterity.


Upcoming Tours and event

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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

accursed sorceror

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It’s National Butterscotch Pudding Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My route on the Calvary Cemetery walk I conducted a couple of weeks ago enters the Cemetery on the Review Avenue side, by the old Penny Bridge. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, my habit is to walk out the route of a walking tour a couple of days prior to committing it, so one headed over to First Calvary in the name of doing just that.

I had badly misjudged my clothing choices, in terms of dressing for the weather when leaving the house, as it had gotten quite warm and humid as I was walking from Astoria to Blissville and one was clothed for fall rather than summer. Not wanting to walk down the sun choked sidewalk on Review Avenue in such uncomfortable clime, I instead entered the polyandrion via the Greenpoint Avenue gates and cut across the property in the direction of the Penny Bridge entrance – hoping that the cover of the tree canopies would provide some surcease from the radiations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself. This sojourn provided me with few trees unfortunately. An interval in a distaff section of the place that I seldom visit occurred instead. As always, the needs of the camera outweigh the needs of the man, so I toughed it out and suffered through the heat. As an aside, my headphones were in my ears, and I was participating in a group call with the environmental community of Newtown Creek and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency regarding the ongoing superfund process. For those of you reading this who were on the call, this is what I was doing while we were talking.

The shot above looks out at the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue/Review Avenue/Vandam Street at the off ramp of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, shot from the heights of Calvary’s walls, for the vulgarly curious.

I always have an ulterior motive, it seems, or at the very least – I’m a champion level multitasker.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My ulterior motive this particular day involved gathering a few last shots of the 1939 Koscisuzcko Bridge, whose final destruction is imminent. Any day now, it’s going to be “energetically demolished” with explosive charges. I’m not spilling any beans when I say it was meant to be this Sunday – the 24th (the commander of the 94th precinct in Greenpoint took care of that one), but that date has now been moved back once again. It’s not for me to say when the date is, but it won’t be long now, I may or may not have been told.

The path carried me along the high masonry wall of First Calvary, and along the southern border of the place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along said path, I encountered this tree. Like all the trees which throw their roots down into the loam at Calvary, I can assure you that it’s fed by a morbid nutrition. The rather thorough cocooning of its branches and leaves though, filled me with an existential dread of the sort only condemned men would know.

I’m all ‘effed up. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There seemed to be some of sort of insect civilization at work within the webbing. If the old adage that “you are what you eat” holds true, the reality of this hidden hive lurking in a tree rooted in the nitre choked soil of Calvary Cemetery – found in a place called Blissville along the fabulous Newtown Creek – one would not like to inquire too deeply into the life cycles of these organisms.

Conversely, I want to know EVERYTHING about the little buggers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One took a wide berth around this tree, lest its inhabitants center their interest upon a humble narrator.

You can’t be too careful, I always say, around the tomb legions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My path continued along the high masonry wall of First Calvary, towards the Penny Bridge gates and the Alsop Cemetery, which was ancient when the Dutch lost regency of this land to the British. By this point, my error in judgement regarding garment choices and weather were dragging my energy down, it should mention. As my grandmother would have said – I was all f’shvitzed. Fatigue related to heat began to set in, and only one expression of resigned horror was able to escape my lips.

Oy, it’s so humid

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 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm

enough rumors

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My habit, when conducting a walking tour on any given Saturday or Sunday, is to rewalk the route a couple of days in advance of the actual event. The reason for this is twofold – first to scout any new or emergent obstacles along the path, second to reacquaint myself with all the little details. In the case of First Calvary Cemetery, which I conducted a tour of just last week, it’s about getting all the sight lines lined up. Everybody who comes to Calvary with me on one of these walks always comments about how I “find the needles in the haystack” so easily. Short answer is that I do, in fact, know the place like the back of my hand. Long answer is that I was just there a day or two ago and walked out the route to ensure that I don’t end up looking like a dope searching for the grave of Esther Ennis (the very first interment, which is marked by a tiny foot stone) in front of a group of people.

Accordingly, a couple of days before the tour, I trekked over to Blissville from Astoria to take a walk amongst the tomb legions. As always, the camera was dangling at my side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a 24/7 line up of traffic on Greenpoint Avenue where drivers wait at a traffic light to enter the onramp for the Long Island Expressway, and of late two enterprising fellows have been working the lineup. The gentleman on the left is selling bottles of water and other consumable items to the passing motorists, whilst the fellow in the middle of the street is holding up a cardboard sign proclaiming his destitution and adjuring them to donate charitable contributions to help him weather an existential crisis.

There’s some kind of parable at work in the comparison between their two approaches at survival. Boot straps versus appealing to guilty compassion, that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever approach any of us have evolved at survival, however, is ultimately pointless and doomed to failure.

All roads lead to Calvary, as they used to say back in Manhattan’s Five Points during the 19th century “Gangs of New York” era. If you think about it, that’s kind of a relief. Whenever my pal Mattie the Vampire back here in Astoria discusses Constantinople, he gets a sad look in his watery yellow eyes, and I get the sense that immortality – or at least Mattie’s version of it – ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.


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 18, 2017 at 11:00 am

beaten man

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It’s National Coffee Ice Cream Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering around Long Island City with the camera is kind of “my thing.” Ordinarily, I’ve got one of my H.P. Lovecraft audiobooks blaring away in my headphones. More often than not, there’s some destination at Newtown Creek I’m heading for, as I was when these shots were gathered. On this particular day, I front loaded some “wander” time into the equation which allowed me to take a rather circuitous route to my eventual destination over in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section.

I also wanted to “check in” on an area which I’ve not visited in the last few months to see if anything novel was happening. This area would be best described as the “angle” between Sunnyside and Blissville along Van Dam Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s three moments in the history of LIC’s Van Dam Street to take note of. One occurred in 1909 when the Queensboro Bridge began to feed vehicular traffic into “Queens Plaza,” another was in 1914 when the newly consolidated City of Greater New York funded a project to raise the grade of Van Dam street several feet in elevation, and the other was in 1940 when the Long Island Expressway opened. The 1917 appearance of the IRT Flushing Line subway service on what was Thomson Venue but was soon renamed “Queens Blvd.,” is also kind of important (this was about 1921, I’m told).

Van Dam is angled against the street grid of the Blissville section of LIC, but its generally north/south path leads to Greenpoint and North Brooklyn from its start at Queens Blvd. Apparently, there used to be trolley service on Van Dam, which was a part of the Steinway Line. The street is named for the Van Dam family, which was quite prominent in both City and the future State back in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of them, Rip Van Dam, was the governor of the British owned New York colony from 1731-2.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses didn’t start the Queens Midtown Tunnel or Long Island Expressway projects, but by the time they both opened for business in August of 1940 they were firmly a part of his empire. It took four years to build the tunnel itself, and the high speed road that snakes into it runs eastwards for some seventy one miles. As you can see from the shots above and below, not much thought was paid into what would happen to the runoff from the highway.

It just splatters down onto LIC and into the sewer grate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is nothing unusual, and I’ve been informed by the powers that be that not one of NYC’s many bridges, tunnels, or highways is directly connected to a sewer plant – even the brand new Koscisuzcko. Rather, they all just feed into storm sewers, which then release into area waterways. The world is a joyful place, for one such as myself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of the Long Island Expressway, officially known as the Queens Midtown Expressway, carries an average of 80,000 vehicle trips a day to and from the Queens Midtown Tunnel. That’s 29.2 million vehicle trips annually.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

spittle flecked

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It’s National Banana Split Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a single shot today, depicting the Penny Bridge area of my beloved Newtown Creek and looking westwards across Greenpoint towards Manhattan. I’ll be conducting a walking tour of Dutch Kills in LIC tomorrow, link and details below, if you’d like to come along. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day to take a short walk along a long creek.


Upcoming Tours and events

America’s Workshop Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday August 26th, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Explore the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek in Long Island City, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm

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