The Newtown Pentacle

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shattered nerves

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English Kills, at night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So this is where a humble narrator found himself last evening, but as I had good company with me, one was only mildly terrified by the solemnified majesty of Newtown Creek. This is near the end of all things, where Newtown Creek’s tributary English Kills flows into a sewer which also flows into English Kills. Dichotomies notwithstanding, that’s the Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge in the left of the shot, which carries the tracks of the Long Island Railroad’s Bushwick Branch over the waterway, and into the luminance of Waste Management’s Varick Street location. It was windy.

This is Brooklyn, roughly 3.7 miles from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were rats.

As my pal Bernie Ente used to advise “the rats at Newtown Creek are well fed and won’t bother you, they don’t care that you’re there, but they might run over your feet.” That didn’t happen, foot wise, but my companion and I did spot a few plump specimens skittering between the shadows. The biggest issue encountered, actually, was when we followed a trod upon path around the borders of the canalized waterway. The brush is still thick, and there were a few fallen trees to contend with, but we were determined to gain access to the spot where the story of Newtown Creek suddenly stops.

That spot has a designation: NC-015.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The mounds of litter and garbage that mix with and provide firmament to a tangle of self seeded vegetation and fallen trees can simply be described as “a trip hazard,” but there were more than a few spots encountered on the way to this location that could have easily ended with a broken ankle. It was quite dark, being night time, it should be mentioned. A portable light was used to illuminate the foreground in the shot above, but prior to that it was a silhouette against the water.

3.8 miles from the East River, the western facing point of view above is from above Combined Sewer Outfall #NC-015. It’s the 20th largest of the 400 such outfalls in NY Harbor, in terms of volume, releasing 344 million gallons of untreated wastewater into English Kills a year (last time I checked).


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private collector

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These pants are too tight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts this week, a walk over to the Bushwick side of the fabulous Newtown Creek was recently endeavored upon. As I often mention, this time of the year is never a good interval for a humble narrator, who often finds himself staring out the window wishing that it wasn’t quite as rainy or snowy or cold as the winter season typically is in New Yrok City. Atmospheric hurdles notwithstanding, one nevertheless found himself standing on the Scott Avenue footbridge over the Bushwick Branch tracks contemplating his problems while capturing a lovely winter sunset on a chilly night.

As a note, that’s the garbage train you see on the tracks below. By garbage, I mean the “black bag” or “putrescent” waste stream, which is containerized up by the Waste Management company at a couple of spots along Newtown Creek, and which will be “disappeared” out of the City by a rail outfit called the New York and Atlantic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, in a post congratulating the Grand Street Bridge on its 115th birthday, I mentioned the Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Maspeth but didn’t show it. The shot above rectifies that, and it’s one of the few times that I’ve grabbed a shot of the place without being hassled by MTA’s “rent a cop” security. I don’t argue with the septuagenarian security guards there anymore, instead I write complaint letters to MTA HQ in Brooklyn, asking about exactly when the MTA decided it was kosher to abrogate my rights.

I’m becoming quite crotchety in my old age.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Buses have been increasingly focused on in recent months for one reason or another. Like a lot of the other municipal stuff which we are surrounded by, these vehicles pass by unnoticed and uncommented. They sort of blend into the background of the City and roll on by. I’ve become fascinated by them, in the context that buses are basically giant boxes of light moving along the darkened streets of the hive, and can be somewhat difficult to photograph. I like a challenge.

That’s the Q104, heading east along Astoria’s Broadway. As is the case with many of the bus routes of Queens, a part of the Q104’s replicates that of an old and forgotten trolley route. For the modern day residents of Astoria, myself included, it’s provides a vehicular connection to the Costco retail operation next door to Socrates Sculpture Garden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Q102 on 31st street in Astoria, another line which I’ll periodically use when I’m returning from Newtown Creek and lazy sets in while I’m marching up Northern Blvd. About 800 million rides occur on MTA’s roughly 5,700 buses annually. Depending on the model of bus, which have an average life span of about 12 years on the streets of New York City, MTA pays out anywhere between $450,000 and $750,000 for EACH one of its diesel buses, and the hybrid models pictured above can add about $300,000 to the price tag for a new unit. You read that right, btw.

A lot to spend on a big box of light, no?


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ignorantly spared

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Back on the job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the recent extreme cold spell has broken, a humble narrator has found himself marching about again, and boy are my dogs barking. On Tuesday, a stroll over to Bushwick East Williamsburg was enacted and the farthest reaches of the Newtown Creek at English Kills were observed. As expected, the waterway was frozen over.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Toxic ice. You don’t get to say that particular phrase that too often, but that’s what you’re looking at in the shot above. English Kills is the far eastern terminus of Newtown Creek, which branches off of the East River nearly 3.8 miles from the larger waterbody. These shots were gathered at about 3.7 miles back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That big sewer outfall at the end of the tributary is the 3.8 mile terminus mark, and the north/south street seen beyond the fencelines is Johnson Avenue. The surrounding neighborhood is gentrifying (dictionary definition of gentrifying), but on a fairly small scale as compared to points found to the west like LIC and Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One decided to hang around the neighborhood for a bit and stretch my legs after the long interval of being trapped in the house by inclement clime, and visit a few of my favorite places. This shot is from the Scott Avenue footbridge, which spans the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch freight tracks, just as the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was dipping behind New Jersey to the west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading over towards Metropolitan Avenue, and another of the dead end tributaries of Newtown Creek – the East Branch, one discovered that this section of the water was similarly locked in a decidedly polar state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ice was decaying faster in both waterways where it touched the open sewer outfalls, no doubt due to the flow of melt water laden with road salt coming in from as far away as Canarsie. This untreated sewage is quite biologically active as well, and the metabolism of the microscopic entities contained in the water column likely helps to warm it up a bit.


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quiet removal

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It’s National Boston Creme Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you want to know what the end of the world looks like, I can take you there. It’s about 3.8 miles from the East River, in an area of Brooklyn that is clearly Bushwick but which the real estate people refer to as East Williamburg. The end of the world is surrounded by heavy industry and waste transfer stations, and is crossed by a railroad bridge. It’s defined by a waterbody called English Kills, which is a dead end tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek.

Just last week, a visit was paid to this paradise of nihilism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The open sewers are just one of the apocalyptic factors back here, as is the enormous waste transfer station operated by a transnational conglomerate that handles about a third of the black bag (or putrescent) garbage collected by the Department of Sanitation. There is virtually zero laminar flow to the water here, which means that the rising and falling of the tide is a vertical affair rather than a horizontal one, creating stinking shoals along the banks and allowing sediment mounds to rise from the channel. It often smells like rubber cement thinner along this stretch of English Kills, the waters are greasy, and they commonly exhibit an uncommon and unnatural coloration highlighted by patches of weird iridescence.

Men and women seem to become possessed by the spirit of the place, wildly dumping garbage into the shallows with a gleeful abandon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

References in the historical record refer to distinct periods in English Kills’ existential course. Once, a mostly fresh water stream fed by the springs and streams of a Bushwick that drew German beer Brewers to the area, which bled sweet water into the main body of Newtown Creek, just a decade after the American Civil War English Kills began to be described as the “industrial canals of Brooklyn.” By the time that the Army Corps of Engineers oversaw the WW1 era shaping of the Newtown Creek watershed into something we would recognize on a google map in modernity, English Kills had open pipes carrying industrial and chemical waste products into the water from acid factories and the other dirty industries surrounding it. The upland springs and steams which drew the brewers here were paved over or turned into sewers, and the only naturally occurring liquid entering the narrow channel afterwards was a tepid trickle of brackish East River water (which was itself terribly compromised) weakly pulsing in with the daily tide, or storm runoff from the streets.

Brooklyn legend suggests this area was used as a graveyard by mobsters, but that’s just a legend. Gangsters dump bodies into fast moving or oceanic water bodies like Jamaica Bay or the Hudson River. The idea is to get rid of the evidence, not to leave something incriminating in a place where it can be found.

Whatever enters English Kills stays in English Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The structure pictured above is the Montrose Avenue Railroad Bridge, part of the Bushwick Branch lead tracks of the Long Island Ralroad. The bridge, and adjacent fencelines, are covered in odd graffiti which is in English but drawn with characters that betray a runic influence. The screeds warn of witches and other mythological creatures.

This is what the end of the world looks like, if… like me… the borders of your world are defined and bisected by that lugubrious ribbon of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.


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.


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regions below

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odds and ends today. Whilst walking some folks around the Creek the other day, we found ourselves at the corner of Grand St. and Morgan Avenue, and this atypical MTA bus was observed. The general consensus amongst Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and myself was that it was possibly heading to the racetrack at Aqueduct, hence “Roadeo” and the pictures of the horses, but who the hell knows? There is a “bus Roadeo” event wherein the MTA shows off its historic rolling stock, but that usually happens in the summer. Anybody out there know?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered a fantastic display of illegal dumping on Varick street nearby the National Grid property, which saw shattered window glass spread liberally about the sidewalk. Often opined, illegal dumping in Brooklyn is amateurish. For color, composition, and overall message – come to Queens. Illegal dumping is the native art form of this borough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lastly, spotted this lucky fellow driving a vintage Ford pickup down Metropolitan Avenue nearby the bridge of the same name. He was stuck in a traffic jam, so I didn’t want to bother the driver with queries as to model year and the restoration story.


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.

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 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

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