The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East River’ Category

avian menace

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a single shot today, depicting a series of CSX locomotive engines which were observed hauling a freight train over the Hell Gate bridge recently. Busy today with developing the shots from Halloween in Astoria, which I hope to be able to show you tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm

excite attention

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many reasons, a humble narrator has found himself at Hallets Cove along the Astoria waterfront in recent weeks. Partially, this recent focus was related to a humble narrator being invited to write a guest blog for the NYC Ferry service’s new Astoria stop (check it out here), but didn’t go “super granular” with it in my usual manner. Something I learned while writing my old Brownstoner Queens column was sometimes you need to approach a story, and a more general audience, with a different voice than you normally would (the NYC Ferry is operated by the Hornblower company, under the auspices of the NYC EDC, in case you’re wondering). 

The other reason I’ve been down at Hallets Cove a lot in recent weeks has been to actually use the Ferry to get to and from work, as the MTA has seemingly deduced that nobody in Queens needs to get to and from Manhattan on the weekends. Luckily, my destination for conducting boat tours is Pier 11, which is one of the terminal stops for the ferry, so problem solved.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The kids of Queens never disappoint, as evinced by these phalluses recently scratched into the sand at Hallets Cove. There’s actually a lot of fine detail to appreciate in these, from the spurts to the hairy sacks. Good show.

As a note, I know of just three sandy beaches along the East River, Hallets Cove being one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The future site of a floating “Eco Dock” as my pals from the Waterfront Alliance call it, one has long been fascinated by the muddy flats underlying a discarded pier found at the entrance to the NYCHA Astoria Houses on what is historically known as Lawrence Point, but which has been rechristened as “Astoria Point” by real estate interests and elected officialdom alike.

This sort of marshy area is immensely important to the ecology of the waters surrounding NYC, as my pals from Riverkeeper will tell you, and you don’t see very much of it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a derelict pier overflying those muddy flats, which as mentioned, will be replaced with an eco dock. My understanding is that the pier was installed to support a radio station’s broadcast tower, specifically WLIB, back in 1953. Further, I’m told that the radio station abandoned this location in 1967, and that the structure has been feral ever since.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you haven’t tried out the new ferry service leaving from Astoria yet, I recommend it for nothing other than seeing the sights. The route carries you along the east channel of the East River, which transits between the Ravenswood section of Long Island City and Roosevelt Island. You’ve got some pretty incredible stuff along the route, including both the Roosevelt Island Lift bridge and the amazing Queensboro bridge, and the Big Allis power plant is on display as well.

This particular ferry service makes an amended series of stops as compared to the longer tenanted East River route, stopping first at Roosevelt Island, then the northern ferry stop at Hunters Point, 34th street and then Pier 11/Wall Street in Manhattan. Im personally really looking forward to the upcoming Soundview route, opening in 2018, which will go to the southeastern Bronx – which is the unknown country for one such as myself.

Check the Astoria ferry out, what else have you got to do?


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

doomed intuitions

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It’s National Chocolate Cupcake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Legend has it that on one particular evening Mose the Fireboy, who was the legendary “sachem” and hero of the Bowery B’hoys gang in 19th century NYC, heard that a sea serpent had appeared on the East River. Mose, a giant whose legends are similar to those of the gargantuan lumberjack Paul Bunyan, rowed out onto the river and plucked the leviathan from the water with his bare hands. Strangling the monster in his iron grip, Mose then skinned the great beast and brought his prize to McGurk’s Suicide Parlor – a bar formerly found on the west side of the Bowery, nearby Cooper Square at east 4th street. It’s said that the skin hung over the bar afterwards, as a totem of the mysteries of the harbor and testament to the great strength and power of Mose. Mose supposedly could extinguish blazes by clapping his hands and was known to smoke three cigars at the same time. If his horse wasn’t pulling the fire wagon fast enough, Mose would pick up the horse in one hand and the wagon in the other and carry them. Mose the fireboy was apparently quite a fellow, so much so that he was a regular character appearing in Bowery theater productions centered around “life in our town.”

The largest known specie of eel, incidentally, is the European Conger, which is known to grow to lengths of nearly ten feet and achieve body weights of up to 240 pounds. They’re native to the eastern Atlantic Ocean and tend towards the European coastline. They’re carnivorous, feeding on all sorts of deep sea critters, and have been found at depths of up to 3,840 feet. The American Eel is a relative dwarf in comparison, achieving lengths of up to 4 feet and body weights of up to 17 pounds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The largest living crab, and largest arthropod as well, is the Japanese Spider Crab. Large specimens can spread their clawed arms out to span 18 feet, and they can weigh as much as 42 pounds. Closer to home, the American Lobster (Homarus americanus) is known to achieve weights of 44 pounds and body lengths of two feet – excluding their claws. Both are members of the Malacostraca class of crustaceans, whose ancestors first appear in the fossil record during the Cambrian age. All sorts of large marine animals are spotted in the East River from time to time – including cetaceans like Whales and Dolphins, large bony fish and living fossils like the Sturgeon, and occasionally sea turtles.

The leatherback sea turtle is the largest extant turtle and fourth largest living reptile, and can be found in nearly all of the world’s ocean waters. Leatherbacks can grow to nearly seven feet in length and achieve body weights of up to 2,000 pounds. Sea Turtle ancestry dates back to the Triassic age.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1895, the NY Times offered reports of a sea serpent of more than 100 feet in length moving quickly through New York Harbor about a half mile from shore. According to the testimony of one Willard P. Shaw of Wall Street, it repeatedly raised its head out of the water more than ten feet above the waves. Shaw’s story was confirmed by other witnesses.

This sounds like the sort of thing we would need Mose the Fireboy to handle.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be sloshing and swimming around down there?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 18, 2017 at 1:00 pm

surgical instrumentation

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When a young but already humble narrator was but a boy, he lived in an apartment in southeast Brooklyn with a pair of parents who liked to fight and argue about every little thing. There was always a lot of yelling and screaming, as Mom and Pop would square off about the various issues and challenges facing them. Mom was always the superior tactician in these regular verbal battles. The old man was all about volume and anger, often demonstrating his frustration by putting his fist through a wall, whereas the old lady would go for the emotional jugular and work the guilt angle whenever she could. One of her techniques to wind the old man up would be flipping the subject mid fight, which forced him to suddenly wheel around and defend a previously unexposed flank. She would do this several times in rapid fire, which confused the hell out of Dad or whomever she was arguing with as she didn’t reserve her combative psyche for the household, but instead spread the enmity around to whoever was available in the neighborhood or reachable by telephone. 

Mom was kind of a jerk, and often initiated her wars due to personal insecurity and perceived slights which had little basis in reality. In many ways, she ruined her own life with this sort of behavior, alienating everyone around her – including myself, her sibling, and just about everybody she was related to didn’t want to be anywhere near her at the end. Even after she died, all that my family members could talk about was her constant bickering and invective reasoning, which means that she ultimately won her battle to dominate any and all conversation. We were continuing to argue about and with a dead woman. 

Mom was actually a genius on the arguing front, and she would skillfully obfuscate and steer the conversation and arguments she was engaged in away from whatever the original subject was. Her diversions would drive her opponents into blind fury and annoyed frustration. At the end of her tirades, she’d proclaim herself the victimized party, and then begin a multi day process of shaming and guilt towards her “victimizers.” 

Sound familiar? It’s exactly the sort of technique which the current President of the United States uses. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My Mom and Dad are no longer with us (except as regular voices in my inner dialogue) and the wasted family time, which was squandered in this ridiculous melodrama, weighs heavily upon me. So too does the time we are all wasting as a community discussing and arguing about “he who must not be named, for saying his name gives him power.” What would be expected of an American President after a race riot is a repudiation of the KKK and the white power crowd, but by prevaricating about the subject, the President has made his views and feelings a point of debate amongst both the press and people and is diverting attention away from actual events over to himself. His goal, which is to stand at center stage and have the only conversation be about him, has been achieved. He’s keeping our heads spinning with the bi weekly outrages, and in doing so, he dominates all discourse. Can you actually remember the outrages of February or March, or is your head spinning? Have you punched a wall yet? 

Even I’m talking about him right now, and this is hardly the only thing you’re going to read about him today. His strategy, like my Mom’s, is to keep himself as the central character of a shaped narrative and dramaturge. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – none of the words we use for political subjects have any meaning. In the last election, Hillary Clinton was the actual conservative and “he who must not be named” was not a “reformer.” Bill de Blasio is not a “Progressive,” as he has never once used the mid 20th century political term “Progress” in its proper context. None of these political brand marks mean anything anymore, and they were coined more than a century ago by people who meant something entirely different by them than modern usage. We don’t use Whig or Torie anymore, do we? 

You do have to hand it to the Nazi’s and Race Supremacists however, for evolving and adopting the techniques of “Identity Politics” as pioneered in the 1960’s to rebrand themselves and portray their “movement” as being something other than hooliganism and the “mob mentality” which Alexander Hamilton was so concerned about during his Federalist papers period. That’s pretty clever, and my Mom would likely have been impressed by the sheer ballsiness of it, but she was a cruel person who enjoyed other people’s misfortunes and enjoyed winding them up. 


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.

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 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm

outspread under

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It’s National Watermelon day, in these United States

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A sense of place is one of the things that I always keep in mind when I’m out shooting around Newtown Creek. Without a glimmer of the skyline, in particular a recognizable silhouette like the Empire State Building, it’s impossible to say if you’re looking at NYC or just some post industrial landscape anywhere in the great American rust belt.

Saying all that, you’ve got to be careful about how much of the frame is filled by iconic architecture like Empire State as the people who own the building zealously defend a theoretical copyright on images in which it appears. If the shot above was to appear in an advertisement, for instance, a fee would need to be negotiated with the building’s management for usage of its image. The Empire State Building is like Brad Pitt or Beyoncé.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been thinking about the ownership of reproduction rights over something that you can’t help but have occupy a certain proportion of shots captured whilst out in public. Back when I was a full time advertising retoucher, one of the most ridiculous assignments I received was to remove any and all identifiable “brands” from a series of stock photos. These photos were going to published in a direct mail offering for a large credit card company serviced by the agency, and the client didn’t want to negotiate with the various brand owners for usage. Therefore, one spent a week or so retouching every logo and identifiable brand image out of shots of Times Square, the Ginza strip, and Picadilly Circus.

The results were bizarre, and looked like something from the second act of a zombie movie, but the client was happy and I got paid… so… victory. I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, since I’ve stepped behind the camera over the last decade or so, a point is made to frame my shots in such a manner as to necessitate as little retouching out of logos and brand marks as possible. As I always say to the creative types – check with the retoucher before the shoot if you want to save yourself a bunch of money.


Upcoming Tours and events

We’re cancelling Saturday the 5th’s Insalubrious Valley tour due to a forecast of scattered thunderstorms with lightning expected.

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Saturday August 5th, 11 a.m. – 1;30 p.m.

Century old movable bridges, the remains of a 19th century highway between Brooklyn and Queens, and explore two of the lesser known tributaries of the troubled Newtown Creek watershed. For the vulgarly curious, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil wharf will be seen and described, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Brooklyn Waterfront Boat Tour, with Working Harbor Committee – Saturday August 12th, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Explore the coastline of Brooklyn from Newtown Creek to Sunset Park, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, and Gordon Cooper of Working Harbor Committee on the narrating about Brooklyn’s industrial past and rapidly changing present. details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – Sunday August 13th, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

risible talisman

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It’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th, 1936. That’s the day that the Triborough Bridge was dedicated and opened for business. The favorite child of Robert Moses, this was the epicenter of the master builder’s early empire of highways, bridges, and parks. It’s the main room in the “House of Moses,” and the center of a web of concrete and steel that extends for hundreds of miles in all directions. All of Moses’ many roads ultimately lead to the toll booths at Triborough.

The bridge serves as a backdrop in tens of thousands of family photos found in the Astoria section of Queens, but there’s only a handful of living Astorians still left above the ground who can recall a time before there was a Triborough Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Caro, who wrote the definitive biography of Robert Moses, described the bridge as a “traffic machine.” Caro was being critical (as in the bridge generates and amplifies traffic congestion rather than solving it), of course, but I think Moses (who often opined that without high speed roads, the traffic would still be there but moving along local streets instead) would have had an affinity for the term.

There’s an exceptionally brief and easily digestible history of the Triborough Bridge (more accurately the Triborough Bridges and Highways complex) in this 2006 NY Times piece, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses is famously and rightly associated with the Triborough, but it was Mayor Jimmy Walker who turned the first ceremonial shovel of dirt in Astoria Park on October 25 in 1929.

The bridge was conceived of, designed by, and it’s construction overseen (during most of construction) by the Chief Engineer of the NYC Department of Plant and Structures, Edward A. Byrne (who is coincidentally the fellow who did the Hunters Point Avenue and Borden Avenue Bridges over the Dutch Kill tributary of, and the vanished Vernon Avenue bridge at, Newtown Creek). Byrne became the first Chief Engineer of Moses’ Triborough Bridge Authority in 1933, but a silly political conflict forced him to resign and retire in 1934.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Reliable government source numbers I’ve reviewed, referring back to calendar 2015, inform that the Triborough Bridge hosts about 92,000 vehicle trips a day. That would shake out to something close to 33.6 million vehicle trips per annum.

Maybe “traffic machine” is the right description? 

At any rate, Happy Birthday to Mighty Triborough, from here in Astoria, Queens.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

country seat

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It’s National Turkey Neck Soup Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Racing thoughts, cold sweats, night terrors, or existential anxieties notwithstanding – one is happy to report that the Hell Gate Bridge Centennial has been marked. Last weekend, one attended a walk conducted by the estimable Richard Melnick of Greater Astoria Historical Society celebrating the event. Mr. Melnick was joined by Dave Frieder, a photographer and bridge expert, as well as around fifty enthusiasts. For me, it was nice just to be around people who weren’t chasing or deriding.

Pictured above, a CSX freight train heading eastwards over the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While following our course, the usual grand panoply of sights were encountered along the east river, including the transit of an articulated tug and barge – the Bouchard corporation’s “Evening Star” tug towing a fuel barge… It’s all so depressing, really.

As always, one reminds that whether they’re pulling or pushing, Tugboats are always “towing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate bridge overflies Astoria Park, of course, and one spotted the curious tableau seen above while there.

I’ve been warning all of you about Lovecraftian phenomena occurring in Queens for years, and now at last I can demonstrate the presence of the Shoggoths amongst us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This looked like the kind of fun I would have enjoyed having as a child, in those halcyon days before my soul had been blackened to a crisp by the unrelenting fires of adulthood. Life – it’s become a neutral gray for me nowadays – banal, ashen, joyless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greater Astoria Historic Society has a full calendar of Hell Gate related programming coming up, and this summer the folks who live in “Astoria, Astoria” or plainly Astoria’s north side are planning a few summertime celebrations for Lindenthal’s triumphant arch bridge over the East River.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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