The Newtown Pentacle

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great bridge

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It’s both National Crabmeat Day, and National Meatball day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy official anniversary of the first train crossing of the Hell Gate Bridge! Personally, I’m going to attend the celebratory soirée at Greater Astoria Historic Society tonight, where Dave “the Bridgeman” Frieder is going to be talking. Dave Freider is a photographer and historian who probably knows more about this subject than anyone else alive, and he was featured in a recent NY Times article on the subject as well.

I’ve been talking about the Hell Gate bridge since Newtown Pentacle started. This recent post, commemorating the day on which the steel of the bridge was finished, for instance. As an aside, here’s a post on it’s neighbor to the south, the Triborough Bridge, and one of the many where a humble narrator described ships and other vessels passing beneath it. There’s that time I spotted an experimental combat vessel at Hells Gate, described here. The esoteric history of Hells Gate was discussed in this 2010 post, and the largest explosion in human history prior to the atomic era as well as why its called “Hells Gate” was offered way back in this 2009 post, and in this one as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually because of all the rattling on I’ve done over the years about Hell Gate that the decision to largely shut up and let you look at the pictures is offered today. Of course, since I’m a “Chatty Cathy,” that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fill the dead air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mose the fireboy is said to have strangled a sea serpent to death at Hell Gate in the early 19th century, a creature whose skin was draped over the bar at McGurk’s Suicide Palace during the legendary era of the Bowery B’hoys.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate Bridge is federal property, specifically Amtrak, who acquired it out of the (then) largest bankruptcy in American history. It was the Pennsylvania railroad that built the thing, which eventually merged with their arch rivals at New York Central Railroad. The combined company, Penn Central Transportation Company (and its assets like Hell Gate), also collapsed into bankruptcy (in 1970) and were federalized by Richard Nixon into Amtrak and Conrail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge is pretty much the only way off of a Long Island and onto the continent for freight rail. There’s a second and quite smaller structure called Little Hell Gate which isn’t not too far away, and that span carries rail traffic into the Bronx and from there all points north and west. On the other side of this connected track system, which is called the New York Connecting Railroad, is the Sunnyside Yard. That’s where the passenger links are, which lead to the east river tunnels, Penn Station, and the Hudson River tunnels.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hell Gate Bridge hurtles over Astoria Park, and fills the background of much of it. It’s a rite of passage for the “utes” of Astoria to find their way up to the tracks, I’m told, and there’s a legend they propagate that there’s a phantom train which emerges along the unused fourth trackway to chase and claim the unwary.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The arches of the NY Connecting Railroad continue eastwards, and as they do, begin to intersect with residential properties. There are dozens of homes in which the back yard plots include geometries formed by these cylcopean structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Astoria legend also describes a homeless serial killer of children who once lurked within the bridge’s Queens side tower. As the story goes, there’s a room in there where photos of the killer’s young victims are displayed. The 114th pct will deny that such a person ever existed, but will mention the occasional “ultra violence” that happens around the bridge – like the homeless man who had his skull crushed here a couple years back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The New York Connecting Railroad tracks continue on through Astoria, heading eastwards toward the edge of Woodside and then crossing Northern Blvd. Local community organizations sponsor the creation of murals on the street facing sections.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After 31st street, there is naked steel again, with the massive concrete structures giving way to columns and posts. There is still quite a bit of collossal concrete arch and balustrade along the route, of course.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s such a part of the Astoria landscape that seldom is it commented upon, the passing of the railroad.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happy birthday, Hell Gate Bridge. I’ll be thinking of you at Greater Astoria Historic Society’s “do” tonight.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

auto hypnosis

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It’s National Patty Melt Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Y’know, after all this time, it feels like certain sections of my particular oeuvre are running a bit dry. I mean, how much more can I possibly say about First Calvary Cemetery at this point in time. Of course, that’s the way it “feels,” not the way it actually is. Accordingly, I revisit my search parameters periodically and see if anything new has popped up. To wit – this 2016 link from the NY Post.

I say it all the time, you never know what you’re going to find in Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot offer you any tales of goblins or phantoms harassing the 1933 vintage Court Square IND station, I just kind of like the shot offered above. I can tell you the place does seem pretty haunted, sometimes, but I know what lurks some fifty stories or so above this spot – in the cupola of the sapphire megalith of LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A shot in the dark, literally, I found a hole in a fence that my camera could rest in for the shot above and pulled off a near total darkness handheld thingamabob. That’s Bushwick Inlet at the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, for the curious. There’s a WHOLE lot going on at the moment, which I’ll be discussing later in the week, so forgive my brevity.

The battle of Queens, I’m afraid to say, is finally afoot.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

open window

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It’s National Police Day in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing a wintry night time walk to Brooklyn, one prepared to surmount the Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek. As you’d imagine, one spends quite a bit of his time walking back and forth over this crossing. Not only does the bridge rise to a fairly high altitude which allows for spectacular views of Newtown Creek, East River, and the skyline of the Shining City of Manhattan – the Pulaski Bridge walk is actually pretty good cardio.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mentioned in yesterday’s post was the fact that I was employing my “night kit” lenses. Longtime and frequent commenter Georgtheatheist inquired as to the specifics of my kit, and wondered why I carried both the Sigma 50-100mm f 1.8 and a Canon 50mm f 1.8, given that they replicate each other’s range. Accordingly, I’m “lifting the hood” on today’s post, and talking a little bit about how the engine runs here at your Newtown Pentacle.

Short answer is this – the Sigma lens is BIG, and incredibly heavy. Being a large lens, it gathers a lot of attention to itself, which can be problematic when encountering baser members of the street population – that’s part of it. The other is purely ergonomic – as mentioned above it’s quite heavy, and gets in the way when I’m walking along at my usual brisk pace. George asked why I don’t just use an “extender” on the 50mm prime lens, and part of the answer is that I’d have to sacrifice some of the light gathering wide apertures of the lens if I did. The other is that I’ve timed myself and I can do a lens swap, from in the bag to triggering the shutter, in around 15-20 seconds.

There’s also a difference in the esthetic quality and rendering of the shots, as captured by the individual pieces of glass. The first shot in today’s post was captured using the aforementioned 50-100, while the one above was gathered using a wider angle Sigma lens – the 18-35 f 1.8. The one below is from the Canon 50mm. There are minor differences in exposure times on them, but shots 2 & 3 are within 1/75th of a second of each other, with identical ISO sensitivity and aperture. Just because two lenses have the same specifications doesn’t mean that the shots gathered with them look the same.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole point of what I’ve been working on for a while now is to capture a reasonable amount of image fidelity and quality in low light situations without using camera supports like a tripod. These are all hand held shots, gathered in the same manner which I would employ when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is bobbing around in the vault of the sky.

That “manner” is basically me walking along and saying “wow, look at that.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where things get weird with this whole night shooting business is in an area described as “color temperature.” The new LED luminaire heads that NYC DOT has been installing around NYC throw off a bluish light that’s officially “4300 Kelvin” but which the camera will render as orange if you set it to that. In Canon camera world, that 4300K is best reset to about 3100K. If you’re in an area which has a monotypical series of these LED’s, the developing scenario is simple.

It’s when you see the old school sodium lamps on the same street as the LED’s that things go “ass over tits.” Check out the blue LED light meeting the orange sodium lamps in Greenpoint’s DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A digital image is composed of three “plates” which mix and form a color image. RGB as the color space is known, the Red and Green plates are supplying most of the color information to the image above, and the Blue is where the shadows are being formed. Because of the orange sodium light mixing with the “Pulaski Red” paint color of the bridge, when this image came off my camera card it was practically flourescent.

A problem inherent with high ISO images, this one is 6400, is image noise. It’s produced by the sensor itself during the gathering process, and most of it manifests on the red and green plates. Finding the right balance between color temperature at the time of capture versus the time of developing the digital negative – or RAW format – file is important. Beyond the technical stuff, it’s also important to remember what the subject actually looked like while you were shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting a NYC DOT truck parked under the Pulaski, was a difficult one. It’s a yellow truck, bathed in orange sodium light, with blue LED street lights peeking in from behind the fences. The original RAW file was basically a study in orange and black. The color temperature was adjusted down, as was saturation and half a dozen other developing options.

Back tomorrow with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

abominations and blasphemies

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Fight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the Newtown Creek. Currently an EPA Superfund site. Is it going to be one for long? Will there be an EPA this time next year? Would this be a good place, instead, to site a black and gold casino? I’ve been considering the Trump victory, and its implications. I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff written by people like myself, who thought the Presidential Election would be a logical slam dunk in favor of the more qualified candidate. All of us “lefties” have had to admit that we were wrong in our assumptions that our fellow Americans would actually vote in their own economic and cultural interest.

C’Est la Vie. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early thoughts on the “new normal” involve trying to take advantage of it, which is the American Way. Should Mr. Trump make good on his promise to build a wall across the narrow part of the North American Continent, rebar and Portland Cement futures look like they’ll be a promising investment. Also, I’m planning on finding out who the leading players in immigration law are, and whether or not they are publicly traded companies.

It’s the EPA thing that we’re all talking about on the Creek, I would mention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s going to be a very interesting few years, I think.

Mainly, because the Republican Congress is likely going to eat the new President for lunch. Those are shark infested waters down in the District. Let’s face it though, all that Donald Trump actually wants to do stand in front of the cameras while cutting the ribbon on all the “bridges to nowhere” and crony projects they’re going to be building.

The game just continues. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, and as I’ve often opined – National Politics is way above my pay grade. I’ve got other, more decidedly local problems to worry about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a Newtown Creek vacation for the last month, and it’s time for me to get back on the job.


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civic spirit

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Happy Centennial, Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hundred years ago today, the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge was finished. It had been ongoing since 1912, and it was a bit of a contemporaneous construction miracle – as far as the details of how the Pennsylvania Railroad engineers (specifically Gustav Lindenthal) managed to build the span out from both shorelines simultaneously – and to have the completed sections precisely join (with a 5/16th of an inch tolerance) over the Hells Gate section of the East River between Astoria and Randall’s Ward’s Island. It was “officially” dedicated and opened to rail traffic on the March 1st March 9th of 1917. The first commercial usage of the bridge began on April 1st of 1917, when a Washington to Boston passenger train crossed it. These days it’s owned by Amtrak. (strike throughs indicate corrections offered by my pal Dave Frieder, the “Bridge Man,” who is going to be presenting his vast knowledge on the subject at a lecture at the Greater Astoria Historic Society next Monday night).

For a piece on the bridge that I wrote for my old Brownstoner Queens column back in 2013 – click here. For another Brownstoner Queens column that discusses the Hells Gate section the East River – click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate is as iconic to Astoria, Queens as is a plate of spanokopita.

Lots of local businesses, even the Greater Astoria Historic Society, use images of the bridge on branded clothing items like t-shirts and hats and there’s an assortment of local businesses that incorporate “Hell Gate” into their name.

Virtually no one talks about Mighty Triborough as being our icon, incidentally. There’s ancestral memory in Astoria that remembers Robert Moses carving the Grand Central through the neighborhood, which left a bitter taste.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s a rail bridge, Hell Gate. Most of the traffic you see using it is passenger service run by Amtrak, but occasionally CSX or another freight carrier transits from Queens to the Bronx via Hell Gate. The bridge plugs into the Long Island rail network via the New York Connecting Railway, which extends to the Sunnyside Yards (where you can switch into the LIRR system) and uses the East River tunnels to travel into Manhattan – and by extension travel under the Hudson and into New Jersey and the rail network of the entire country. This bridge, and those tunnels, are Long Island’s only rail link to the continent.

That’s it, other than floating rail cars around on barges, but that’s a whole other banana.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Astoria locals, as in the folks who are in the “born and raised” crowd hereabouts, have all sorts of spooky adolescent legends about the Hell Gate Bridge. There was supposed to have been a child killer living in the tower on the Astoria Park side… there’s a demon train which will appear if you dare to climb the bridge to its deck… there’s a lot of Astoria stories out there.

I’m told that climbing Hell Gate is a rite of passage for teenage boys hereabout, and observable graffiti up on the deck seems to back that up. There’s meant to be four tracks up there, but I’m told that one of them is all but abandoned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a local committee that’s sprung up to celebrate the Bridge centennial, but so far there’s only been a couple of meetings and not too much has emerged from attending them. Nice people though. Anywhere else is the United States, or even in NYC, the centennial of a major bridge like this would be met with parades, and fanfare, and school kids would be taught about the days when Americans were still capable of doing great things… but… this is Queens…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’m regretting the inclement weather today as I wanted to to go visit the old girl on her de facto birthday.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.
 TOUR CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER. 


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 30, 2016 at 11:30 am

never cease

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Out on the water with the Working Harbor Committee, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion was billed as presenting “Brooklyn waterfront, past and present” and I was on the microphone for a good stretch of the trip. I was sharing the narration duty with my pal, Capt. Margaret Flanagan of the Waterfont Alliance organization, who I told point blank before the trip started that once the boat got past Red Hook “I got nothing.” Not a problem for Capt. Flanagan at all, as her able narration and vast knowledge of all things NY Harbor allowed me to slip away from the proverbial pulpit and shoot a few photos.

One bad thing about being one of the tour leaders for these excursions is that it has really cut into the amount of time I have to shoot, and since I’m Working Harbor’s official photographer – this has created a shortage of photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A full harvest moon rose while we were out, and the shot above was captured while our vessel – a NY Waterways ferry – was plying the rippling surface of Gowanus Bay in South Brooklyn. As is often opined, the best times of year in NYC for photography are in the late spring and early fall, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself in relation to the City is quite efficacious. Obviously, these shots were captured at sunset and dusk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a tremendous desire to just get out on a boat and shoot for hours and hours during these intervals, and record the glorious parade of maritime industrial splendor out on the sixth borough. I took the East River Ferry to Manhattan’s Pier 11 from LIC to meet the Working Harbor chartered vessel in the City, but since the ER Ferry service concludes its schedule in the early evening, one was forced to enter the sweating concrete bunkers of the Subway system to get back to almond eyed Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 59th street, one encountered this fellow, who seemed intent on blowing his own horn.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

stark madness

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so… I’m on the East River last Thursday…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A “travlin man,” your humble narrator had some business to attend to in Greenpoint last Thursday which was meant to be followed by helping out on a Working Harbor Committee excursion in the evening. The WHC trip was leaving from Lower Manhattan’s Pier 11, so the logical path was to catch the East River Ferry from Brooklyn to the City. While onboard, I spotted something fairly curious.

Is that the nose of a submarine being towed on a barge?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tug doing the towing was the GT Lyman. As is usually the case, tugboatinformation.com has everything you’d want to know about the Lyman on display at their site. To sum up – she was built in 1968, is owned and operated by Delaware’s Gateway Towing, and can normally be found in the waters around Philadelphia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What Lyman was towing looks very much – to me at least – to be the front section of a submarine. Maybe I’m being crazy here, but there’s a conning tower and… that’s a submarine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now, I’ve taken lots of shots around NY Harbor but I’ve never taken a photo of a submarine before.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Actually, I probably have, but pictured above is what you’d normally get in a shot of a submarine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was kind of hoping that the Lyman was going to execute a turn into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but it continued heading north along the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

File this post under “You don’t see that every day.”

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

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