The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘English Kills’ Category

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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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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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

adjacent buildings

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It’s National “Eat A Peach” Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, the world didn’t end yesterday – again – and Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself dragged our elderly dog Zuzu all the way down to the sub basements of our bunker in Astoria for nothing. Now, I’ve got an angry old dog. According to the weather reports, today is going to be fairly horrible as far as heat and humidity, but the heat should be breaking just in time for me to conduct a walking tour of DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) on Thursday for the NYCH20 outfit (link below, come with?). I’m doing another walking tour on Saturday with the Atlas Obscura folks, this time it’s LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Pictured above is the 4 train entering the 59th/Lex subway complex, which has nothing to do with eclipses or Newtown Creek, I just like the shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having come of age and attainment of cognizant knowledge of a world outside my parents and family during the 1970’s and 80’s, I was fairly certain that the world would end in my lifetime. Back then, the scenarios by which things would go “ass over tits” involved either a thermonuclear war with the Soviets or Red Chinese, or via the arrival of a new ice age which was meant to arrive concurrently with a floating hole in the atmospheric ozone layer that would allow beams of cosmic radiation to microwave the surface of the planet. Both events were meant to be caused by the propellants commonly used in aerosol cans at the time, known as “CFC’s.” I’ll never forget that night when I got home from work and threw on the family television to see the Berlin Wall coming down, and the realization that at least one of the doomsday scenarios I had grown up with had become highly unlikely. Simpler times, huh?

Other versions of the apocalypse were then developed, and their storylines propagated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Doom, gloom, and the impending destruction of the American way of life are critical tools for the powers that be. Bread and circuses were the levers that the Romans pulled, here in North America it’s ginned up barbarian hordes and the threat of creeping moral degeneracy which drives the crowd. Remember the plots being prepared by Hassan Al Majood in 2007? How about the terror network of Mohammed Bin Tikriti in 2003? You shouldn’t, as I just made those up, but for a second there they kind of blended in with the rest of the national narrative, didn’t they?

Don’t think about international trade, wage stagnation, provable global climate change, or any of the host of truly existential issues facing our civilization. The world is going to end in tribulation and end time prophecy, so go get yours before somebody else claims it all. Consumers are meant to consume.


Upcoming Tours and events

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

dull acquiescence

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It’s National Candied Orange Peel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week was quite a busy one, with the new K bridge opening and the Governor coming to Newtown Creek, and then riding over the thing with the NY Times and all, but my fun didn’t end there. After the green cab ride with Emma G. Fitzsimmons, the NY Times transit reporter who wrote the article, one found himself in Williamsburg where I got to observe the insane amount of traffic typical of the Metropolitan Avenue corridor. I had to get to Maspeth to meet up with Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and a couple of other friends, who had asked me to conduct a Newtown Creek walk for them. I had a full day of scuttling in front of me, so I wanted to conserve my energy.

Luckily, the Q54 bus replicates the route of an old trolley line which connected Williamsburg to Maspeth, so I whipped out my Metrocard and headed for the Clinton or Goodfellas diner. Traffic was horrible all the way there, and I ended up being about a half hour late for the endeavor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walk I took the small group on was a “half Creekathon” which proceeded eastwards from industrial Maspeth through Bushwick and Ridegwood and then west towards Greenpoint. As this was the first truly warm day of the year (and quite humid) our stamina was challenged and we didn’t quite make it all the way, but the roughly five mile walk around the Newtown Creek was – as always – fascinating. The view above is from mid span on the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Slouching roughly across a footbridge that spans the Bushwick Branch lead track of the LIRR, we crossed the Brooklyn Queens border and entered into industrial Bushwick. This is an area undergoing tremendous amounts of transformation, but it’s still quite horrible, thankfully.

Waste Transfer stations, heavy trucking, the most heavily polluted section of Newtown Creek, visiting the destination for about a third of NYC’s putrescent trash… ahhh… home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch, we spotted this double engine setup crossing Varick Street from the Waste Management facility which processes and handles the trash which will fill up the garbage train. Those green box cars on the left are the containers for the stuff, and it was a bit surprising seeing a bright blue GATX unit back here – normally it’s the black and emerald color way of the NY & Atlantic company you see.


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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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hapless youth

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English Kills cat, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m taking a short break this week, and offering single images of the Internet’s favorite critter. These are all ferals, encountered in the nooks and crannies of NYC which I wander through. Have a great Thanksgiving.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

tradition emphasizes

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Creek week continues, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in yesterday’s post, a different perspective on the Creek is offered today. For the last few days, we’ve been on the DEP property in Greenpoint, and a birds eye perpective on DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – was offered. In today’s post, the POV is from onboard a NY Water Taxi, and it’s the English Kills Tributary of the larger Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, as seen from the turning basin adjoining it, looking east towards Bushwick and East Williamsburg. I call this spot DUMABO – Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. In colonial times, this was traditionally the demarcation point between fresh and brackish water on the Creek, but back then English Kills was fed by dozens of upland streams and springs. The water bubbling up out of the earth up on the hills of Ridgewood and Bushwick are part of what drew the Germans out here, and a lot of them – like the Ulmers – were involved in the beer business.

The beer guys, who do the holy work of delivering sacrament to bars and bodegas, are still in the area but there’s mainly micro brew hipster stuff going on these days and it’s fed by the DEP’s croton water system rather than ground water. The big guys like Budweiser – pictured above – ship their product in from elsewhere. There’s a pretty big beer distributor nearby on Grand Street, whose warehouse backs up on English Kills, and that Bud Light truck is likely heading there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also on Brooklyn’s Grand Street is the former Charles J. King recycling company, which seems to have recently changed ownership. Luckily, the new owners continue to exploit their maritime bulkheads to ship their product out of the area, rather than truck it out. The sections of Brooklyn and Queens surrounding the eastern sector of the Newtown Creek have some of the highest concentrations of heavy truck traffic in the entire City of New York.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the NYC DOT’s Grand Street swing bridge in the shot above, a 1909 relic of the days when Tammany Hall came to Newtown Creek shortly after the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898. It’s the titular ornamentation signifying the positioning of the currently undefended legal border of Brooklyn and Queens. On the Queens side of the bridge, Grand Street becomes Grand Avenue, which travels through Maspeth and several other communities. Despite a few interruptions in its path introduced by Robert Moses, Grand Avenue eventually enters Astoria and becomes 30th avenue which heads all the way down to the East River near Halletts Cove.

Of course – on the Brooklyn side – Grand Street more or less connects to the East River in Williamsburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Brooklyn side concrete company pictured above, called Empire Transit Mix, is sited on what was once called Furman Island. There used to be two islands found in the neighborhood of Maspeth Avenue, with the smaller one known as Mussel Island. Mussel was dredged away in the WW1 era, and its spoils were used to connect Furman Island to Brooklyn. This netted Brooklyn a bit of additional land mass and supposedly increased its legislative delegations by one seat.

Furman Island is the former home of Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Martin Kalbfleisch’s Acid and Chemical works, and Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal dock.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The area where the Newtown Creek widens out is referred to as “the Turning Basin” and it’s where you’ll find the National Grid company’s LNG facility, which sits on a former Manufactured Gas Plant which was operated by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. There’s a lake of coal tar under the National Grid property, and a wall of the stuff clinging to their property in the water.

As a note, I have made multiple attempts to formally visit the National Grid site, using institutional means. Polity and smarmy conviviality have been met with a brick wall of denial of entry. Every attempt to learn what goes on there has been met with obfuscation and a cry of “Homeland Security.” It’s a “no cameras” zone, National Grid says. It’s a “Marsec 1” zone, National Grid says.

It’s visible from above, via the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and from the water, and from the street sides – say I. I’ve got long zoom lenses, as well. I’ve also got access to documentation on the place via the environmental review process, State DEC oversight, and the Superfund investigations.

One wonders what they’re hiding back in there. I’ll find out over the course of time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, at the western end of the turning basin, you’ll find the 1939 span and the replacement span which the State DOT is currently working on.

These shots were captured just last week while onboard a pair of sold out Open House NY tours of the Newtown Creek which I conducted with my colleague T. Willis Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. My practice on these tours is to narrate the excursion – discussing the past – in from the East River to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, then hand the microphone over to Willis – who discusses the future.

While he’s talking, one grabs the camera and gets busy.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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