The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Hells Gate’ 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

witchcraft panic

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It’s National Caramel Apple Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rich Melnick is no witch, as far as I know. Instead, Mr. Melnick is instead one of the longstanding leaders of the Greater Astoria Historic Society, a heck of a guy, and last Saturday he performed and presented his “Haunted Waters Tour” along Hells Gate and Hallets Cove here in the ancient village. I hadn’t seen Rich for awhile and since I had my first weekend off in months, decided to tag along. As you can see, Rich pulls a pretty nice crowd. Still, he’s probably not a witch, but if he were that would be ok with me. This is America, after all, and if you want to be a witch, nobody can say “boo” to you. First Ammendment, yo! 

I’ve been on this “Haunted Waters” tour several times, I would mention, and upon my arrival volunteered to act as a second set of tour guide eyes for Mr. Melnick and so I took up a station at the back of the group, sometimes repeating something he had just said for somebody who missed it. While Rich was busy at the front of the group narrating, I helped keep the them from stretching out along multiple blocks, and assisted him with street crossings. Rich didn’t need me of course, but since I was there, why not help out? We’re all one big happy family out here in Western Queens, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One noticed a couple of strange things over the course of the afternoon, while acting as “sweeper” for this tour of Hells Gate, as Rich Melnick explored and described the long history and fairly macabre lore concerning this riverine section of Astoria. He was discussing the odd history of Hells Gate, when I noticed the coppers were doing their thing.

The NYPD Harbor Unit seemed unusually busy for a Saturday afternoon in late October, and were buzzing around the river a bit, moving back and forth under the two bridges that define the former maelstrom of Hellegaat – as the decadent Dutch of New Amsterdam might have called it. 

There are legends about this spot which suggest that the largest intentional explosion in human history – until the advent of the Atomic Age – which the United States Army Corps of Engineers detonated under the river here at Hells Gate in 1885, was only partially in the name of eliminating the navigational dangers presented by the so called “Bright Passage.” These legends say that there was something else down there, something older than Henry Hudson, Adriaen Block, or even the aboriginal civilization of the Lenape (who avoided this spot like the plague). It was a “something” which the Federal Government saw fit to obliterate, as part of a clandestine nationwide campaign initiated after discoveries of certain conditions in a decayed Massachusetts fishing town – shortly after the Civil War – were revealed to the War Department. The Corps did a LOT of explosives work in the waters all around the northeast between the Civil War and the First World War, all supposedly in the name of “navigational improvements.” 

Yeah, right… pffft.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While Mr. Melnick was telling the tragic tale of the General Slocum disaster, a humble narrator decided to climb around a fenceline in pursuance of getting a shot of the two bridges which wasn’t occluded by foliage. Denied my desire, this red brick structure leading off into the river caught my attentions instead.

All sorts of individuals talk to me, it should be mentioned. 

Cops and robbers, ordained priests and devil worshippers, abolitionists and addicts. I know people who – if they say “run,” you do. I also know those whom “run” is followed by sitting down and asking them what’s wrong and inquiring as to whether or not they’re still “on their meds.” A few of the latter and far more numerous grouping – whom I consider to be “a few steps off the beaten track, and more than most” – have reported to me that they’ve seen man like “things” pulling themselves out of the water here in the dead of night. Fish like and unblinking eyes, accompanied by  an unbelievable stink and dripping with riverine slime – those are the commonalities. One or two highly circumspect witnesses describe these fish or frog men as wearing jewelry and tiaras made out of some queer kind of gold. 

Nonsense, say I, hallucinations arrived at by combining cheap liquor with questionable narcotic powders. Still… I wonder, and more than wonder…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walk led by Mr. Melnick continued beyond Shore Road and Astoria Park, towards the sub neighborhood known as Old Astoria Village. While passing by an enormous and out of scale apartment house along the route, I noticed the handiwork of the Queens Cobbler. The single shoe phenomena, left behind by a probable serial killer whom I’ve christened as the “Queens Cobbler,” continues to grow in intensity in the area. 

As a note, Rich Melnick didn’t mention any of this to his group, neither the Nest of the Deep Ones which existed at Hell Gate until 1885 nor the reports of their continued occupancy, or the whole Queens Cobbler thing.

That’s because Rich pretty much sticks to a provable and sane version of reality, unlike me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anyway, that’s what I did last Saturday. Today, of course, is Hallomass, or Halloween if you must.

I’ll be in Astoria tonight, sitting outside with Our Lady of the Pentacle at the neighborhood saloon, giving away candy to kids and asking their parents if I can take photos of their costumery for future presentation 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

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

three divisions

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze ye wicked, and despair, for today’s solar eclipse heralds a new dark age! when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is occluded by the heathen Moon… well… let’s just say things are going to be getting pretty metal this afternoon. My understanding is that you’ll start seeing it go dark around 1:20 p.m., with the eclipse peaking at precisely 2:44 p.m. and the whole thing is meant to be over and done with by 4 p.m. That’s a two hour and forty minute window during which the dead might rise, Satan’s abominable court will hold authority upon the Earth, and an interval during which cats and dogs will live together peaceably will occur.

The lords and ladies pictured above have warned us, and they did it on Steinway Street no less. That’s democratizing the “word,” I tell ya. Repent, for the time of tribulation is nigh! Nigh I tell you, nigh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few people asked me where I’d be photographing the eclipse from, and they shuddered at my answer that I’ll be hunkered down and deep underground in the bunker we set up for the Mayan Apocalypse a few years ago.

So many unlikely things have occurred this year… the odds of there being a triffid swarm clacking down the LIE in search of prey blinded by staring into the sun, or the dead rising at Calvary… the mind boggles at the possibilities. My biggest worry actually revolves around the holy rollers, whose emergent flat earth proselytizing and general supranormal belief system might be threatened by the celestial display, losing their collective minds and starting a riot.

I don’t need no eclipse glasses, yo. I’ve got my tin foil hat to protect my delicate eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I do live in a neighborhood which has a “hells gate” after all, here in Astoria, Queens. That’s why I’ll be in the bunker.

Tribulation!


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

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

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

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.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

flaming thing

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It’s Tag des Deutschen Apfels (German Apples) day in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bright passage, it’s a not unlikely spot to find a group of cultists dropping a bizarre golden diadem into the water hoping to contact those who might lie below the seething waters. Hells Gate, with its bizarre and blasted subterrene topography, cannot possibly host a race of non human intelligences, can it? That would be crazy.

I mean, is this Queens or Innsmouth?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of alien intelligences with unintelligible plans for the future, the DEP’s MV Red Hook sludge boat slid through the bright passage while one was contemplating what sort of life might inhabit the craggy bottom. Between the strong cross currents of the tide, all the endemic pollution… it boggles.

It’s almost as if the area is being terra formed for a different and quite alien species.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was pleased that a concurrence of maritime and locomotive subject matter occurred as Amtrak’s Acella came rolling by on the Hell Gate bridge at the same time as Buchanan 1 tug slid through the Hells Gate narrows of the East River. When I left the house this day, I rued not having the time to visit Staten Island and the Kill Van Kull – my original intention for the afternoon. What with the sun setting in the late afternoon, it’s kind of difficult to complete that journey from Point A in Astoria while the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is still hanging in the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to worrying about the ones who cannot possibly exist in the deepest waters of Hells Gate, and their land dwelling acolytes who surreptitiously accompanied the wholesome Hellenes during their 1970’s migration to Astoria, did a humble narrator’s thoughts turn.

There are too many individual and quite minor clues to mention which lend credence to the theory of their presence – odd smells and sounds, brief flashes of unrecognizable shapes seen when walking past closing doors, the popularity of Bosnian cuisine, bizarre chanting. This is an entirely different “thing” than the occluded witch cult operating out of St. Michael’s cemetery, incidentally, but perhaps I’ve already said too much.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sound of chitinous scratching on my second floor garret window will no doubt resume after this posting, and the whispered calls to leave this life behind and to either go into the water or dance with the night ghouls of Nephren Ka across the rooftops and tombstones of western Queens will no doubt follow.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there, beneath the waters of the Bright Passage?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

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

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