The Newtown Pentacle

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threadbare accoutrement

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Yet another bit of meeting reportage, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator seems to be on a lot of “steering committees” these days. I’ve long been associated with Newtown Creek Alliance, although we don’t have a steering committee, and contrary to what many believe – I’m not a board member. I’m the official photographer for, and steering committee member of the Working Harbor Committee. Recently, I joined the steering committee of Access Queens. I’m also a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek CAG (Community Advisory Group) for the Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek.

The CAG has a series of steering committee only meetings that occur somewhat frequently, where we review and comment on various bits of policy and announcements from the EPA and the Potentially Responsible Parties who are tasked with the scientific analysis and eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek. There’s business people, community activists, policy makers, and representatives from Riverkeeper on the Steering Committee. There’s also a gaggle of Newtown Creek Alliance people on there as well, but given our overwhelming familiarity with the situation that’s sort of a natural fit. A “general” CAG meeting occurs less frequently, but that’s going to change as we get closer to the next phase of the Superfund process, which will discuss the solution to 150 years of environmental degradation based on a nearly decade long scientific survey. General meetings are open to the public if you’re curious, click the link above to find out when the next one is scheduled. If you want to join the CAG, we have a technical advisor who can guide you through the process (which is mainly writing down your name and email in a legible manner).

A recent Community Advisory Group meeting, which was open to the full membership of the CAG (not just the steering committee) occurred at LaGuardia Community College last month on the 22nd of March.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint’s Mike Schade, who has been operating as the Co Chair of the CAG, stepped down and we voted my colleague from NCA – Will Elkins – to pick up the mantle as co chair and run with it. The other CAG co chair is Ryan Kuonen, who is chair of Greenpoint’s community board’s environmental committee.

The NYC DEP, which is one of the “potentially responsible parties” along with ExxonMobil, National Grid, Phelps Dodge, and a couple of smaller corporate players like BP and Amoco, offered a presentation to the assembly explaining the concept of “ebulition” to us. Ebulition is essentially the release of droplets or blobs of contaminants from the sediment bed up to the surface of the water, and it’s commonly observed in Newtown Creek. They showed some video of coal tar bubbling up in front of the National Grid bulkheads, which was meant to be an “a ha” moment. To the initiated, however, it’s no secret that there’s 30-40 feet of coal tar and petroleum derivates in the sediments. That’s what brought EPA to Newtown Creek in the first place. Problem is that the ugly leave behinds of industry are intermingled with human waste, which is what the DEP supplies.

Long have I used the term “Black Mayonnaise.”

Prepared by their environmental contractor, Louis Berger, the logic DEP offers in their ebultion argument is that since they aren’t responsible for the presence of petroleum or coal tar in the Creek, and that since the chemical footprint of what comes out of their “combined sewer outfalls” or “CSO’s” isn’t specifically named in the Federal CERCLA – or Superfund – legislation – the community shouldn’t be overly concerned by the raw sewage they pump into the waterway every time it rains. The presentation was offered by Dr. Eileen Mahoney, who is DEP’s Superfund manager, and Dr. Ed Garvey of Louis Berger.

Dr. Mahoney and I, it should be mentioned, aren’t exactly in love with each other and she spent most of her time menacingly glaring at me while speaking, waiting for me to speak up and challenge her assertions. She didn’t realize that my colleague Laura Hoffman was in the room, and the “Mother of Greenpoint” didn’t take kindly to DEP saying that the release of raw sewage into Newtown Creek isn’t a problem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek community advisory group is actually one of the best organizations to pay attention to at the moment, superfund wise. Everybody in the room is under some sort of Federal level jurisdiction, PRP wise, and therefore the fibbing is generally kept to a minimum. Even the DEP won’t out and out lie to the Feds, as there would be hell to pay. Another thing I’ve been saying for years about the Superfund is that the most interesting parts of the story will be about NYC’s vertical silos of power slamming into the Feds. Immovable object, meet the irresistible force.

I managed to convince some of my friends from LIC and Sunnyside to come to the meeting, and get the activist community of Newtown Creek’s northern shore to begin to engage in the process by joining the CAG. There’s a perception in Queens that Newtown Creek is Brooklyn’s, and particularly Greenpoint’s, problem.

I’ve long argued that this is most definitely not the case, and I’m glad to see that others are beginning to realize it too.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

April 16th, Obscura Day 2016
“Creek to Creek Industrial Greenpoint Walking Tour” with Mitch Waxman and Geoff Cobb.
Join Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and Greenpoint historian and author Geoff Cobb for a three-hour exploration of the coastline of Greenpoint. Click here for more info and ticketing.

dogged patience

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Sector one, one, one, zero, one.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An area which most refer to as Long Island City has been assigned the postal zip code of 11101. That translates from the binary to the decimal as the number 29.

Oddly enough, that’s the average number of days it takes earth’s moon to complete its cycle (actually 29.530589 days) and roughly the number of earth years it takes the planet Saturn to orbit the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself.

In the I’Ching, the number 29 is referred to as K’an / The Abysmal.


In man’s world K’an represents the heart, the soul locked up within the body, the principle of light inclosed in the dark— that is, reason. The name of the hexagram, because the trigram is doubled, has the additional meaning,
“repetition of danger.” Thus the hexagram is intended to designate an objective situation to which one must become accustomed, not a subjective attitude. For danger due to a subjective attitude means either foolhardiness or guile. Hence too a ravine is used to symbolize danger; it is a situation in which a man is in the same pass as the water in a ravine, and, like the water, he can escape if he behaves correctly

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The zip code of any community is somewhat arbitrary, the Post Office basically started the numeration of postal zones up in Massachusetts and worked their way down the East Coast and then moved west. The Zip Code system was introduced in 1963, and the way it works is that the first three digits describe a Sectional Center Facility (Mail Sorting Center) which handles a particular region. The last two digits are a bit more specific, referring mail sorters to a group of delivery addresses within a particular city or region. Midtown Manhattan, for instance is in 10001, which translates to 17 in binary. LIC’s 11101 indicates SCF 111, delivery area 01, and again- translates as 29 in binary.

Element 29 is Copper.

from wikipedia

Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (from Latin: cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; a freshly exposed surface has a reddish-orange color. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, a building material, and a constituent of various metal alloys.

The metal and its alloys have been used for thousands of years. In the Roman era, copper was principally mined on Cyprus, hence the origin of the name of the metal as сyprium (metal of Cyprus), later shortened to сuprum. Its compounds are commonly encountered as copper(II) salts, which often impart blue or green colors to minerals such as azurite and turquoise and have been widely used historically as pigments. Architectural structures built with copper corrode to give green verdigris (or patina).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Occultists believe in the symbolic power of numbers, although I believe this to be “twonk”, as my English father in law would say. Perhaps my prejudice against the viewpoint stems from a basic inability to perform simple mathematics accurately. I had the Chicken Pox in second grade when they taught long division and have never been able to catch up since. Cursory research on the way that those who ascribe to the occult worldview indicates that 29 is an ill omen, and associated with unlikely conspiracy theories centering around unholy bargains which the Rothschild and Rockefeller families are said to have entered into with extraterrestrials.

The number 29 has always terrified me personally, however, as it indicates that the rent is soon due.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

Kill Van Kull Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle


– photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be, Queens, the 22blog,, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

– photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

darkly hidden

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in the recent posting “Obscure World“, the location of Conrad Wissel’s notorious “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharf” has been finally nailed down and confirmed by contmeporaneous maps and photographs. A lot of people ask me where I find my information about the oft occluded history of the Newtown Creek, and are surprised when informed about my methodology.

Basically, it all boils down to this- I’ll notice something hidden in plain sight while wandering around, take photos of it, and start researching when back at HQ. There’s a whole list of mysteries in my “to do” pile, and often the answer to what they were is presented while searching for something else entirely. It’s how the whole “missing Lamp Post of the Queensboro bridge thing” got started. Accordingly, whenever accusations of pursuing some political agenda are leveled at this- your Newtown Pentacle- great amusement ensues.

The utterly forgotten headquarters of the General Electric Vehicle Company of Long Island City, which had been staring me in the face for years, revealed itself in this manner. Easy to miss the third largest factory building in Queens, I guess, even if its painted with bright yellow and green stripes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As detailed in the posting “uncommented masonry“, one was merely poking around for some information about the “Blissville Banshee“.

A supernatural phenomena, the Banshee was reported on in 1884 by the NY Times (she was described as red haired, blue eyed, and screaming “Oh Ho” like … well… a banshee), and was an obvious jab at the largely Irish and Catholic population of Blissville by Manhattan’s patrician “Nativists”. Racial or ethnic prejudice is commonly encountered in journalism of that era, and quite unsurprising to those familiar with reportage of the period. In the 1880’s, “politically correct” meant not shooting someone on sight.

What emerged about the structure above, however, was that in 1915- a quarter of the 40,000 or so trucks then plying the streets of New York City were electric (and participated in a rail based battery exchange program). Most of them were manufactured in Long Island City within the building pictured above, by the General Electric Vehicle Company.

This is my favorite sort of posting, a product of serendipity and pure discovery.

Which brings me to the Tammany men, and why there very well might be a horse buried in Calvary Cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Abbot” from January of 2010, described a chance sighting of a curious obelisk in Queens’s Calvary Cemetery.

By the time that I was done with this post, I had found the young J.J. Scannell and Richard Croker sitting out a sentence in Manhattan’s “Tombs”. Quite a propitious meeting- in retrospect, one with far reaching consequence.

These two men would rise to the top of Tammany Hall one day, preside over the consolidation of the City of Greater New York from the shadowed world of the “smoke filled room”, and grow filthy rich on a buttery diet of political corruption.

Think Boss Tweed was something? In that case, you’ve never heard of Scannell and Croker.

All this because I enjoy strolling through Calvary in the afternoon while the Dropkick Murphys are playing on my headphones.

incidentally, something recently discovered (see how it works?) were these portraits of Mr.’s Scannell and Croker- found in Moses King’s “Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899, courtesy google books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

from some point in space“, another 2010 posting, showcases a shot of Dutch Kills acquired before a press conference which highly placed members of the Newtown Creek Alliance had asked me to represent them at (literally no one else from Queens was available).

My statement was prepared, thankfully, as I was standing next to and was introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Stage fright and hallucination inducing nervousness ruled my mood during the lead up.

To alleviate the anxiety while waiting for the event to begin… and as I happened to be standing in a south facing room within the Degnon Terminal’s former Loose Wiles building… which overlooks the waters of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek- a window was soon roughly thrown open and I shot the image above.

As it happens, while attempting to research a group of heretical Quakers operating in the area just before the Revolutionary War, I came across the following image in another one of those “old and out of copyright” municipal journals which have found their way onto the web.

– Photo from 1921’s ”The Newtown Creek industrial district of New York City By Merchants’ Association of New York. Industrial Bureau”, courtesy google books

Cool, huh?

An August 2011 post, called the “the dark moor“, reversed the point of view and showed the view from infinite Brooklyn into Queens from atop the digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Click for details on Mitch Waxman’s
Upcoming walking and boat tours of Newtown Creek, and Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk (this Saturday)

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

for June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

July 8th, 2012- Atlas Obscura Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley

for July 8th tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

July 22nd, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Newtown Creek Boat Tour

Walking Tours in June

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite my loathsome appearance, abhorrent personality, and an unwholesome nature which engenders disdain from strangers- the walking tours of the Newtown Creek Watershed I’ve been conducting have all proved to be quite popular and in fact- have sold out. There have been one or two that I’ve publicized, and a few that were privately organized.

Demand has dictated that an expanded schedule of these walks, albeit punctuated by my incessant prattle, be offered.

To wit:

June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tours will cover similar ground, but approach the subject from differing angles. Both share the same dire warnings about traffic and footwear and the “boiler plate” offer is included below. As a rule, walkups are allowed, but be warned- when the group get to a certain size, I’m forced to refuse additional participants.

Buying a ticket in advance is your best bet.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman for an intense exploration of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary — found less than one mile from the East River. Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractile bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards — it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened. Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic, and moving through a virtual urban desert as we cross the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed toe shoes are highly recommended.

Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk, which will be around three hours long and cover approximately three miles of ground.

Meetup – At the Albert E. Short Triangle park found at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 23rd Street in Long Island City, Queens. This is the Court Square MTA station, and served by the 7, G, and M lines. Additionally, the Q39 and B62 buses have nearby stops. Check as ongoing construction at Queens Plaza often causes delays and interruptions.

Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Pulaski Bridge in either Greenpoint or Long Island City.

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boat Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at

For June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

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