The Newtown Pentacle

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dizzily down

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From the perspective of a wandering mendicant…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often have I commented on the hazy “intertidal” zones found along the former borders of long forgotten town and village municipalities in Western Queens – in fact, I’ve coined the term “angles between” for them. There’s – functionally – no one alive today who has a personal remembrance of Maspeth or Woodside being referred to as towns or villages with clearly defined borders due to urban sprawl and the life’s work of Robert Moses. When the City of Greater New York consolidated Long Island City and the county of Newtown into a new entity called “Queens,” it’s at these hazy border areas that the Manhattan people got away with literal “bloody murder.” The export of Manhattan’s dirty industries, it’s unwanted poor, the corpses of its dead – all were sent east to what was – then – a still quite agricultural community called Queens. This also happened to the Bronx and Staten Island, and to a lesser degree Brooklyn.

The local politicians in the “lesser” boroughs were more than happy to take on the cemeteries, heavy industries, and garbage handlers in the name of “progress” and doing favors for the hidden elites of Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Shining City of Manhattan replaced its tenements, its abattoirs, its manufactured gas plants with what at the time would have referred to as “modern” apartment blocks. For you real estate savvy types – that’s so called “pre war” developments like Tudor City in Murray Hill, Peter Cooper Town/Stuyvesant Village which sits on the former site of several Manufactured Gas Plants, or the United Nations building (built into the former site of several slaughterhouses and abattoirs that was known as “blood alley”). The process of converting industrial Manhattan over to a residential and commercial center kicked into high gear in the years before and directly following the Second World War, the age of “urban renewal.” That’s when the highways were jammed through on Long Island, the dairy farms of Queens were converted to housing tracts, and the “Manhattancentric” school of thought concerning development really kicked in. The tenements emptied as the teeming masses sought a better life in Queens, and further east in suburban Nassau and Suffolk counties. This turned Western Queens into a transit corridor for trade and commuters.

It’s all about “the City” and literally all roads for hundreds of miles in any direction lead to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery – that’s its Maurice Avenue fence line pictured above and it’s in the center of all the shots in today’s post – is categorically in Maspeth, and it is infested with tiny gecko like lizards. Saying that, it also defines Maspeth’s blurry border with Woodside in the same way that Maspeth’s border with LIC’s Blissville section is defined by the Koscisuzcko Bridge. The cemetery is fairly ancient by Queens’s standard, it’s roughly 78 acres in size, there’s around 210,000 interments therein, and its first burial in Mt. Zion was conducted in 1893. There used to be a Gypsy encampment here, a shanty town that was home to a Romani tribe from Transylvania that called itself the “Rudari,” or “Ludar,” depending on whom you ask. The Rudari, just for the sake of literary trivia, are the same tribe that worked for Count Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel named for the vampire lord. The historical record of Queens usually refers to them as “The Maspeth Gypsy’s,” and it should be mentioned that referring to them using such nomenclature would be considered a racist hate crime and slur in the modern day European Union.

The Rudari were renowned for copper working and animal training. The reason that the circus train still comes to Western Queens every year is that the circus industry used to buy trained critters – bears, horses, etc. – from them. Many Rudari found work at the Phelps Dodge copper refinery along Newtown Creek, and remnants of their community persist to this day in the Sunnyside Gardens area along Queens Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a series of semi detached one and two story homes in the area directly surrounding Mt. Zion, which are sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn Queens Expressway. To the south is the heavy manufacturing district surrounding the eastern side of Newtown Creek and its tributary Maspeth Creek. Mixed use industrial zoning directly touches the cemetery, and hundreds of truck based warehouse businesses are located hereabouts. There is also a large footprint Coca Cola distribution center nearby, and a primary shipping hub for United Parcel Service is less than a mile away, as is the warehouse and distribution center for the Duane Reade retail empire. Mt. Zion’s western side is directly across the street from the Second, Third, and Fourth sections of Calvary Cemetery. Pictured in the first shot of today’s post is part of the Department of Sanitation’s colossal vehicle maintenance facility, which is right next door to an NYPD vehicle maintenance facility, and there’s an FDNY vehicle maintenance facility nearby as well. Suffice to say that these are heavily travelled streets, here under the Long Island Expressway and just a short walk away from Newtown Creek.

If you talk to the people who live anywhere near this area, their common complaint always involves the amount of trucks and cars which use their neighborhood as a thoroughfare. Of course, talking to the people of Queens is considered an obstacle by City Hall, and a loathsome requirement when implementing their policies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery was set up for members of the Jewish community, whose burial laws are a bit different than the Catholic ones. Jews are meant to buried singularly, rather than having multiple bodies in the same gravesite as in the Catholic tradition. This means that Mt. Zion sprawls and has the appearance of being overcrowded. There are sections of the cemetery which are virtually impassable due to this, where it is impossible to find a place to put your foot down between the rows of tombstones.

The streets surrounding it are barren, virtually treeless, and are a favored spot for illegal dumping of construction debris and other garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that this little travelogue is being presented today involves the plans recently presented by the De Blasio administration to convert a hotel in the area over to a homeless shelter. A subsequent post will detail the hotel and the area directly surrounding it, but this is the northern side of the zone which the “Big Little Mayor” has picked to warehouse those who are considered socially and economically undesirable. The community of Maspeth has responded with their characteristic flair, and pushed back on City Hall with considerable skill and energy. City Hall, as is its habit under the current Mayor reacted to the protests by implying that Maspeth’s indignation is fueled by racism. Several publications picked up this theme, and the Internet commentarium knee jerk followed the rhetoric offered by the administration of the “Dope from Park Slope.”

My personal views on the Maspeth shelter project were the subject of a debate recently with a former colleague whose views and perspectives I greatly respect, but the argument I make about the placement of people – people who exist at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum – in this area is that it’s a human rights violation.

Simply put, it ain’t exactly a bed of salubrious roses out around these parts even if you’ve got money in your pocket, let alone when you’re down and out. This wouldn’t be a shelter, this would be a penal colony.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth, as in the community of, has been doing a great job of demonstrating its objections to the placement of a homeless shelter hereabouts. They don’t need me to chime in, or make war, for them.

What I’ve found disturbing is that the knee jerk reportage mentioned above that describes their objections in terms of “rich white people” not wanting “poor black people” in their neighborhood – which has been presented by news sites that have covered the protests.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, there’s a few different sides to Maspeth. To the south and east, you do indeed have a somewhat suburban and moneyed section that is populated by people of European decent. To the south and west you’ve got an industrial zone, but you’ll find the odd block of homes in there, the residents of which are a hodge podge of “everybody.” On the north western side, here around Mt. Zion, my observations have revealed a population who are pretty much the same mix of people you see everywhere in Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and so on. East and Southeast Asians, Africans and African Americans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Levantines, Middle Easterners – the whole “vibrant diversity” mix that the politicians are always crowing about.

The “homeless” are not a monolithic people comprised from a single racial group with a common ancestor. Who these “homeless” are would be best defined, by Marxist economists, as the “underclass” and what they have in common is not the color of their skin but grinding poverty. I’ve always argued that just calling these people “the homeless” is dehumanizing and that it’s done by those armchair academics who have never actually known someone living on the street in any context other than dropping a quarter in their cup. There is no “homeless problem,” rather there’s tens of thousands of individual problems. Siting them away from a familiar setting, breaking whatever they have left of a social network, treating them like something to be warehoused in a neighborhood of warehouses – this ain’t the right idea.

On the subject of every neighborhood having to do “its fair share” – Maspeth already handles close to 20% of NYC’s garbage, it hosts the LIE and BQE, has several NYS and one Federal Superfund sites in it, and there are intersections where close to 3-400 heavy trucks an hour roll through on their way to Manhattan. The garbage train also transits through Maspeth a few times a day, which represents and comingles Brooklyn’s share of the garbage handling with Maspeth’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are virtually no mass transit lines available from this location, police patrols are infrequent at best, and at night this is a virtually abandoned part of the city. Bus service is spotty, and it’s one of the places in Queens where you truly need a personal vehicle to get around.

There are streets with no sidewalks here in the half mile around the proposed shelter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shocking ignorance of City Hall regarding the existential realities of Western Queens never fails to amaze me. All they seem to know about our neighborhoods is what they see on maps rolled out on mahogany desktops that have pins stuck into them by paid cronies. I’ve met several members of the Dept. of City Planning over the years, and the ones who I respect the hell out of are the ones who put on a pair of sneakers periodically and go out for walks in the areas they’re assigned to. I don’t always agree with their choices, but I do respect them.

I have a random idea, which is to site a homeless shelter on 11th street in Park Slope, just off fifth avenue.

Tomorrow, we’ll cross under the highway and take a direct look at what Mayor Bill De Blasio considers as being a good fit for one of the most vulnerable populations of people in NYC to call their temporary home, since he hasn’t decided to lead by example and convert his aforementioned house on Park Slope’s 11th street over to either affordable housing or for use as a shelter.

Upcoming tours and events:


“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 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

soft and rubbery

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DUGSBO, Down Under the Grand Street Bridge, in todays post

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, on Saturday I had to do a tour of my beloved creek and found myself crossing into infinite Brooklyn via the venerable Grand Street Bridge. Running a bit late, I nevertheless found myself cracking out a few shots of the Newtown Creek scenery as the sky was uncharacteristically free of pesky avians. Life forms of any kind are best avoided, by one such as myself. Suddenly, the ancient bridge began to shudder, and one spun on his veritable heels to ascertain the source of the vibrations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, there’s something you don’t see every day, thought I. That’s an MTA Bus Company heavy duty tow truck “wrecker” pulling what appears to be a somewhat destructed double decker bus painted with primer gray.

As a note, one has always favored the British spelling for the name of that most decidedly neutral color – which is “Grey.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An amiable pilot was behind the wheel of the gray bus, who offered a gestural greeting as the wrecker towed him across that centuried span which joins Brooklyn’s Bushwick East Williamsburg with Queensican Maspeth. My guess is that they were heading for the titan Grand Street depot found on the Queens side of the currently undefended border between the two boroughs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, the shuddering emanations of the powerful diesel engine found within the wrecker dissipated as it entered Queens, and the Grand Street Bridge ceased its incessant uluations. This allowed me the time to capture an extra one thousandth of a second slice of reality, way out here in DUGSBO.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

offhand solution

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Easter, a great weekend for probable trespassing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ask any of the Urban Explorer types who have encountered your humble narrator over the years, and they’ll recount my lecture about doing things nice and legal. I still adhere to this philosophy, in general, but when I specifically request access to photograph a site – through proper channels – and my request is ignored… over and over and over… well…

What’s a boy to do? You come to Newtown Creek, and you don’t even invite me over for a coffee? Ok, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, your Union employees left the gates wide open on Easter weekend. This is kind of disturbing, but not unusual. One Christmas, some dummy left the gates to the Sunnyside Yard open and unguarded. This is the sort of thing that I know, and y’all don’t, because you live in an office and I live in the street. That’s the BQE back there, and I could have had unchallenged access to its foundations. I’m a good guy, but… what if I wasn’t?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Second, the contractor who’s doing the demo work for y’all really needs to train on addressing dust remediation, which is defined as setting up a hose and a lawn sprinkler in this sort of situation. They never do this at Brownfield sites around Newtown Creek, because they think nobody is watching, but one just needs to smell the “Breeze” to know who the demo contractor at work is.

I’ve been watching them for years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Third, It might be smart to secure spots like this one, wherein the structural integrity of a building has been compromised. Don’t worry, I didn’t enter the site, but there was no reason for me not to other than common sense. There were no safety cones, no signs proscribing proper “PPE,” and certainly no security around. I even yelled out “security” at the top of my lungs. Did y’all capture that on camera?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At your front door, I could have easily slipped inside the job site on a sunny Saturday afternoon – unchallenged. The only thing holding me back from doing so was… well… respect. I never cross a fence line, as I’m like a Vampire, and need to be invited in before I can do my work.

So, the question is this… Are you going to allow me and the readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – a chance to peer in periodically, or are we just going to play cat and mouse for the next decade? Either way, I’ll get my shots. Up to y’all.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

watching eye

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Big rigs of Queens in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned earlier in the week, the Newtown Creek Alliance’s Plank Road project has drawn me over to Maspeth few times in recent weeks, which is always fun for me as your humble narrator is an infrastructure geek who loves taking photos of enormous machines. Luckily, for me, Maspeth’s cup doth runneth over in this department.

This ain’t so lucky for the folks who live in Maspeth, of course, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s some sort of truck mechanic nearby the Plank Road, or 54th road if you insist on using modern terminology, and one routinely sights the sort of heavily armored and freshly washed rigs like the ones in today’s post parked about. Don’t know much about this business, but these are some of the many, many trucks plying area streets that have caused groups like C.O.M.E.T. (in Queens) and OUTRAGE (in Brooklyn) to organize and demand relief.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The folks at OUTRAGE have clocked as many as 300 trucks of this size moving down nearby Metropolitan Avenue during the morning rush, and the toll they take on area streets is well known. Additionally, the MTA’s Grand Avenue facility a block away is an eventual destination for the entire bus fleet of Brooklyn. Add in the nearby LIE and BQE highways… well you get the idea.

There’s a series of studies out there which attempt to tie this truck traffic to higher rates of asthma in the corridors they travel, but the statistical information could (and has been) just as easily interpreted to damn City operated bus lines as well.

Either way, there’s a lot of traffic moving about, and all the while – the possibilities of rail and barge transport are being ignored.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of my friends in Queens get after me about supporting the enhanced usage of the rail system, and they make a good point that I don’t live in Ridgewood/Maspeth/Middle Village where all these trains transit through on their way to the rail depot at Fresh Pond. I do live two blocks away from the Sunnyside Yard, which is the busiest rail interchange in New York City, but I’m told that I apparently don’t know what I’m talking about – which seems to be a recurring theme in my life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This packer truck is over in Long Island City, and was posed so provocatively while illegally parked on the median, that I couldn’t resist adding it in to this post.

There are three public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn and two that walk the currently undefended border of the two boroughs.

Poison Cauldron, with Atlas Obscura, on April 26th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

DUPBO, with Newtown Creek Alliance and MAS Janeswalk, on May 3rd.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor, with Brooklyn Brainery, on May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

repellant yard

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Down by ye olde Maspeth Plank Road.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The folks at Newtown Creek Alliance have a project underway, one which will rehabilitate the street end adjoining the Maspeth Plank Road and provide the first intentional point of public access to the waterfront in Queens. My role in the project is to do a couple of walking tours and raise awareness of the effort, so I swung down on one of the work days to grab some shots. Pictured is the National Grid site in Brooklyn with the Manhattan skyline behind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The fellows who were doing the actual work should receive some sort of medal for working in the muck and yuck found hereabouts. 58th road ends at Newtown Creek after a sharp fall off in elevation, and all the industrial debris and trash which rolls downhill ends up here. Normally, the plank road site is inaccessible due to muddy and or weed choked conditions. The NCA crew has already done a tremendous amount of cleanup and groundskeeping here, and they got the NYC DEP to come in and clear out a mud choked drainage sewer just last week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the story with Newtown Creek always carries one back to sewage. Most of the industrial pollution in the Creek is historic in nature, and other than a few bad actors, most of the modern day businesses found along its banks at least try to follow the rules and be responsible to the environment. That is, of course, except for the City of Greater New York – which allows billions of gallons of untreated sewage to flow into it every year.

Today is Earth Day, by the way.

There are three public Newtown Creek walking tours coming up, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn and two that walk the currently undefended border of the two boroughs.

Poison Cauldron, with Atlas Obscura, on April 26th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

DUPBO, with Newtown Creek Alliance and MAS Janeswalk, on May 3rd.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

Modern Corridor, with Brooklyn Brainery, on May 18th.
Click here for more info and ticketing.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

only memories

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“Remember me when I’m gone” is what everyone is really asking the rest of us to do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion Cemetery over in ancient Maspeth has been discussed at some length at this blog, nearly 5 years ago – and yes, Newtown Pentacle has been in existence for nearly 5 years now.

Check out Mt. Zion 1 – imps of the perverse“, “Mt Zion 2- Palaces of Light“, “Mt Zion 3- threading precipitous lanes“, “Mt Zion 4- A Lurid Shimmering of Pale Light“, “Mt Zion 5- Sunken Houses of Sleep“, and “Mt Zion 6- Crystal Oblivion” for nearly everything I’d been able to scry about the place back in 2009. 2012’s “traitorous somnolence” explores the evidence left behind by certain peasant magicians at the polyandrion’s fence lines, which is worth a look.

Further research on the place – and the enigmatic Rudari tribe that once occupied the land here – however, has birthed a postulate in my mind that the so called Maspeth Gypsies are a lost civilization.

from wikipedia

Tambora is a lost village and culture on Sumbawa Island buried by ash and pyroclastic flows from the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora. The village had about 10,000 residents. Scientists unearthing the site have discovered ceramic pots, bronze bowls, glass bottles, and homes and villagers buried by ash in a manner similar to that of Pompeii. Scientists believe the customs and language of the culture were wiped out. The culture was visited by western explorers shortly before its demise. They are believed to have traded with Indochina, as their pottery resembles that found in Vietnam.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are several small communities with decidedly non mainstream cultures, ones which set out into the wooded interior of North America in the decades prior to the Civil War, that have either disappeared from the map or been absorbed into the national culture. Appalachian Hillbillies, the Shakers, the Maspeth Gypsies – all have become “civilized” and subsumed into the larger body politic. Rumor and half truths abound – suggesting that there were many, many more lost tribes of man on this continent than are commonly accepted, when the European Rationalists began to colonize the place.

from csicop.org

In one subset of the lost-civilization genre of pseudohistory, the lost civilization is not a previously unknown group of people residing in the clichéd “dim mists of time” but instead an otherwise well-known ancient society that is remarkable primarily as a result of its geography, not for its precocious level of technological sophistication. Even restricting ourselves to just North America, the list of such claims is long—though evidence is short—and includes: Celtic kingdoms in the northeastern United States thousands of years ago (Fell 1976); Coptic Christian settlements in ancient Michigan (based on the so-called Michigan Relics) (Halsey 2009); Roman Jews in Arizona (the Tucson Artifacts) (Burgess 2009); the Lost Tribes of Israel in Ohio (the Newark Holy Stones) (Lepper and Gill 2000); and strange mixtures of various ancient Old World peoples secreted in hideouts in the Grand Canyon in Arizona (“Explorations in Grand Canyon” 1909) and in a cave in southeastern Illinois (Burrows Cave) (Joltes 2003). These claims are predicated essentially on the same notion: ancient Europeans, Africans, or Asians came to the Americas long before Columbus and long—perhaps thousands of years—before the Norse; they settled here and had a huge impact on the native people but then somehow became lost, both to history and to historians.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Permanence is something which nearly every band of humans strives to achieve, and even those who are philosophically opposed to the concept – like Buddhists – nevertheless built colossal statuary and temples of stone to mark their tenancy in Asia and around the Pacific rim. The New York City way of commemorating a location is to stick a highly impermanent signboard at a noteworthy spot, but that’s mainly for Manhattan and areas which suffer a lot of pedestrian traffic. Since Mt. Zion is theoretically going to be here as long as NYC exists, how about we stick up a sign of some kind acknowledging the former presence of this tribe of wandering coppersmiths and circus animal trainers who were called the Rudari?

from wikipedia

The Boyash are a branch/caste of the Romani people who were held as slaves in Wallachia and Moldavia together with other Romani castes, up until the latter half of the 19th century; such slavery was abolished in Romanian states in 1864.

In particular, the Boyash were forced to settle in the 14th century and work in mining (a regionalism for mine in Romanian: “baie,” from Middle Age Slavonic.). Due to their close proximity with Romanian-speaking people, they lost the use of the Romani language. Some groups relearned Romani when they came in contact with other Romani-speaking Romanis, after they emigrated from Romania (for example, in Ecuador).

Another name for the Boyash, Rudari, comes from the Slavic ruda (“metal”, “ore”). However, a few centuries later, the mines became inefficient and the Boyash people were forced to readjust by earning their living making wood utensils (Lingurari means “spoon-makers” in Romanian; also cf. Serbian ruda, Hungarian rúd, Romanian rudă meaning “staff, rod, pole, stick”). The nickname Kashtale (“wood-workers”) was also given to them by the Romani-speaking Romanis and it has remained in Romani as a more general word for a Romani person who does not speak Romani.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 29, 2014 at 11:09 am

Project Firebox 97

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An ongoing catalog of New York’s endangered Fireboxes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This bad boy hangs out on a corner in Maspeth, Queens. Should have stayed in school, but you can’t complain about the road you’re on when you get started. Kay sera sera. Props to the scarlet.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

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