The Newtown Pentacle

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Why does everybody keep on asking me how to dispose of a human body?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s one of those questions that seems to come up in connection with Newtown Creek, for some reason, and random folks will jokingly ask a humble narrator about it at least once a week. On Tuesday, which was spent first at the Waterfront Alliance Conference on a boat in Manhattan (I was asked twice) and then speaking about the BQX project at Hunters Point Civic Association (asked once) one had to offer the same answer three times. A) The Waste Transfer people (garbage or recycling) would definitely notice it and call the cops as modern day environmental laws demand strict governance of what’s in the garbage they handle, B) if you stuck a corpse in the waters of Newtown Creek it would just stay there and be discovered – which would also result in the cops getting involved at which point “the jig is up.” In fact, not just its tributary waterways but the entire East River is a terrible choice for this sort of thing. If you threw a volleyball into the East River at Hunters Point, you’d be able to see it get pulled back and forth by the tide for days, transiting between the Williamsburg Bridge and Roosevelt Island. Eventually, it would get pulled towards Hell Gate, where it end up snagging onto the shoreline somewhere in either northern Queens or the Southern Bronx.

Hudson River or Jamaica Bay, that’s the ticket for human remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in the old neighborhood in Brooklyn, there were several members of a well known and self organizing fraternity of Italian gentlemen present who occasionally had the need to dispose of former associates. Infamous, there was a “crew” run by a guy named Roy which operated out of a bar called the Gemini Lounge on Flatbush Avenue (just off Kings Highway) and handled such matters for a certain high ranking fellow named John that lived in Howard Beach and conducted his business at the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan. This crew’s specific line of work involved automobile theft, but they were also – allegedly – tasked with enforcing organizational discipline for the citywide organization.

Their methodology, as described in court documents, involved the usage of power tools in pursuance of dismemberment. The “pieces” were then packaged into discrete paper bags and tossed out automobile windows on the east bound Belt Parkway, or hidden in the flow of residential garbage headed to the Fountain Avenue landfill, with the idea that either the crabs would take care of the evidence for them or that the parts would be hidden in the tonnages of trash poured into pits. I can tell you that back in the 1980’s, it was not an entirely uncommon thing for “parts” to be found abandoned in the shoreline sand lots found between Fountain and Emmon Avenues in this stretch of Brooklyn. I used to ride my Apollo 3 speed bike around in this area, after school, and can report that Jamaica Bay seems to have been a choice spot for all sorts of disposal activities.

Of course, this is the era when medical waste such as used hypodermic needles still regularly washed up in the tide, so “organics” were the least of your worries.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Hudson River is the aqueous equivalent of an express train, with a fearsome current that roars towards the narrows and open ocean. Nefarious types I’ve known over the years have always indicated that their choice of “spots” for intact waterborne disposals involved a nocturnal trip to the south eastern shore of Staten Island. This is all hearsay, of course, as a humble narrator has always been too much of a “wuss” to ever involve himself with such affairs. Additionally, coming from a neighborhood which was renowned for both the benefits and negatives of the presence of these self organizing fraternities of Italian Gentlemen, the best advice I can offer to anyone is to walk out of the room when they start discussing such matters. You can’t “unknow” something, and once you’ve heard it you’re a potential witness against the speaker and could very well end up being eaten by the crabs in Jamaica Bay.

The Newtown Creek is where amateurs like serial killer Joel Rifkin would attempt to dispose of a body, making the job of the NYPD an easy one.

Three times on Tuesday, I had to repeat the screed above. Three times.


Upcoming Tours and Events

May 12th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

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?

Tickets and more details
here.

May 17th – Port Newark Boat Tour – with Working Harbor Committee.

For an exciting adventure, go behind the scenes of the bustling Port of NY & NJ on our Hidden Harbor Tour® of Port Newark! Get an insider’s view of the 3rd largest port in the nation, where container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. See how the working harbor really works and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. See giant container terminals, oil docks, dry dock repair, and more! Tickets and more details here.


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thunderous declamations

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Instead of Iowa or Texas, the Mayor ought to come out to Queens once in while, just in the name of “Equity.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway rises out of the Queens Midtown Tunnel in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, and follows the route of Borden Avenue on a high flying steel truss which is at its height 106 feet over the waters of the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. According to the NYC DOT’s 2015 numbers, this section of “495” is called the Queens Midtown Expressway and it carries nearly 85,000 vehicle trips a day. It comes back to ground at the border of the Sunnyside and Blissville sections of Long Island City, at Greenpoint Avenue.

That’s about 31 million vehicle trips a year rolling through LIC, and in particular – Blissville. The shot above represents exactly thirty seconds worth of traffic on a corner one block away from the entrance/exit to the LIE. Thirty seconds… keep that number in mind when looking at the shots in today’s post. They’re all thirty second exposures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the LIE itself, shot from the access road which feeds down onto Borden Avenue in an area I call the “Empty Corridor.” I was down there just a couple of weeks back, and the zone was discussed in this post. For the sake of trivia – the LIE opened on the 15th of November in 1940.

The northern border of Blissville is formed by the Long Island Expressway and the Empty Corridor. Saying that, if you’re on the north side of the LIE, you’re still in Sunnsyide.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Blissville side, rivers of steel flow past you on the local street/access road modernity calls Borden Avenue. Named for where it was going, namely the Borden Dairy farm in Maspeth, Borden Avenue was created as a wooden plank road in 1868 that connected the western end of the road with the East River shoreline, and with the upland agricultural properties to the east. Originally, this raised roadway – designed for mules and oxen pulling milk wagons – crossed through the malarial swamps surrounding Dutch Kills.

By the early 20th century, the swamps had been drained or filled in, and Borden Avenue was paved with belgian block and later macadam and asphalt. It became an industrial corridor whose path more or less mimicked that of the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks found just to south, along the bulkheads of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east of Borden Avenue is Greenpoint Avenue, which was built into its current path in 1852 from a dirt road. On one side of the street, since 1848 at least, First Calvary Cemetery will be found. When it opened, Calvary wasn’t even half the size it is now. Acquiring property through inheritances and purchases, the cemetery didn’t attain its current borders until the early 20th century, just before the First World War. There are literally millions held in the loam.

Blissville itself is named for one of its founders, Greenpoint’s Neziah Bliss. It was developed with Eliaphet Nott of Union College, and the goal was creating one of those utopian worker’s hamlets which were all the rage amongst wealthy Protestant industrialists in the years leading up to the American Civil War. There were meant to be no bars or saloons in Blissville, but in the 1850’s when the railroad began to be driven through, the Irish laborers working on the iron road put an end to all that. Additionally, the masses of people coming to Calvary from the Five Points and Lower East Side to visit the graves of loved ones created a demand for inns and bars.

Blissville was one of the five communities which seceded from the Newtown Municipality to form Long Island City in 1870.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to a 2015 report from the NYC DOT, the Greenpoint Avenue (aka John J. Byrne memorial bridge) Bridge carries 28,361 vehicle trips across Newtown Creek on a daily basis. That’s 10,351,765 vehicles a year heading to and from Brooklyn’s Greenpoint to Queens’ Blissville. The traffic feeding through Blissville is (observationally) going in three main directions once it enters Queens; a) north on Greenpoint Avenue towards the LIE and Sunnyside, b) north west on Van Dam towards Queens Plaza, and c) east on Review Avenue towards Maspeth and Middle Village.

The second largest oil spill in the United States is the Greenpoint Oil Spill, the epicenter of which is less than half a mile east on the Brooklyn side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. Similarly, an oil spill of still unknown size lurks in the soil of Blissville less than half a mile east of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. The bridge itself crosses the Newtown Creek, a Federal Superfund site notorious for the 1.8 billion gallons of raw sewage which the NYC DEP dumps into it annually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the Blissvillians whom I’ve met, the population of this neighborhood is around 220 people although I’ve also heard 500 (seems a bit high, 500). It’s the usual demographic mix of Queens hereabouts, but with the proviso that almost everybody would describe themselves as “working class.” There’s a generational community here which has held out in the post industrial landscape of Long Island City – despite the traffic and the pollution and the industrial character of the neighborhood. All told, about 4-6 blocks square blocks are the totality of Blissville, Queens. The nearest subway is on Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside, and the two bus lines running the area are in service on neither a twenty four hour nor seven days a week schedule. There are no schools, hospitals, or supermarkets. There are a lot of City owned properties, warehouses, and waste transfer stations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Homeless Services, therefore, has decided that this is the ideal and “appropriate site” for a third homeless shelter (within a half mile of the LIE) to be opened in the neighborhood. This time around, it will be the 2008 vintage and 154 room Fairfeld Inn, found at 52-34 Van Dam Street, that becomes a shelter. Blissville anticipates some 400 people will be installed in this building. Another Hotel on the Sunnyside side of the LIE has been converted to a shelter, as has a former Public School on Greenpoint Avenue.

Blissville could use your help with all this trouble the Mayor is sending their way, Queensicans. A Department of Homeless Services public hearing will take place on Thursday the 15th of March at 6:30 p.m., at St. Raphael’s Church located at 35-20 Greenpoint Ave.

Let’s tell the Manhattan people what the Ides of March are like in Queens, and let the Dope from Park Slope know that enough is enough.


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It’s National Sacher Torte Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete devastations of Newtown Creek, after the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has slipped behind and become occluded by the state of New Jersey, are spooky. During daylight, they’re just a cautionary tale with occasional glimpses of terror and wonder, but after darkness settles in on the soot stained masonry offered by the warehouses, factories, and the Great Wall of Calvary Cemetery – one finds himself constantly looking over his shoulder. In the case of the furtive glance captured above, my apprehension was directed towards the spot where Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd. nearby the old and nearly forgotten Penny Bridge. The masonry of the 1894 Penny Bridge is still extant, despite the actual span having been demolished around 1940. The first Penny Bridge, which was little more than a rope walk, opened thereabouts in 1803. It is at Penny Bridge that the presence of the spectral Blissville Banshee was first reported in 1884, as she glided across the oily waters of the Newtown Creek.

I mean – this ain’t Queens Plaza – where legions of vampires are known to drop from the steel rafters of the subways when night comes – but… Blissville after dark is just plain weird.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not just me who feels this way, either. Last Spring, a buddy of mine – who’s fairly fearless – was walking along this stretch with me at night. He began to ask insistently where we were, and opine that he was completely disoriented despite being in his native borough. Paranoid ideations began to blossom in his mind, and despite my insistence that we were on very familiar ground, anxiety began to overwhelm his reason. A distinct sigh of relief escaped his cranial breathing holes when we emerged onto Greenpoint Avenue after walking down shadow haunted Review Avenue in a generally northern direction.

Perhaps he was experiencing the sort of chronal tunnel vision that I often do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Could he have subconsciously known that Van Iderstine’s used to be here, or about Fleischmann’s Yeast with their stable of pneumoniac cattle. The unhealthy condition of these cattle, which attracted the attention of newspaper reporters, hygenicists, and State Board of Health Inspectors from Albany back in 1879, was attributed to being fed only fermented grain produced by the yeast brewers, which slid into their feeding troughs still steaming and straight from from the distillery process. The milk these cows produced was blueish in coloration, and nearly 1% alcohol by volume. This so called “swill milk” was not considered fit for general human consumption, as it was the lowest grade of dairy product commercially available in that era, but was considered a fitting protein source to serve to the orphans and prisoners confined on Blackwells Welfare Roosevelt Island. Nellie Bly might have spent ten days in a madhouse, but I don’t think she mentioned drinking swill milk in her famous exposé.

Van Iderstine’s, for those of you lucky enough to it have never heard of the business which used to inhabit these parts, ran a fat rendering mill hereabouts that was extant until the latter half of the 20th century. Animal parts, spoiled meat, rotten eggs, barrels of butchers blood – all were boiled down in open copper vessels here in Blissville in pursuance of the manufacture of tallow. Ghastly business, that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the atmospheric temperatures being low enough to allow one the usage of his full armor – the filthy black raincoat and a stout hat coupled with durable clothing woven from ruggose fibers – one is always aware of his vulnerability and obsequiousness to malign elements of society due to conducting my excursions on foot. It would be a simple matter for one or two stout men to overpower one such as myself, known for his physical cowardice and nervous temperament.

Others with stronger constitution might venture into the shadows of rumor haunted Blissville, but a humble narrator chooses instead to acknowledge his lurking fear and remain naught but a passing outsider and scuttling stranger.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the inverse end of Review Avenue, a quick glance over my shoulder revealed a small group of stocky men forming up and pointing in my direction. They were clad in shadow, but the outlines of their group against the sodium lit walls of masonry revealed shapes which did not seem “right.” Discretion being the better part of valor, a humble narrator engaged the services of a passing taxi and made haste for the locked doors of HQ back in Astoria.

The world is a scary place, and the concrete devastations of Western Queens can be scarier than even the pathless deserts of Arabia, where the secrets of cities lost await discovery by the scientifically curious. What might be found… in those wisely abandoned metropolises… if occult rumors are to believed… could easily spark another dark age, and retard the forward progress of mankind – or possibly end civilization itself and condemn mankind to an endless era of ape like barbarity.

As far as the Blissville section of LIC goes – who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there?


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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The native art form of Queens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long has one postulated that the native art form of Queens is illegal dumping. It is accomplished with a compositional flair and attention to detail that Brooklyn and the Bronx can only dream of. When you spend as much time as I do around the Newtown Creek and the concrete devastations surrounding it, this becomes obvious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was heading over to Greenpoint recently, to accomplish some sort of folderol, when the tableau above was observed in LIC’s Blissville section. This was on Greenpoint Avenue, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The dumped mattresses exhibited the tell tale signs of a bedbug infestation, so I was using my telephoto zoom lens to capture shots of it – not wanting to get closer to the things than I needed to.

Bedbugs… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not sure if bedbugs can leap, or jump, or propel themselves through the atmospheric void in some unknown manner which would indicate that they can fly like Superman, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Bedbugs, or “vantzen” as my grandmother would have called them, are grotesque human predators. Vampire insects. The stains on the mattress covers are actually produced by their fecal matter and are literally digested human blood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grossed out, I propelled myself across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge which spans the lugubrious Newtown Creek. Whatever ails you, parasite wise, will likely be cured by the therapeutic poisons of the Newtown Creek. If Newtown Creek doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger… that’s what I tell myself all the time.

Newtown Creek, is there anything you can’t do?

Upcoming tours and events:


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


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


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Creek Week concludes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project pictured above, with the 1939 Robert Moses model bridge providing a backdrop to the under construction cable stay model. That’s the Brooklyn side, for the curious. This is a $1.2 billion replacement effort, “fast tracked” by Governor Cuomo, which is intended to replace what’s considered to be the most dangerous bridge in New York State – which happens to carry hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips a day as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway runs across its 2.1 mile long structure (along with its approaches).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were captured while onboard a NY Water Taxi hired for the evening by the Open House NY organization, and my colleague T. Willis Elkins and I were onboard to represent Newtown Creek Alliance and narrate to two sold out crowds. The second trip was heading back out from the Newtown Creek towards the East River just as sunset was occurring, and as always – Newtown Creek was and is a visual spectacular.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been trying to capture as many angles and shots as possible of the old Kosciuszcko Bridge for a couple of years now, simply because within the next 24-36 months it will have been eradicated from common memory.

This whole “Newtown Creek Historian” business isn’t just about revealing the past, it’s about leaving behind a visual record for those who haven’t been born yet about what the place looked like during its superfund and early 21st century transformational period.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve mentioned it before, but the plan which the State DOT has put forward is that once the eastern side of the new bridge is complete, they are going to reroute the BQE onto it. Then, they’re going to demolish the 1939 model, and in its footprint, build the western section of the new cable stay bridge. The great news about that is that there is going to be a pedestrian and bicycle path on the western side of the bridge.

One looks forward to walking the camera across, and getting aerial shots from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was setting in the west as our NY Water Taxi navigated back towards the East River. That’s Blissville in Queens on the right hand side of the shot above, and the former location of not just Charles Pratt’s “Queens County Oil Works” but just about the very spot where the first large scale oil refinery in the United States – Abraham Gesner’s “North American Kerosene Gas Light Company” was founded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn or Greenpoint side of Newtown Creek, the former home of the Standard Oil Company of New York and birthplace of what would be one day known as Mobil Oil is closest to the camera, which are now the ExxonMobil Greenpoint Remediation Project properties at 400 Kingsland Avenue.

Sitting on part of the former oil company properties in Greenpoint is the NYC DEP’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUGABO – or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – is the heart of petroleum country on Newtown Creek. Greenpoint Avenue heads west into Brooklyn, terminating at the East River at Transmitter Park, whereas it continues into Queens and once having crossed Queens Blvd. – it transmogrifies into Roosevelt Avenue and continues all the way out into Flushing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a maritime industrial point of view, the DUGABO area surrounding the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is probably one of the busiest sections of Newtown Creek in the 21st century. SimsMetal and Allocco Recycling host regular tug and barge traffic, as does Metro fuel.

In the distance is the Pualski Bridge and the towers of the Shining City of Manhattan.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

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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It does seem to be Creek Week, doesn’t it?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, I told you about Deadman’s Curve in Maspeth, and we explored 57th avenue – the former “Creek Street.” The shot above looks eastwards towards Deadman’s Curve from the former Penny Bridge LIRR stop at Review Avenue. The water facing property is currently owned by John Quadrozzi Jr., who is a major land holder in the Red Hook and Gowanus areas. The property seems to be mainly used for storage and maintenance of heavy construction equipment these days.

As the name of the LIRR stop would imply, this is also the former location of Penny Bridge, which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue to Queens’s Review Avenue. Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church used to run a ferry service from Manhattan to Calvary Cemetery which docked nearby.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Review Avenue, the stretch of it that runs along Calvary Cemetery, is where the first large scale petroleum refinery in the United States was founded – Abraham Gesner’s North American Kerosene Gas Light Company, which would become first the New York Kerosene Gas Light Company and then be acquired by Charles Pratt and Standard Oil and rechristened it as the Queens County Oil Company. Queens County Oil’s bulkheads are the ones that the Blissville Seep oozes petroleum into Newtown Creek from.

If you follow Review to the west, you’ll find the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and a pair of roads which descend downhill on either side of it. They take you to, and from, Railroad Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of railroad avenue was formerly the home of the Van Iderstine company, who had their own rail spur down here which was populated with Van Iderstine’s distinctive black tank cars. As the name of the street – Railroad Avenue – would imply, it’s all about the tracks down here and on the western side of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge you’ll find the LIRR’s Bliss Tower and Blissville Yard.

Welcome to DUGABO – Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Van Iderstine was a nightmare of a company, incidentally, or at least their occupation was. They were renderers, which means that pack animals, butcher scrap, rotten eggs, barrels of abattoir blood – even dead circus elephants – would be brought here to be broken down into components. What exited the factory was tallow.

Believe it or not, they weren’t the most ghastly operation along this stretch of the Lower Montauk tracks, just the smelliest. I can tell you stories about the yeast distilleries…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of smelly, the modern occupation of the Blissville Yard is garbage. That’s the Waste Managemnt garbage train you see above, which is shipped around and about by the New York and Atlantic freight line. NY&A services two Waste Managemnt facilities on the Creek – one here in Blissville and the other in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg along Newtown Creek’s English Kills tributary.

Something like 30-40% of all of NYC’s putrescent (black bag) waste comes to Newtown Creek to be processed and shipped off in green boxes such as the ones above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Railroad Avenue is one of those cul-de-sac streets along the Creek where there’s only one entrance or exit and which – if you get in trouble or hurt, it’s going to be damned difficult to explain to the 911 operator where you are. At the west end of the street is Sims Metal Management’s Newtown Creek dock, on the east you’ll find Waste Management’s Green Asphalt works, the same company’s putrescent waste transfer station, and the Marlyn industrial park which hosts such luminaries as LeNoble Lumber and A&L Cesspool. Personally, I’d call Sims for help, as they’re closer than any hospital and I know a couple of guys who work there.

This is, incidentally, some of what you’ll find located between Review Avenue, the Lower Montauk tracks, Railroad Avenue, and Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Blissville Yard connects to the DB Cabin railroad bridge, which connects Blissville Yard to the Wheelspur and Hunters Point Yards in Hunters Point, and which crosses the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. There’s also a connection to the M Cabin bridge which leads to the abandoned Montauk Cutoff tracks and Sunnyside Yards.

Freight traffic on Newtown Creek heads east into Maspeth and to the Fresh Pond Yard, eventually meeting the switch to the New York Connecting Railroad through Woodside and Astoria, which leads to the Hell Gate Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down towards the end of Railroad Avenue, one encountered this immolated automobile.

As mentioned multitudinous times, I cannot resist this sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This car wasn’t just burned up, it was thoroughly incinerated.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the sort of stuff you’ll see on Railroad Avenue, here in DUGABO, in the Blissville section of Queens, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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Big doings on my beloved Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Word reached me that a barge had sunk on Newtown Creek last week, at the Allocco Recycling plant in Greenpoint, and despite suffering from a debilitating shoulder injury (Don’t worry, I seem to be on the mend) a humble narrator painfully packed up his kit and headed over to the tripartite intersection of North Henry Street and Kingsland Avenue at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Allocco Recycling are in the metals and aggregates (or Fill Materials) industries. Metals are the usual thing – copper, aluminum, iron recycling and collection. Aggregates involves the seining and separation of rock, stone, sand, and gravel from construction and excavation materials. Allocco are good guys, in my book, as they ship their processed materials out of Greenpoint using barges rather than trucks. A single barge is the equivalent of 38 heavy trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Allocco has a large property that borders on one of Newtown Creek’s minor tributaries – the so called “Unnamed Canal.” Across the street is the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s employee entrance, and down the block is a biofuel company called Metro Fuel. I’m prejudiced towards both entities, it should be pointed out. The DEP lies to me on a regular basis, so I don’t like them. Metro – whom I do like – on the other hand, was founded by my pal Paul Pullo. Paul is a friend and supporter of Newtown Creek Alliance whom I work with on a number of the NC committees like NCMC and the Newtown Creek CAG. NCA is also working with Allocco on our Living Dock project which is playing out on Unnamed Canal, as well as the “North Henry Street Project” which will be discussed in some detail at an NCA meeting next week.

All of my conflicts of interest are laid out in the paragraph above, except for one, which I’ll mention later.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Showrunner Mike Allocco, it’s a family owned business after all, told me what happened (and allowed me on the property). It seemed that they were filling a barge with stone on a Friday night and closed shop. The half filled barge was about one third of the way submerged when they returned to work the next morning. His crew did everything they could to hoist and pump out the barge, but it continued to sink and by Saturday afternoon the barge was in the state you see in the shot above.

Allocco then contacted DonJon towing to salvage the thing, and DonJon brought in its heavy equipment. The large maritime crane – which is actually the second largest unit of its type in NY Harbor – is the Chesapeake 1000, and the smaller unit with the crawler crane attached is the Delaware Bay. There were a couple of tugs keeping them in position, but I was unable to identify which boats they were.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan, which has already played out and been accomplished, closed Newtown Creek to maritime traffic for an interval. The DonJon crews fed a pair of cables under the sunken barge, lifted it out of the water, pumped out the water, and then moved it into a shallower section of the Allocco bulkhead for repairs. When these shots were gathered, the presumption was that the barge had a damaged hull.

That other conflict of interest mentioned above? As I was shooting these photos, I got a call from a reporter friend who was working for DNAinfo that wanted to buy a shot from me. That shot, and my buddy’s reportage, can be observed in this post at DNAinfo. As the article discusses, the barge had settled down over the Buckeye Pipeline, and luckily for all of us – the fuel delivery infrastructure wasn’t damaged. This was due to the barge settling down onto the so called “Black Mayonnaise” sediments which sit 15-20 thick on Newtown Creek. The quote from DEC’s Randy Austin presented in the DNA piece is ““That’s probably the first time in the history of the Newtown Creek when that sludge bank served as an environmental benefit.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a maritime industrial geek like your humble narrator, seeing the Chesapeake 1000 was a real treat. DonJon Towing hosts a page listing all of the technical specifications that this 1972 vintage 2,484 Gross Tonnage crane entails. The “1000” part of its name comes from its lifting capacity, but it used to be known as the Sun 800 before DonJon got it. The Sun 800 was damaged in a storm, and during the repair process it was upgraded and outfitted with the 1,000 ton boom it currently sports. The hard hat guys I chatted with on the shoreline at Allocco related the cranes history to me as we watched the operation.

Now, this is where the interesting bit comes in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the Sun 800/Chesapeake 1000 was originally built by the Howard Hughes corporation to facilitate the Glomar Explorer project. Glomar Explorer was a giant ship built in the early 70’s which the Hughes people told the world was going to be used for the harvesting of ocean floor minerals and specifically manganese nodules.

That was a cover story, however, for the true mission of the thing, which was to recover a Soviet submarine which had sunk some three miles down on the floor of the Pacific Ocean for the CIA. The project was called “Project Azorian.” The Chesapeake 1000 is officially an artifact of the height of the Cold War, like the Saturn V rocket.

It continually amazes me, the sort of things that Newtown Creek leads to.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other DonJon rig on the job was Delaware Bay, which is a clam shell dredge vessel. It’s got 1,250 square feet of deck space and was built in 2006. It’s 225 feet long and 54 feet wide, and 1,205 gross tonnage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The barge itself is unremarkable, other than the fact that it’s submerged. It’s a dry bulk type, and is essentially a giant floating bucket.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, the crews from DonJon were executing a plan in which a couple of heavy cables would be run under the sunken barge, at which point the Chesapeake 1000 would lift the thing up and out of the Creek and then pump out the water. To this end, there was a dive team operating.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One cannot imagine the horrors of diving into the turbid waters of Newtown Creek, nor the safety precautions that a professional diver would need to undertake in pursuance of the act. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with members of this profession who operate in NY Harbor, and they tell me that it’s actually a blind business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Visibility in the waters of NYC is a couple of feet under best case circumstance, but in the East River and its tributaries, you often can’t see your hand six inches from your face mask. They do a lot of their job by feeling around, and relying on their training.

One fellow kept on bobbing up around the cables which were being fed under the sunken barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s the story about the time in February of 2016 that a barge sunk at a recycling company called Allocco in Greenpoint, along the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

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