The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘East Branch’ Category

local impressions

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East Branch, Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Geography indicates that I don’t hit the eastern sections of Newtown Creek as regularly as I do the western side. It’s quite a walk from Astoria to Ridgewood, after all. The East Branch is absolutely disgusting all the time, due to the presence of a gigantic seven vaulted sewer which drains parts of Brooklyn as far away as Canarsie. There is virtually zero laminar “flow” back here due to tidal influence, and the water instead exists in a vertical column with the poison sediment suspended in gradient horror.

God, how I love it all. The smell… it’s like rotting ham floating in watery mayonnaise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is constantly amazed at the willful littering encountered all over Queens. People standing next to a corner trash can will opt to toss garbage in the street rather than using the bin. Got a tire or two you’re done with? Why dispose of it properly when you can just haul it up to chest level and then throw it over a fence into an area waterway?

Don’t take my chides the wrong way, I’m no saint, but doesn’t it take more effort to get rid of your tire this way than it does to just leave it in the corner by the DSNY bin? Both are illegal, of course, but seriously… it takes a lot more effort to toss the thing in the water than it would to roll it to a corner.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That structure on the right hand side of the shot is the MTA’s counting house, a fortress like building where they process all the cash from bus boxes, metro card machines, and subway fare control booths. All those armored cars and armed guards you see in the subway? Yup, this is one of the places they report to work.

I’ve actually met people who work here. They described what life is like inside. It seems that to ensure nobody pockets any of MTA’s cash, a pocketless jumpsuit with a padlock on the zipper is worn by the workers. If you need to use the bathroom, your supervisor has to unlock your coverall and you are searched before and after using the facility. My reaction to this was to ask if it was anything like the drug operation in the movie “New Jack City” in there.

The answer was “yes.”


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

monstrous fruit

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Better late than never, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies, single shot today. One from the archives of the Grand Street Bridge. Back tomorrow with more substantial messaging, complaints, and shaking of fists against the moon.


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Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! December 14th, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2019 at 2:00 pm

adhered to

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Grand Street Bridge, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before you ask, no, I won’t be talking about Amazon HQ yet. Suffice to say that everybody I know is talking about the news co-announced today by the Dark Prince of Albany and the Dope from Park Slope that the internet giant will be based in LIC at future superfund site Anable Basin, but at this point in time I don’t have enough information about the plan to speak intelligently about its ramifications. Instead, a few night time shots of the venerable Grand Street Bridge connecting Maspeth with East Williamsburgh/Bushwick are on offer.

People argue with me about the Bushwick thing all the time, claiming that the section of Grand Street between Newtown Creek and Vandervoort Street is either Greenpoint or “East Williamsburgh,” to which I respond that it’s not. East Williamsburgh does have historical precedent, but it’s a term popularized by real estate interests. According to the old Ward maps of pre consolidation NYC (prior to 1898), Greenpoint ends at Meeker Avenue which is nearly a mile to the west of Grand Street. Yes, Greenpoint Hospital is indeed in Bushwick. Remember that “Bushwick” is synonymous with 1960’s racial unrest, 1970’s era riots, and a 1980’s crime hotspot during the Crack Wars to certain generations (Ridgewood residents fought like wildcats to have their own zip code that they didn’t share with their Bushwick neighbors, for instance, as their home and car insurance rates were higher than they should have been due to endemic crime). When gentrification came to North Brooklyn, “Bushwick” was not a “desirable brand,” hence the Real Estate Industrial Complex popularized the “East Williamsburgh” moniker for this area instead. That’s changed now, and Bushwick is now a “hot” neighborhood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is paying a bit more attention to the Grand Street Bridge these days than formerly, as the NYC Department of Transporation has announced their intention to replace it with a more modern structure purpose built to handle current traffic needs. The current Grand Street Bridge is the 1903 model, and the third iteration of a crossing between Brooklyn and Queens on this spot. The section of Newtown Creek it crosses is considered a tributary, and it’s called “The East Branch.”

Once upon a time, the East Branch flowed into Ridgewood, where it was fed by freshwater streams and springs trickling down the “ridge” which you’ll discern when walking along Onderdonk Avenue and other eastern destinations. Ridgewood is the beginning of actual geologic rock formations, with all the land west of it being elluvial fill deposited by glacial and riverine flooding. That’s why the zones around Newtown Creek are so flat, if you were wondering. The actual terminal morraine of Long Island begins a bit to the north east at Mount Olivette Cemetery, in proper Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been attempting to get as much night shooting around Newtown Creek in as possible before the weather turns bitter cold, which is why you’ve been seeing so much of it lately. I’ve been noticed by a few people wandering around the concrete devastations with a ridiculous yellow safety vest draped over the filthy black raincoat, setting up the tripod and all the other necessary gear needed for the pursuit. With the exception of few encounters with bored but zealous security guards, it’s been a fairly solitary pursuit, although in a couple of locations I opted to bring somebody along with me to watch my back. Frequent commenter and persistent curmudgeon Don Cavaioli was with me at English Kills last week, for instance, but for the shots in yesterday and today’s posts I was on my own.

I’ve been asked about personal security by a few people, but it’s not something I worry too much about. My biggest safety concerns have been centered around not getting squished by a truck, or snapping my ankle on a hidden sinkhole or fallen branch while picking my way around in the dark. If I had to call 911 for help in an emergency, I’d likely have a devil of a time describing where I am to them as I don’t think “Maspeth Plank Road” or “former Phelps Dodge” is necessarily reflected in the municipal system. My plan for such an eventuality would actually involve first calling one of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance, beseeching them to aid in sending rescuers to a humble narrator.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

scarcely be

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The world is an increasingly scary place, stay home.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunday nights, and in particular the hours directly before the midnight boundary with Monday is breached, are the only time that the Newtown Creek industrial zone slows down and takes a breath. For a few hours the constant river of vehicular traffic, industrial activity, and omnipresent noise ebb. Any other day or time, and you literally would not have the thirty seconds required for some of these night shots at the Grand Street Bridge to be recorded, due to the vibrations of passing traffic shaking and cavitating the 115 old swing bridge.

The shot above looks southwards towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking roughly westward, you can see the glowing eidolon known as the new Kosciuszcko Bridge about a mile away, the crane district of Maspeth on the right, and the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek’s intersection with the main waterway and the East Branch tributary at center and left. At the bottom of the shot, in the unnaturally green waters of the East Branch, a tepid current was pulsing out from under the bridge which was – from an olfactory point of view – obviously carrying sewage towards the main stem of the Creek.

As a note, the water is lit up at the bottom of the shot by the street lamps of the Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As intoned in a previous posting, concern about just how bright the light from the new Kosciuszcko Bridge is has been a subject of conversation of late – and more than once – amongst the Newtown Creek crowd. Light pollution, as it’s known, is meant to confuse the heck out of migratory birds. There’s actually initiatives at the “big” environmental groups to get Manhattan office buildings to dim their lights during certain times of the year in response. Given that Newtown Creek is part of the Atlantic flyover migratory route… well… who the hell cares – it’s Queens.

I guess we’re just going to wait and see what sort of evidentiary observations emerge regarding its effect.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Pentacle HQ is about two miles away from where the new K bridge crosses the water, and I can see this pillar of purple light punching into the clouds from there. I’ve seen reports on social media outlets proclaiming “lights in the sky” from Bushwick and Vinegar Hill and even Manhattan. Nobody in Queens can be bothered to pick up the phone and call either 311 or 911, as somebody else will do it or they just don’t want to get involved. Admittedly, these reports were offered by people who thought they were seeing UFO’s, but…

Just saying… if I don’t know what something is and it’s flying, it’s a UFO. I’d suggest an Internet rabbit hole term for you to follow, by the way, which are “USO” or “unknown submersible objects.” Seriously, google that. Hours of fun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’ve always gravitated towards more home grown and provable horror. Like the mugger gang that used to operate at the Brooklyn side of the bridge back in the 1910’s, using black jacks and billy clubs to induce unconsciousness in their victims. After emptying the stricken of the contents of their pockets, the gang would toss them into the creek. This is the 1903 version of the Grand Street Bridge pictured above, which the gang is associated with. This bridge replaced earlier models, as discussed in this post.

In 1896, the cops found a Catholic priest name Leonard Syczek floating in the water alongside the 1890 version of the bridge, and wearing the sort of full ceremonial vestments required for conducting a Mass. There’s a story there which has never been fully revealed to me, but I suspect some sort of exorcism related tale will emerge eventually. Or, at least I hope one will. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Due to my weird imaginings and remembered tales, a growing state of panic set in and I realized that one of my spells was coming on. Drops and spikes in cerebral dopamine levels began to occur, and suddenly I had to pee really bad. My feet grew cold, my nose flushed full with snot, and a single tear formed in my left eye bitterly.

While composure was still mine, a phone app was engaged, and a driver was dispatched to shepherd me back to a place where doors can be firmly locked and vouchsafed against the outside world. I left my shoes in the hallway that night, lest I track something in which I had picked up along the banks of the Newtown Creek on a foggy and unusually warm night in February.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

so shunned

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Like sand through the hour glass, so too are the sewers of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Finishing up the presentation of several long exposure shots gathered around a foggy Newtown Creek, on an uncharacteristically warm February night following a soaking two day rain event, today’s post finds a humble narrator at the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Newtown Creek tributary known as the “East Branch.” For two thirds of the walk, my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance was hanging out with me, but he had to split and a humble narrator found himself in a familiar territory known as “alone.”

Sort of like that tree in the shot above, looking north down Metropolitan Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The East Branch is, to say the least, environmentally compromised. The sidewalk I was standing on is actually a walkway, slung atop a seven vaulted open sewer, the twentieth largest in terms of materials vomited into the water in the entire City of New York, called “CSO NC-083.” This pipe allows somewhere’s in the neighborhood of 586 million gallons of untreated sewage egress into this shallow industrial canal annually. You should see it during the day at low tide, I tell ya.

Across the yard is a large lumber yard whose street address is along East Williamsburgh’s Grand Street, and I literally had one foot in Brooklyn and another in Queens while recording its presence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets were deserted of all but occasional vehicle traffic. Because of the fog and the absence of people in what is normally a bustling and fairly dangerous to move through traffic corridor, a real sense of “spooky” permeated the air. An occasional passerby would stumble past me, offer a nod or some throaty greeting sound, and move along shaking their heads.

What? It’s not normal to be standing on a giant sewer in an industrial zone, along a Federal Superfund site in the middle of the night, taking pictures in the dark? Sheesh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was set to a higher sensitivity in terms of aperture and sensor ISO than the others in this post, as a note. I’m sort of interested in the light gathering power offered by allowing the camera to stare for long periods of time into darkness. Unlike the high ISO shots, however, there could a Bigfoot walking through the shot and the camera wouldn’t record it unless said Sasquatch was to stand stick still for around 35-40 seconds.

I’d recommend using a flash for Bigfoot photos, anyway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I got creeped out by a carload of teenagers at one point and hid behind a mailbox before cutting through a parking lot to get to the other side of the East Branch without having to walk back into Brooklyn where they were headed. Welcome to Queens, by the way. If you head up the hill to the right, you’re going to Ridgewood, stay on Metropolitan to the left and you’re heading towards Maspeth.

Those kids were scary. Teenagers… brrr…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After cutting through my little shortcut over to Grand Avenue (it’s Grand Street in Brooklyn, Grand Avenue in Queens). The final spot I wanted to shoot from was arrived at, the 115 year old Grand Street Bridge.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

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