The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth Creek’ Category

immediately arranged

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Maspeth Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was an unusually low tide last Sunday night, discovered upon my arrival at the Maspeth Creek tributary of the larger Newtown Creek, and if one were to describe the exposed mud flats as being aromatic… that would be a bit of an understatement. Luckily, a humble narrator was alone in the concrete devastations, which provided for an opportunity for derring do and risky behavior. Soon, I found myself perched on a crumbling concrete ledge with a tripod and camera and a two story drop into the stinking mud just one stumble away, with a chain link fence directly behind that my free hand was clutched to. You want to be, always, on the other side of that fence.

This is exactly the sort of thing which I advise others not to do, as it’s stupid and foolhardy, but… I got my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time and just a few blocks away from this spot, DeWitt Clinton sat on his porch and watched a meandering Maspeth Creek flow past his house, when the waterway was navigible half of the way to Elmhurst, and dreamt up the Erie Canal. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Maspeth Creek was described by contemporaries as a “stinking swamp, surrounded by pestilential industries and ugly to the ultimate degree.” By the time WW2 came along, this was where you’d access the bulkheads of the United Enameling and Stamping Co.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Maspeth Creek was canalized and truncated, with its eastward or landward side being entirely taken over by a large combined sewer outfall concrete vault, and its once upon a time course towards Elmhurst buried into a sewer. In fact, the concrete ledge from which these shots were gathered is the roof of that sewer vault, known to Newtown Creek enthusiasts and Government regulators alike as “NC-077.” This drain reportedly allows about 289 million gallons of untreated wastewater a year to saturate into the tributary and deposit filth into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were all sorts of critters moving around in the darkness; Geese, Rats, and Raccoons were all personally spotted, but there were other unseen but hinted at forms of life in both the water column and crawling about and along the shorelines. Something fairly large was crashing around in the bush found on the southern bulkheads, but that could have just been some of the Raccoons, or maybe some Opossums. I did not observe anything with tentacles, but I’ve always had certain suspicions about Maspeth Creek, revolving around old Lenape tales suggesting this area as “not being right.”

As far as what might be tunneling, wriggling, or sliding about in the exposed Black Mayonnaise sediment beds… who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

suggesting question

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Canada Goslings in industrial Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching about recently, my path carried the camera past Maspeth Creek, which – as the name would imply – is in industrial Maspeth and is in fact a tributary of that lugubrious cataract of cautionary tales known to all simply as the “Newtown Creek.” Whilst scuttling past the Maspeth Creek waterway’s head waters, which flow out a sewer, these Canadian invaders were shifting from foot to foot in a manner which I did not like.

Geese, in general, are dicks. Canada Geese, in particular, are jerks as well as dicks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, for this dick specie, is that there’s now more of them. “Goslings” are what you call baby geese. While I was shooting this, one of the adults – I’m presuming it was the papa – was ambling towards me while sticking his tongue out. I once had to punch a goose in the face at one of the area cemeteries to ward off an attack. This particular paragon of poultry  was intent on killing me for wandering too close to a nest, I guess. For you PETA types out there, one tried every other recourse first including “flight” before “fight” became my only option. That “sumbitch” chased me half way across Calvary Cemetery before I had to vigorously assert my right to be unmolested with a closed fist.

Seriously, Geese are mean dicks, but they’re real cute when they’re babies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The one who was messing with me the other day is the big one, at the back of the group in the shot above. I’m not sure if Maspeth Creek is in the 108th or the 104th precinct, but if anyone recognizes that goose I’d appreciate it if you called the NYPD tips line and let them know. I bet that its name is Claude or Jean or something… pfft… Canada.

Back in conventional reality, rather than within my inner dialogue about rude avian biota, the Canada Goose is one of the many, many birds that arrive at Newtown Creek each and year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek, and all of NY Harbor, sits in the migratory Atlantic Flyover zone. Every year you get to see nestlings putting on weight and size all summer long around the creek. Towards mid August and late September, they’ll begin vacating the area for parts unknown, returning in late March and April.

There’s a bunch of them wallowing around in the toxic sediments of Maspeth Creek, in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Most of what I look out for as a hazard around the Newtown Creek are trucks rather than birds, and while making my way home, one marveled at all the different kinds. Semis, packers, roll on and roll offs, panel, box, wreckers, concrete… I even saw a couple of crane trucks. Industrial Maspeth is lousy with that sort of thing. There’s trains, too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Leaving the Maspeth area via 48th street, you cross under and over the Long Island Expressway while heading north into Sunnyside. I like to use this steel and concrete landmark, a corridor of the House of Moses, to mentally signal that I’ve left the Creeklands and reentered the world as it’s meant to be.

As in, if an aggressive goose showed his face around south Sunnyside, he’d soon find himself cooked.


Upcoming Tours and Events

June 22nd – The Birthplace of Mobil Oil: A Walking Tour
– with Newtown Creek Alliance.

Join NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA’s project manager Willis Elkins for walk through the birthplace of Mobil Oil, past the DEP’s largest Wastewater Treatment Plant and to the Kingsland Wildflowers green roof. The tour will also visit NCA’s Living Dock on the way; showcasing restoration efforts adjacent to major industrial operations and in the wake of legacies of pollution and neglect.
The tour will end at the 22,000 square foot Kingsland Wildflowers project, with panoramic views of the Newtown Creek and Manhattan skyline at sunset.

Tickets and more details
here.

June 30th – The Skillman Avenue Corridor
– with Access Queens.

Starting at the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, we will explore this thriving residential and busy commercial thoroughfare, discussing the issues affecting its present and future. Access Queens, 7 Train Blues, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Newtown Creek Alliance members will be your guides for this roughly two mile walk.
Skillman Avenue begins at the border of residential Sunnyside and Woodside, and ends in Long Island City at 49th avenue, following the southern border of the Sunnyside Yards for much of its path. Once known as Meadow Street, this colonial era thoroughfare transitions from the community of Sunnyside to the post industrial devastations of LIC and the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

Tickets and more details
here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

border of

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Devastations, concrete and plastic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Broken, abused, cast aside. That’s me. Like every other bit of wind blown trash in NYC, I find myself staring into the abyssal darkness which is the Newtown Creek. Poisoned, polluted, and abandoned. That’s me too.

Here in the wasteland, where dissolution and disease can be found, this is where I belong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shouting at bureaucrats, angrily decrying the injustices of municipal apportionment, demonstrating that the sky is indeed falling to those who can stop it. Demanding not justice, but a simple admission of culpability for the collapsing heavens. That’s me too. Doesn’t make me popular with officialdom, but there you are. Somebody has to do it, and as with a lot of other sections of my life – you gotta do whatcha gotta do.

Assailed from all sides, by do gooders who would rather complain than actually do anything to change this catastrophe we live in, by cocktail party scholastics, by the politically correct. That’s me too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Periodically, the bile rises in my throat, and rage clouds my eyes. Rhetorical flourish and clever retort gives way to a growling and wild eyed sermon which demands acknowledgment that a dangerous storm is forming in front of the lucky recipient.  It is in these moments that I remind people, and myself, that I am – in fact – not a nice guy by nature and especially by nurture.

What would Superman do? That’s what pulls me back from the edge, when I remember what I aspire to, rather than what I am.

In fact, I can be quite an asshole when I don’t hold myself in check, and remind myself about Superman.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s at these times that a humble narrator picks his way over to his beloved Creek, musing on his private fantasies of visiting exquisite vengeance upon those who have angered him. It’s also when he finds himself thinking of himself in the “third person” and decides that it’s time to get a grip. Superman always keeps his grip, lest all those things which he gazes upon, and through (x-ray vision, which would be handy), burst into flame. He lives in a world made of paper, of course, but hey – you can have your Jesus, my ideal being and eidolon has heat vision and can fly. He’s also highly resistant to bullets and temperature extremes, but has an aversion to shiny green rocks.

It’s not so easy, living between my ears, but shiny green rocks bring me back to Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What this city needs is a good plague, I’ve always thought. That’s the sort of thing Superman never thinks. Newtown Creek, what it really needs are the direct attentions of Superman, but he’d probably avoid the place because it’s covered in shiny green rocks. Superman could probably solve every little Newtown Creek problem in an afternoon, mainly because there would be no one who could say “no” to him.

All Newtown Creek’s really got is me and a few of my friends, I’m afraid. It’s also likely where that plague mentioned above might come from.

We will have to do, until someone better comes along.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

betraying myself

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Like the ghouls and ghasts, loosed upon the night wind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, one decided to take advantage of the atmospherics offered by temperature inversion last week and proceed to hike over to Newtown Creek from Astoria at four in the morning. As also mentioned in the prior posting – the manifestations of high humidity like fog and mist, coupled with spring like temperatures, created a physically arduous environment. Perspiration offered an abundance of skin secretions for my clothing to absorb, which, combined with worries about condensation on camera and lens – caused a rather uncomfortable series of existential challenges to endure. No one ever promised me a rose garden, however, so your humble narrator soldiered on into the night.

The apex of this part of Laurel Hill, sitting alongside a shallow valley through which a lost tributary of the lugubrious Newtown Creek which was known as “Wolf Creek” once flowed, is always that moment when a humble narrator comments to himself that the creeklands have been reached.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary Cemetery’s newer sections are on the left side of the shot above, and the “House of Moses” occupies the center. That’s the Long Island Expressway at center and above, with industrial Maspeth to the right.

This is where 48th street, whose gradual climb in altitude I had been ascending since Northern Blvd., begins to slope roughly towards the elluvial flood plains of the Newtown Creek. Once, this ancient road was paved with crushed Oyster Shells. That colonial era surface would have been replaced with horse and carriage friendly Belgian Blocks (colloquially known as cobble stones) shortly before the Civil War, and later in the 19th century by tar and Macadam. The modern road is formed out of a concrete bed underpinned by steel rebar and is paved in a petroleum industry waste product called “Asphalt.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Industrial Maspeth never knows sleep. 

There are vast fleets of trucks, locomotives, and shifts of laborers converging at all hours of the day and night on this area, and on every day of the year (except Christmas and Thanksgiving, mostly). Sodium street lamps lend the place a sickly yellow glow, and the harsh illumination of passing heavy trucks provides for occasional blinding white blasts of light.

One has received “safety training” from Union laborers and corporate entities over the years, so a certain amount of confidence in how to handle oneself in locales such as this informed my actions. Donning an orange safety vest with reflective strips was one of the preparations made before leaving Astoria, incidentally. Night time in an M1 zone is one of the few times when the wandering photographer definitely WANTS to be noticed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are lots of giant machines moving around in industrial Maspeth, and 21st century industrial America operates within and promulgates a certain cultural imperative. That culture is called “workplace safety” and it’s important to understand the “lingua Franca,” customs, and mores which these laborers operate within – and their expected cultural normatives – as one moves about.

As a rule, never walk in front of a truck or any sort of machine without its operator acknowledging your presence, and if possible indicate to them which way you will be going and wait for them to further acknowledge that before proceeding – that’s one of them. Another is to not just wander across a driveway without looking. These hard working people aren’t expecting some idiot with a camera to be wandering around at 4:30 in the morning, after all, and the cops don’t exactly enforce the 25 mph speed limit around these parts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the bottom of the hill into which 48th street was carven, the grid of the streets is broken, and you can either head west towards Blissville in Long Island City or deeper into industrial Maspeth to the east or south. The Long Island Railroad tracks are found just beyond the fence line pictured above. That’s Review Avenue/56th Road/Rust Street you’re looking at. This is the very definition of a “not pedestrian friendly” intersection and is a dangerous crossing when on foot or a bike.

How dangerous is it, you ask?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another one of the thousands of ghost bikes is found here, a roadside memorial to someone who got squished. Every time you find a ghost bike, you find a human life cut short.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing the LIRR tracks. It should be mentioned that the “Haberman” section of these tracks are quite active these days, and that the signals are in terrible condition. Over the summer, just east of here, a truck crossing the tracks was swept away by a freight train. The exact spot which this shot was captured saw a similar incident occur a couple of years ago. In both cases the barriers never came down, the bells and flashing lights never sounded, and unlike the summer 2015 event to the east – this is where a fatality occurred.

In the distance, the Kosciusko Bridge project lights the horizon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a bit of lens flare present in the shot of the Ferrarra Brothers Concrete trucks above, but there’s little one can do about that in context. The shots in today’s, and yesterday’s, post are almost entirely handheld. High ISO settings, coupled with a “wide open” aperture, and compensating for the counterpoints of bright artificial light and enveloping darkness make for quite the technical challenge. It’s all about technique, shooting postures, and being able to force the camera into “seeing the light.”

Sometimes that means light is bouncing around inside the lens, producing flares. “Work with it” as my pal Bernie Ente used to say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Heading towards Maspeth Creek along 49th street. I’ve been told that this, the section of 49th pictured above, is actually one of the lowest places in NYC – in terms of altitude relative to sea level and the sewer shed that feeds into the Newtown Creek. It’s a guarantee that you’ll alway see some flooding here every time it rains, which is something I can say with authority, and based on observation.

An apocryphal story offered by one of my many neighborhood informants stated that during a Hurricane Sandy, geysers of water were erupting from the sewer grates and manhole covers in this spot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting Newtown Creek’s tributary “Maspeth Creek” on a foggy night in November of 2015, was actually the first tripod shot which I popped off last Thursday.

I bagged the dslr momentarily, and employed my trusty old Canon G10 with its magnetic tripod and a remote shutter release. The magnet allows me to “clang” the camera onto fences, fire hydrants, anything ferrous. The shot is a 15 second long exposure, which characteristically causes water to assume a mirrored glass like appearance. In the distance – the Kosciusko Bridge, with Manhattan’s skyline lost in the mist rising from that malign example of municipal and corporate excess known only as the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

Tomorrow – more.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 10, 2015 at 11:00 am

heavy boots

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Yeah, Happy Earth Day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another Earth Day rolls around, wherein large numbers of happy little sophists will gather together in Manhattan Parks and congratulate themselves for separating their trash into “recycling” and “garbage” parcels. They will pat each other on the back, and claim that NYC is the “greenest” and most “resilient” of American cities. You won’t see any of them visiting LIC, or Greenpoint, Maspeth, or Bushwick, or Ridgewood. They won’t think about what happens after they flush their toilets, either.

Few, if any, will find themselves having arrived at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t see the black waters of Newtown Creek’s tributary Maspeth Creek, or smell the battery acid odor of raw sewage as it is entering the waterway. They won’t comment on the illegal dumping, or the true nature and environmental impact of the recycling industry. Greater good, they would say, were they to leave Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Few will visit Dutch Kills at low tide, over in LIC. If they did, they would be forced to rationalize the rotten egg smell as being produced by anaerobic microbes. They wouldn’t puzzle over the neon colors of this tributary of Newtown Creek, whose mouth is .75 of a mile from the East River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They won’t wander through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens to Ridgewood, and witness what the recycling process actually looks and smells like. They won’t worry about what they are breathing either.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan people like to feel as if they’re doing something to help the environment, and will do so in front of television cameras. They will make a show of discussing the banning of plastic grocery bags, or demand that NYC begins to compost its organics. They won’t realize that this composting has to be done somewhere within throwing distance of their Borough, and that it will carried by truck to some central receiving facility where it will be collected and stored whilst awaiting processing. They don’t know that this area will be somewhere along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly won’t visit the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch line, and see the hundreds of filled cargo boxes that compose the “garbage train.” They won’t care that the concentrating point of roughly 30-40% of NYC’s garbage is found on the corner of Varick Street and Johnson Avenue, nor about the thousands of trucks which descend upon it daily.

So – Happy Earth Day, from Newtown Creek.

“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.

braying donkeys

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Regrets, I’ve had a few.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption.” There’s been an awful gnashing of teeth and a clash of cultures going on around the Newtown Creek of late, and a season of controversy has begun. My pal Bernie Ente always warned that as soon as the money began to flow from the various environmental lawsuits, you’d see the carpet baggers and opportunists assert themselves, and the one thing which everyone would forget about is the Newtown Creek itself as they fought over the scraps offered by the Politicians. I’ve been asked, dozens of times now, for my view on the current conflict and – uncharacteristically – I’ve stayed out of it and refused comment. Why? Because it really has nothing to do with me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew.” Your humble narrator knows all the warring parties personally, some of them are even friends. I know that this means I’m trying to be like Sweden, and that the American way is to pick a side, but unlike everyone else – I can recognize a conflict of interest when it crosses my desk and won’t get involved in a war that doesn’t directly affect me. My interest is in the Newtown Creek itself, and telling its historic story, as well as recording the events of the early Superfund era for posterity. Are the factions vying for the control and future of the waterway, and their conflicts, going to matter in the long run? Only time will tell.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“For what is a man, what has he got?” There’s a side which believes that Brooklyn is invading Queens, and attempting to inflict a Hipster invasion upon it. There’s a side which visualizes a vast conspiracy, the “Non Profit Industrial Complex” as it were, which will insure that all public monies flow through the hands of a chosen elite. There’s a side which just wants to be left alone to pursue their own goals along the Creek, whether it be splashing around in the water or planting gardens along its banks, however sophist these projects may be. What’s been forgotten, in my mind, is the economic engine that the Newtown Creek was, is, and always will be. Also, the real modern villain of the Creek – the sewer system – which dumps millions of gallons of Manhattan’s untreated filth into the water of Brooklyn and Queens every year, continues to operate in the same manner as it did a century ago, and is seldom mentioned anymore.

Of course, I’m just some guy with a camera and a filthy black raincoat, who doesn’t have advanced degrees in urban studies or whatever, so what do I know? I just see things “my way.”

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

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm

exhalations penetrate

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If it looks like this, can you imagine what it smelled like?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A short break, wherein offerings at this, your Newtown Pentacle, will consist of lighter fare than that normally served is underway. Obligation and a series of deadlines have dominated all attention, and accordingly – for the next few days, singular images with a pithy yet abbreviated description will be supplied. One must render unto Caesar, after all.

There are now four 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.

Plank Road, with Newtown Creek Alliance, on April 19th. This one is free, click here to get on the list.

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 18, 2014 at 11:30 am

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