The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth Plank Road’ Category

hedged in

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The preservative powers of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, one headed over to industrial Maspeth the other night to do some shooting. Those wooden piles you see in the shot above are the last mortal remains of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road which have somehow survived the 143 years since they supported a bridge across the water here. It sounds impossible, I know, but these same piles are depicted in lithographic illustrations offered by the Harper’s Weekly publication in the 1880’s. They also turn up in historic photos of the Newtown Creek I’ve seen that were captured in the 1930’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hot weather tends to starve water bodies of oxygen saturation as a rule, and in the sewage choked Newtown Creek it’s a serious issue. Fish who find their way into the back channels of this tepid waterway are known to suffocate. Untreated sewage is released into the water via NYC’s combined sewer system, which sees sanitary and storm water flow through the same pipes. During rainy weather, the outfalls from the combined system belch out millions of gallons of waste water. This outfall water is teeming with bacteria which greedily consume all the oxygen they can. To address this problem, the NYC DEP has installed an aeration system (essentially a gigantic aquarium bubble wand) into the water column.

This is problematic, as it aerosolizes sewage bacteria onto the breeze, and carries bottom sediments up to the surface. The bottom sediments, referred to as “black mayonnaise,” are why the Federal Environmental Protection Agency added Newtown Creek to the Superfund list in 2010.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the water from the Maspeth Plank Road, you’ll notice the enormous 115 square acre National Grid LNG facility. It used to be a manufactured gas plant, opened in 1929 by the Brooklyn Union Gas company after they closed up similar facilities which were once found along the Gowanus Canal. The BUG plant at Newtown Creek manufactured 200 million cubic feet of gas a day, supplying the energy needs of Brooklyn and parts of Queens. The waste products produced by the process included a witch’s brew of chemicals referred to as an “ammoniacal liquor,” concentrated cyanide compounds which were called “blue betty,” and coal tar. Lots and lots of coal tar.

Prior to the passage of the Federal Clean Water act, there was absolutely no reason for BUG not to dispose of these waste products directly into the water. The Black Mayonnaise sediment bed mentioned above contains significant amounts of coal tar, and according to some of the scientists studying the Creek as part of the Superfund process, there’s an 18 foot high ridge of the stuff piled up along National Grid’s bulkheads.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 9, 2018 at 11:00 am

curious delvings

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Slowing it down at the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday night, after waiting through an interminably hot afternoon for the light to get right, a humble narrator packed up “the bag” and headed over to my happy place in industrial Maspeth. Given the ridiculous heat and humidity, I took a cab rather than walk from Astoria, and the Maspeth Plank Road was a fairly novel spot to be dropped off according to the driver. The look on his face when I headed into the bushes towards the waters of Newtown Creek… I tell ya.

This was a fairly demanding bit of shooting due to the “hot” and sun exposure. The “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” was in effect, and whereas the rest of NYC was in the low ninety degree range, it was closer to one hundred where I was. Nevertheless, the tripod was set up, camera arranged, and busy I got.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are long exposure shots, if you’re wondering about the dreamy “look and feel” of them. I had a ten stop ND filter attached to my lens, which was set to a ridiculously narrow f22 aperture. The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was heading down towards the horizon, but it looked (and felt) as if it was located literally in Greenpoint just across the water.

The Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site has been mentioned time and again at this – your Newtown Pentacle. It’s a former crossing of the Newtown Creek, which was opened in 1836, and last spanned the water during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. It connected Furman’s Island with the Greenpoint Bushwick industrial borderlands. Notable industrial facilities once found on the Brooklyn side include Martin Kalbfleisch’s Chemical Works, Conrad Wissell’s Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharf, and Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory. The Queens side included fertilizer mills and other lovely 19th century industries like bone blackers, acid factories, and fat renderers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shoreline surrounding the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road site on the Queens side is fairly feral. There’s all manner of critters I’ve spotted ambling along the self seeded vegetation here; rodents and cats, raccoon and opossum, birds of all stripes. My colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance have expended no small amount of effort in making the Plank Road publicly accessible, and we’ve even erected some signage there. Saying that, the NYC DEP has a bit of sewer infrastructure here which has seen recent maintenance and construction activity, and they’ve really torn the ground up something fierce. 

If you make a mess, isn’t it incumbent upon you to clean up after yourself? Manners maketh man, and all that?

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

surviving entry

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A good place to get dead, the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Something I get asked about all the time is whether or not bodies get regularly dumped into Newtown Creek. My stock response is “only of its amateur hour.” If you’re dumping a body in NY Harbor, you want to make sure that it disappears quickly. Nothing that falls into Newtown Creek vanishes, it just sinks to the bottom and eventually it comes bubbling back up to the surface. The East River is crap for this duty as well. The Hudson, or Jamaica Bay, however…

Nevertheless, a lot of people have ended up dead in the Newtown Creek over the centuries.

Charles Hannigan, who once lived on fifth street in the Eastern District of Brooklyn, was fishing along and drowned in the Newtown Creek in early September of 1856. His body was never recovered. On August 1st of 1866, a 40 year old escapee from a lunatic asylum in Flatbush, named John Montayne, attempted suicide at Newtown Creek but was revived. In 1870, a dock worker named Patrick Boyle fell into Newtown Creek nearby Hunters Point and drowned, while three men watched and did nothing to help him. In September of 1874, a Long Island City Policeman, Officer Minnocks, found the body of an infant with a crushed skull floating in Newtown Creek. In February of 1878, Blissvillian William Owens fell out of a rowboat and drowned in Newtown Creek, his body was never recovered. In 1886, the body of S.W. Meyers, who had disappeared eight weeks prior in Manhattan, was found floating nearby the Penny Bridge along Newtown Creek.

Meyers was described as feeble, and given to fainting spells. It was presumed that he just fell into the water and drowned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Joel Rifkin, the serial killer, dumped a 55  gallon steel drum containing the corpse of a woman in May of 1992 in Newtown Creek, according to his 1995 confession. In 1996, a United States Army Captain named John Lau disposed of the bodies of a married couple, Alexander and Liane Barone, in the Newtown Creek not too far from the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. A fellow named Derek Winefsky drove his car at high speed through the waterside fence line of Greenpoint’s Apollo Street in 2008, and whereas his body was recovered, that of his passenger disappeared into the murk. In October of 2017, a decomposing body was discovered at the very end of the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek in Bushwick by one of my colleagues at Newtown Creek Alliance.

Basically, it’s pretty difficult and expensive to dispose of a human body, even under the best circumstances. Ever heard how much a funeral costs? Imagine trying to do it all quiet and secret like.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator has no first hand knowledge of the following, rather it’s the product of bar room banter with all sorts of old timey characters, disreputable rogues, and grifting undesirables in Long Island City and Greenpoint; back in the “old days” when the “boys” were still in charge around the Creek and one of their uncooperative business associate needed “getting rid of,” it wasn’t that difficult to find a local crematorium or industrial furnace tender whose palm was easily greased. Additionally, if the cover story you offer – regarding your employment – to both religious leaders and Federal prosecutors is that “you work in waste management,” ditching 150-250 pounds of meat into the waste flow isn’t that big a challenge.

So the short answer is “No, Virginia, people don’t dump bodies in Newtown Creek that often, and if they do they’re amateurs.”

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 2, 2018 at 1:00 pm

furnace tending

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It’s National Gazpacho Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes one will catch a glimpse of himself in a store window or other reflective surface, and even a humble narrator is known to flinch at the sight. Loping along in a filthy black raincoat, a wandering mendicant burdened down with a heavy sack of lenses and other photographic accoutrements, the ravages and scars of a half century in a City affectionately referred to as “home sweet hell” are scribed deeply into his flesh. Corpulent and corrupted, disliked and denounced, egomaniacal and estranged, feckless and forgettable, ghoulish and ghastly… all of these words fail to fully and generally generate the hateful, hopeless, idiotic image obvious to all but revealed to a humble narrator only as he passes by a pane of silvered glass on area streets.

No wonder children burst into tears, dogs growl, cats haunch up, women clutch at their purses, security cameras swivel and follow when one appears. Police and security personell always watch me closely, with their hands resting upon the weapons they’ve been issued.


Move more material with less fuel and a more comfortable operator’s environment! The WA500-8 has a newly designed bucket with increased capacity and improved digging performance to maximize production. The EPA Tier 4 Final certified engine incorporates enhanced controller logic for lower fuel consumption. A new high capacity, heated, air suspension seat provides premium comfort.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not visit “the country” for fear of spreading an infection of blight. Like a pellet of some radioactive metal displayed in the midst of an otherwise verdant forest, one’s presence causes other living things to wither away. It has always been this way, for one such as myself.

The memories of childhood should be of summery afternoons spent in joyful pursuits, rather than locked rooms with tightly shuttered, and barred, windows decorated with atavist hangings. Sitting in the shadows of spare apartments, watching idle shafts of atmospheric dust lit by those few rays of light offered by the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself which somehow managed to permeate the barrack – these should not be the only recollections one is able to summon regarding those days. There was no joy, just tedium punctuated by wild and unpredictable furies erupting amongst those who cared for my needs.

Visitors to my caretakers were always of an advanced age. Often they brought plastic offerings obtained on a pilgrimage to some eastern land, formerly held by the Ottoman Turks. These plastic things often carried religious idioms written in English but rendered in a hebraized script. The visitors would carry on conversations in a language familiar only to the parts of Europe that have historically bordered Russia, and indeed within the Tsar’s former holdings. Sometimes these conversations would erupt into anger, others laughter. It was all very puzzling, but ultimately pedantic and boring.

from wikipedia

The expressway begins at the western portal of the Queens–Midtown Tunnel in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. The route heads eastward, passing under FDR Drive and the East River as it proceeds through the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority-maintained tunnel to Queens. Once on Long Island, the highway passes through the tunnel’s former toll plaza and becomes known as the Queens–Midtown Expressway as it travels through the western portion of the borough. A mile after entering Queens, I-495 meets I-278 (the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway) at exit 17. At this point, I-495 becomes the unsigned highway NY 495, although it is still signed as an Interstate Highway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The psychic plague which one was infected with at an early age is that nothing which is good or joyous or in any way positive stays with me for long. Others remonstrate the negative experiences of their lives, blocking out trauma, and do not realize that their lives are subconsciously shaped by avoiding similar pain. A humble narrator, on the other hand, gleefully rips away at his scabs every chance he gets, and likes to scratch away at scars. One has quite a bit of time for reflection, on my long scuttles around the concrete devastations of the Newtown Creek. Just the other day, one grew furious over an event which occurred in the Second Grade when I was accused of kicking someone in the leg as our class was on the way to Assembly in the school auditorium.

“My list” goes all the way back to before Kindergarden. All the good stuff thats ever happened to me? That one started when I woke up this morning, and it’s been a shitty day so far. What can I tell you, I’m all ‘effed up.

also from wikipedia

A portion of the path of the Long Island Expressway was along the former road path and right of way of a streetcar line that went from the southern part of Long Island City to southern Flushing.

The Long Island Expressway was constructed in stages over the course of three decades. The first piece, the Queens–Midtown Tunnel linking Manhattan and Queens, was opened to traffic on November 15, 1940. The highway connecting the tunnel to Laurel Hill Boulevard was built around the same time and named the “Midtown Highway”.  The tunnel, the Midtown Highway, and the segment of Laurel Hill Boulevard between the highway and Queens Boulevard all became part of a realigned NY 24 in the mid-1940s. In the early 1950s, work began on an eastward extension of the Midtown Highway. The road was completed to 61st Street by 1954, at which point it became known as the “Queens–Midtown Expressway”. By 1956, the road was renamed the “Long Island Expressway” and extended east to the junction of Queens (NY 24 and NY 25) and Horace Harding (NY 25D) Boulevards. NY 24 initially remained routed on Laurel Hill Boulevard (by this point upgraded into the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway) and Queens Boulevard, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately for my self loathing, while these shots were being gathered, my attention was taken up by a conference call with environmental officialdom and hotly discussing Newtown Creek, so I didn’t have a chance to really work myself over about that thing in Second Grade, nor the debacle that was my ninth birthday, or any of the humiliations suffered but left unanswered in Junior High School. On the plus side, my left foot was giving me a bit of trouble, so at least there was some tangible physical pain I could enjoy, rather than the psychic kind I relish.

Such reveries, wherein a humble narrator spends his mental capacity on beating himself up, are a little luxury I like to enjoy. The internal soliloquy also has other tasks to work on – wondering about what’s making a certain smell, plotting vengeance, planning future walking tours, working the camera, avoiding getting squished by a truck. I hate getting squished more than anything. Regrets… I’ve had a few.

from wikipedia

The first known construction cranes were invented by the Ancient Greeks and were powered by men or beasts of burden, such as donkeys. These cranes were used for the construction of tall buildings. Larger cranes were later developed, employing the use of human treadwheels, permitting the lifting of heavier weights. In the High Middle Ages, harbour cranes were introduced to load and unload ships and assist with their construction – some were built into stone towers for extra strength and stability. The earliest cranes were constructed from wood, but cast iron, iron and steel took over with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long Island City’s Hunters Point and Degnon Terminal (LaGuardia Community College zone) areas have become positively infested with humans since this whole real estate frenzy has set in. Manifest, motley mobs of mankind now occupy these precincts of Queens’ rookeries. Lonely Island City is no more, if it ever was. The only place one can be truly alone, and avoid the shocking countenance of his own reflection, is industrial Maspeth. There are zero reflective surfaces hereabouts, except on the steel bumpers of newly washed heavy trucks. All is caked in grit, and clods of unknown substances. The waters in this section of the Newtown Creek offer a certain perfume, hinting at the respiratory or digestive processes of unknown biological or bacterial entities. Vast puddles of rancid water line the broken streets. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.

A humble narrator is probably the only person on this entire Long Island, or one of the lesser islands of the archipelago, who actually longs for chances to visit Industrial Maspeth. Other than somebody who has something they need to illegally dump into the water or leave some junk on the street, of course. Most of the folks who come here do so simply to earn their keep, notably those who have to deal with the rest of us being slobs.

Me? I love the place.

from wikipedia

The Bureau of Cleaning and Collection is responsible for collecting recycling and garbage, cleaning streets and vacant lots, and clearing streets of snow and ice. BCC assigns personnel and equipment to standard routes while managing the weekly allocation of personnel to address litter and illegal dumping.

The Cleaning Office oversees the removal of litter and debris from city streets, collects material for recycling and garbage from public litter bins and coordinates with Derelict Vehicle Operations to remove abandoned vehicles. The Lot Cleaning Unit cleans vacant lots and the areas around them, and around city-owned buildings in order to meet the city’s Health Code standards.

The Collection Office oversees regularly scheduled recycling and garbage collection services to the city’s residential households, public schools, public buildings, and many large institutions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I really like to do around here, however, is creep down to the shoreline and hide in the bushes. One will really let loose hereabouts, and start laughing maniacally, instead of my usual hissing and basso growling. The stoutest cord long broken, my crazy laugh will shortly turn into a sobbing cry and then wailing lament, before transitioning back to the hilarity. I’ll cycle through this a few times. Once a flock of geese came to investigate the racket, another a laborer came sniffing around thinking that somebody was drowning a pig in Newtown Creek. There’s a reason I hide in the bushes, along with all the other monsters I’ve seen.

I don’t get too close to the water though, due to an irrational phobia revolving around my whole “seeing ones own reflection unpreparedly, with all its sudden and dire implications” disorder.

As a note: You should never look too deeply, or too long, into a mirror lest a piece of yourself become trapped within it. At least that’s the opinion amongst certain occultists. In the case of the lugubrious Newtown Creek…

from wikipedia

Laughter is not always a pleasant experience and is associated with several negative phenomena. Excessive laughter can lead to cataplexy, and unpleasant laughter spells, excessive elation, and fits of laughter can all be considered negative aspects of laughter. Unpleasant laughter spells, or “sham mirth,” usually occur in people who have a neurological condition, including patients with pseudobulbar palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. These patients appear to be laughing out of amusement but report that they are feeling undesirable sensations “at the time of the punch line.”

Excessive elation is a common symptom associated with manic-depressive psychoses and mania/hypomania. Those who suffer from schizophrenic psychoses seem to suffer the opposite—they do not understand humor or get any joy out of it. A fit describes an abnormal time when one cannot control the laughter or one’s body, sometimes leading to seizures or a brief period of unconsciousness. Some believe that fits of laughter represent a form of epilepsy.

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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odd purchases

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It’s National Martini Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we, as in the environmental and activist community along Newtown Creek, have been asking officialdom about for years is about why there is zero signage advising the citizenry about not fishing or crabbing in the Newtown Creek. I know this might strike you as odd, but folks actually do fish and crab hereabouts. Observationally, these are people who were born overseas, so the signage issue becomes a bit complicated given the legendary “diversity” of Western Queens and North Brooklyn. The Albany people have always questioned as to why you’d need signage, as it’s illegal to fish without a license, and every NYS licensee has been advised about the environmental conditions encountered on the inland waterways of NYC – which is one of the most “Albany people” things I’ve ever heard.

Luckily, the Feds at EPA realized what we’ve been asking for is necessary and have begun the process of creating advisory signage, and the PRP (Potentially Resonsible Parties) consortium which styles itself as the “Newtown Creek Group” volunteered to manufacture the placards, which EPA would in turn design and install. The signage is pretty close to its final design iteration, and the latest version looks like this. As to where the signs should be placed? Who has carefully documented every little pocket and corner of the streets surrounding the Creek? Who can tell you where people commonly fish? That’s a Newtown Creek Alliance job, anyone can tell you that.

Let’s face it, who ya gonna call?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, one found himself in Greenpoint recently at nine in the morning as the EPA team assembled. Civilians cannot ride in Government vehicles (which is an odd rule, as we technically own them) so the third party contractor who will do the actual installation of the things did the driving. We hit every little corner of the Newtown Creek where people can find access to the water, even the hidden spots where the “utes” of Greenpernt like to experiment with cannibinoids.

It was actually quite a beautiful morning, and the light was fantastic, so while the Feds got busy with the tape measures and GPS’d the various locations we visited, I waved the camera around a bit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We did encounter an “enforcement situation” in Brooklyn alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. There’s a protocol for “who’s responsible for what” along the Newtown Creek. Short version is this – EPA is in charge of Superfund, which is specifically related to the sediments under the water. New or ongoing pollution entering the water is the provence of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NYC DEP is responsible for absolutely nothing anywhere or anytime, it’s not their fault at all, and they have no idea why they were named as a PRP in the first place as it’s all Exxon or National Grid’s fault.

The fellow from EPA I was on the bridge with confirmed my belief that “I should call this in” and the NYS DEC Spill Response hotline was called. If you spot oil slicks, plumes of floatable contaminants, or as in the case of the shot above – hundreds of gallons of milky white mystery juice exiting one of DEP’s open sewers – the protocol is to first photograph it, as documentation, and then to call 1 (800) 457-7362 to let DEC know about the situation so they can investigate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were, as mentioned above, visiting every conceivable spot that the citizenry could find their way to the water.

That included “off limits” locations like the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge over the English Kills tributary. As you can see from all the interesting graffiti on the bridge, which carries lead tracks of the Bushwick Branch LIRR, trespassing is pretty common back here. This is the reason that EPA asked Newtown Creek Alliance to send somebody along with them, as there’s the “official story” and a “real story” found along the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This family of Canada Geese were encountered at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, and were being predated by a feral cat who was anxious for breakfast. Momma and Poppa Goose were just out of frame to the left, so the cat made a brilliant decision and continued on into the brush to look for some easier prey. We encountered a couple of broods of Geese over the course of the morning. Geese can be ornery, as a note, and will smack you up if they’re annoyed.

One of these illegal alien avian bullies, at Maspeth Creek, actually hissed at us as we neared, and stuck its tongue out at me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reasoning behind the signage is based around science rather than good humored politics, incidentally. When you’re chatting with environmental officials, they don’t refer to oysters or mussels as shellfish, rather they call them “bioaccumulators.” Animals that are high up in the food chain have internal organs – livers in particular – and muscular tissues which have amassed dangerous levels of whatever pollutant is found in the sediments of the waterway, which they’ve attained by consuming all the prey critters who are below them in the food chain hierarchy. In the case of crabs, in particular, you can encounter a fantastic amount of chemical concentrates due to their particular niche and occupations.

Newtown Creek is – of course – a Federal Superfund site. The sediment beds hereabout are a goulash of petroleum and petroleum byproducts, organocopper compounds, volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, coal tar, sewage, and everything else that has ever been dumped or spilled into the water. The sediment is referred to as “black mayonnaise” and it’s where the crabs live. It’s also where most of the invertebrates that form the bottom of the food chain for the fish population live. Itty bitty critters eat the decaying organics of the black mayonnaise, and slightly less itty bitty critters eat handfuls of the little guys, and the larger critters eat hundreds of them – you get the idea.

You don’t want to eat fish or crabs that you catch in the Newtown Creek. Really.

Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

furnace tendings

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Banal pedantry, Newtown Creek, and the Feds – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ever since the Simpsons movie came out a few years back, whenever the subject of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency comes up, Our Lady of the Pentacle begins to shout out “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.” Given the amount of time I spend at, on, and around Newtown Creek – Our Lady oft finds herself repeating “EEPAH, EEPAH, EEPAH.”

Last week, one found himself out in the rain with the EPA Superfund team. We were trying to help them site a series of warning signs, which will be installed at the handful of Newtown Creek “public access” spots which are hidden along the bulkheads and visited by anglers or lookie loos (that includes you kids from Apollo Street), signage whose missive would advise against the catching of or consumption of the fish who populate the lugubrious and heavily polluted depths of the Newtown Creek. “EEPAH,” indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The EPA team requested counsel on the placement of their signage from the Newtown Creek Alliance Project Manager – Will Elkins – who asked me to come along as well. We accompanied”EEPAH” on a somewhat grand tour of the Newtown Creek, hitting a bunch of spots where either Will or myself had seen people fishing over the years. The Feds figured out where they place their signage, marked stuff down, and generally did “EEPAH” stuff. I did my thing too.

Whilst at the Brooklyn side Maspeth Avenue street end, the tug Mary H. was spotted.

Mary H. services the Bayside brand oil tanks you’ll notice adjoins the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, barging in bulk product which is then distributed to their end customers via heavy truck. The amazing part of this – and it is somewhat amazing – is that the Bayside distribution facility is about 3.1 miles back from the East River, at the border of industrial Maspeth and Bushwick East Williamsburg.

Tugboats, barging cargo three entire miles into Brooklyn – it boggles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue was formerly known as the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike, and it connected Newtown in Queens with the Eastern District of Brooklyn – Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. The crossing of Grand and Metropolitan was also one of the stops on the New York and Manhattan Beach Railroad, its depot would have found at the foot of Greenpoint’s Quay Street in 1912.

The Brooklyn side of Maspeth Avenue follows the northern path of the Maspeth Toll Bridge Co.’s Plank Road, and I was standing on what was once known as Furman’s Island while I was shooting the Mary H. tug. The Plank Road bridge last crossed the Newtown Creek in 1875, during the Presidential Administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Connecting the colonial communities of Maspeth and Newtown via the hellish expanse of Furmans Island (home to Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory, Conrad Wissel’s Night Soil and Offal Dock, and Kalbfleisch and sons, amongst other notorious or malodorous occupants), the Plank Road today exists as a destination for Newtown Creek devotees and fetishists. Also, the Feds.

On the Queens or Maspeth side, Newtown Creek Alliance has a major shoreline rehabilitation project underway, which is being run by the aforementioned Will Elkins. There’ll be a “Don’t eat the fish” sign there too.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

nail biting

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A bit of Newtown Creek “now and then,” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been at work on several subjects regarding that fabulously decadent cataract of Municpal neglect known to all as the Newtown Creek. It’s kind of big picture stuff, which requires a “long tail” of research on and about certain industries. You can’t understand something modern unless you understand its past, I always say.

For example – If I want to describe the Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas plant on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint (which is now the National Grid LNG plant on Varick), I need to possess an at least topical amount of knowledge regarding the history and technology of the 19th century Manufactured Gas Industry in New York City.

Actually, that’s not an example, it’s precisely the thing I’ve been working on – to develop an understanding of. Manufactured Gas Plants – or MGP’s as they’re known in the environmental community.


– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

This sort of research always turns up a few surprises, and for an area like Newtown Creek – which is of truly national importance in the story of the second industrial revolution, but for which scant historical visual documentation exists – it’s sometimes pretty interesting. Harper’s Weekly was on quite a tear about my beloved Creek back in the summer of 1881, and presented a few illustrations of “the horror” interspersed with texts describing the oil drenched mud and stinking waters of Newtown Creek.

Here’s my speculation as to what I think we are seeing in these drawings. Educated guesses, btw., that’s all.

Nowadays, the outline of Newtown Creek barely resembles what it looked like back in 1881 – there used to be a couple of islands in the Maspeth Creek/Turning Basin area for instance – but there are few historical constancies with which you can reckon location around the creek when old photos or even illustrations are presented. The LIRR tracks are one of them, and another is the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

In the shot above, that pile of piles on the shoreline in the center of the shot? The smokestacks on the far shore? The gas holder tanks on the horizon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that the illustrator was sitting right about where I was last winter, at the shoreline intersection of industrial Maspeth’s 58th road with Newtown Creek, looking south west towards Greenpoint’s National Grid LNG site with the ruins of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road directly in front of me.


– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

The view above has railroad tracks in it, ones which follow a certain curve, one that has remained fundamentally the same since the LIRR laid them down in the late 1860’s. The tall smokestacks at the left of the shot are likely those of Phelps Dodge. The ones off in the distance are probably the Haberman rendering plant. Calvary cemetery would be to your left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the illustrator set up his tripod at Penny Bridge – which is the modern day spot that Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd.

That would put the illustrators point of view somewhere on the eastern side of Blissville, looking eastward towards Maspeth.

photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m of the belief that this is the same shoreline seen in the left side of the shot above, although my photo was captured from out in the middle of the channel while onboard a boat. The masonry on the lower right – or Brooklyn side – of the shot is what’s left of old Penny Bridge, and the 1939 model Penny Bridge (Kosciuszcko) is right where that divot on the shoreline is in the 1881 illustration from Harper’s Weekly. Phelps Dodge would have been found on the east side of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and their property included the gray building with the blue stripe (the modern day Restaurant Depot).

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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