The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Maspeth Plank Road’ Category

cracked voice

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Maspeth Plank Road, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent walk through the sunless corridors of Industrial Maspeth found a humble narrator at the Maspeth Plank Road site. The City of Greater New York, in its infinite desire to complicate the environmental cleanup of Newtown Creek, has recently been working on a plan to replace the Grand Street Bridge. That’s a good thing, as Grand Street Bridge is a causal factor in terms of the bumper to bumper traffic one experiences on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg, Flushing Avenue in Maspeth and Ridgewood, and so on. Unfortunately, a particular and long standing dream of some yahoo at the NYC DOT has been to build a crossing of Newtown Creek at the end of 54th road which would connect to Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn.

Beyond obliterating whatever historicity remains at the Plank Road, this new drawbridge would only make things worse, in terms of heavy traffic. That’s a lesson Robert Moses refused to learn. It would be a cannon firing fleets of heavy trucks directly at the NYCHA Cooper Houses campus in Greenpoint, and at New York City Parks’ Cooper Park. This would also need to be a drawbridge so it’s extra expensive.

Don’t worry, I’m on it, and have already laid down the law with a deputy commissioner or two. There’s a couple of City Councilmembers who are about to hear from me as well, and I’m getting ready to cause everybody involved a lot of trouble.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pals at Newtown Creek Alliance have spent a not inconsiderable amount of effort on cleaning up, planting, and performing maintenance at the Plank Road. There’s actual historical signage there now, believe it or not, describing the site. Unfortunately, during the winter months, hydrological deposition carries a literal “shit ton” of garbage down the hill to Plank Road. The place is currently a real mess.

I’ll let y’all know when we plan a clean up party, and arrange for one of our partners to land a dumpster nearby. This is one of the things NCA does on the regular, street end cleanups with crews of volunteers – who are often college students – that pulls tons and tons of garbage off of the banks of Newtown Creek.

If you think the imminent plastic bag ban in NYC is some sort of “libtard foolishness to further the climate lie,” come down to Newtown Creek with us sometime for one of these clean ups and you can start peeling carrier bags off of the rocks and trees. We will argue afterwards about fake news and libtards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A friend of mine… well, an online friend as we’ve only met once in the flesh… recently posted something to the effect of the plastic bag ban as being foolish policy and some sort of plot to tax the populace. The requirement in the new ban for the return of paper grocery bags is actually a jobs bill, when you get down to it. Recyclable in the extreme, the paper bags economic supply ecosystem will become a source of needed blue collar employment if it’s handled correctly. By creating a government mandated market for the things, private interests will compete to profit from said market. It will also raise the per ton value of recyclable paper and cardboard pulp. Nothing survives in the United States which doesn’t make money, profit, or dangle the lure of avarice.

Environmentalist people reading this, pay attention to that statement.


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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 4, 2020 at 11:00 am

archaic hand

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A few leftovers from Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things which I realized, whilst compiling shots for the new “In the Shadows at Newtown Creek” book (ahem, available at the link at the bottom of this post) was that I need to remind myself to turn the camera on its side periodically and capture “portrait” format shots. My habit, and compositional preference, is for landscape oriented shots – the sort you see displayed here all the time. Problem with that scenario is that when I need to fill a vertical space like a book cover or magazine page, the shot ends up being cropped so severely that it’s no longer the same image I worked on capturing.

C’est le vie, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were gathered on the night I mentioned last week when a raccoon in industrial Maspeth was trying to eat me, and were shot at the Maspeth Plank Road site. I’ll be out and about shooting tonight and in fact just about every night this week, but at the moment that this post was being written I’m still sort of hard pressed as to where I’ll be. It’s entirely possible that I may find myself over in the City, looking wistfully across the river at Queens and Brooklyn, but I really can’t say yet. A bit of wanderlust is upon a humble narrator, and beyond having a singular obligation tomorrow night, my time is my own to fill.

Any suggestions? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My default state is to head on over to the Newtown Creek, and in particular, industrial Maspeth. Saying that, I’ve been hitting this area a LOT in recent months and want to take pictures of something different for a bit. The atmosphere really isn’t on my side this particular Monday, what with the milky white sky. Cloudy conditions are meant to continue through the evening, I’m told, but you work with what you’ve been given.

Let’s see where my feet take me, it could be anywhere really.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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

March 25, 2019 at 2:30 pm

strict watch

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This environmental craze has gone too far.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m not proud of it, but I once had to punch a Canada Goose in the face at Calvary Cemetery. I normally get along with birds, even known aggressors like geese and swans. He started it, getting all freaking territorial on me in Section 9 of the cemetery and then pursuing me as I retreated towards Section 1 (if you know the place, picture the hills I ran up and down). At the top of the hill, right near Esther Ennis’s grave, he was coming at me and doing that goose “head flip whip” thing that whacks you with their heads. Geese are dicks. A lot of animals can be dicks, but let’s face it, what “nature” really wants to do is find a way to digest you or parts of you. The ocean is just one big open stomach that’s full of worms with teeth. There’s a reason our ancestors cut down the forests, paved over the meadows, and poured poison into the water – to teach “nature” who’s the boss.

The other night at the Maspeth Plank Road, where a humble narrator could be found near midnight, I met another speciation which decided it didn’t like me, a raccoon this time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There I am, standing in near complete darkness, gathering the shot seen above when suddenly – wham, something heavy lands on tree trunk about three to four feet to my right. I had a stout metal barreled flashlight out and in my hand (it makes for a good truncheon, should need arise) and illumination revealed the glowing green eyes of one of the semi legendary trash pandas of Newtown Creek. It climbed down off of its perch, lowered its head while fixing its eyes upon me, and advanced. Overcoming my urge to regard it in the same way I’d handle an approaching dog or cat (it was actually really, really cute with the button nose and everything), one instead uttered a sound not unlike “chiit” which caused it break stride and bristle its fur. Again did it advance, and again did I “chiit” at it, which didn’t seem to impress the beast as much the second time. The long duration shutter speed of the shot above finished its interval, and my tripod legs were brandished at the wildling while I moved backwards a few steps.

Riveting, ain’t it? Seriously, this was the high point of Monday for me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few more “chiit’s” were offered from my new and more defensible position, and so did the dick raccoon begin a slinking retreat into the poisoned shadows of the incredible Newtown Creek’s Maspeth shoreline. Luckily, I didn’t have to punch it in the face or aim a kick at its’ skedooch.

All kidding aside, how freaking awesome is it that you’ve got wild mammals wandering around doing mammal things at Newtown Creek these days? After leaving the Plank Road, I turned east on 47th street (where I had to uneventfully maneuver my way through a herd of geese inexplicably standing on the sidewalk) and anticipated taking a few more shots of the Grand Street bridge for my archives, but spotted something weird going on. There was a group of men standing around on the Brooklyn side, who were watching one of their number – said individual was wearing tight fitting black clothing and a hat with horns on it (at least I hope it was a hat) – who was dancing around in a peculiar manner. I know it sounds like I’m making that up, and I did not take a shot of them to back my statement up… but… dancing guy with horns and a group of male admirers. Stack of bibles, I swear.

I decided to go the other way, as I had gotten fairly lucky in not getting bit by a raccoon, and north into Queens along Grand Avenue. More on that tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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

March 21, 2019 at 1:05 pm

often waylaid

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If you want spooky, Industrial Maspeth at night is your best bet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing spookier than a feeling of personal vulnerability, a discernment of solitude, and the certainty that there’s no escape should trouble or danger arise. Most avoid finding themselves in this sort of situation, a humble narrator instead seeks them out. After attending a performance art event at a friend’s house nearby which was both artsy and fartsy, one headed in the direction of that notorious cataract of municipal indifference called the Newtown Creek and got busy with the camera, Saturday last. It was sort of late, about ten p.m. I’d wager, and fairly comfortable climatically so a short scuttle into the nighted concrete devastations found me headed towards the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

The streets were empty, except for a few security guards sleeping in their security guard boxes at the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot, or Sanitation workers enjoying weekend overtime shift work and smoking cigars in front of a DSNY garage. A humble narrator, filthy black raincoat flapping about, pretty much had the place to himself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no sign of any sort of life other than the aforementioned municipal employees and errant geese, the latter of whom were heard rather than seen. Every now and then, I’d spot the eye reflection of feral felines prowling about in the darkness. For once, I was carrying a fairly ok consumer level LED floodlight, so I waved it around a bit while shooting. It’s pretty bright up close, as a note, but once you get past six or so feet from the thing it’s emanations begin to diffuse out to nothingness.

One of the many things which I “nerd out” about are flashlights. There’s two ways to describe the output from a “torch.” The first involves the actual light output of the thing, which is measured in “lumens,” the second is “throw.” Throw involves how far the light travels as a cohesive beam. The particular flood light I have is great on the lumen count, just not so great on the throw. With a long exposure night shot, however, it’s really about producing just a little foreground detail in what would otherwise be a field of blackness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wave the camera around at Plank Road all the time, but for some reason I had the distinct sensation that somebody was both nearby and watching me. There were occasional sounds coming from the brush surrounding the clearing at the water’s edge, but as mentioned – geese, and cats. I’m sure that there was some watership down action involving rats going on as well, but those sneaky little bastards are great at not being seen or heard.

This is what was behind me, which I kept on craning my neck around to check on due to paranoid imaginings.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last time I published a shot similar to this one, which included a lens flare just like the one seen above, a whole thread of comments was unleashed about the visual artifact and its coloration. I was advised to retouch it out, which I rejected. Despite the many years I spent professionally engaged as a Madison Avenue Advertising Photo Retoucher, perhaps because of that, I tend to try and do everything “in camera.” There is a slight bit of alteration in the shot above, other than normal adjustments for brightness, contrast, and color temperature to the “raw” file – an exposure gradient is laid into the extreme top of the shot to darken up the otherwise fairly blown out concrete plant and sky.

I’m not against monkeying with the shot, obviously, but given the level of manipulation that’s possible these days I try to maintain the integrity of the original photo as much as possible whenever possible. If a lens flare manifests in camera, it’s part of the scene as I shot it and it stays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking to the west along Newtown Creek from the Maspeth Plank Road, with the Kosciuszcko Bridge all lit up like some strumpet, or a Greek coffee shop. That purple beam rocketing up out of the bridge’s lights is visible from a couple of miles away back in Astoria. One cloudy or rainy nights, there’s a giant luminous blob of unnatural color visible in the sky.

I’m still debating whether or not I like this part of the new bridge, but I can tell you that the saturated colors produced by its powerful LED lighting wreaks havoc when developing night shots and it’s a real challenge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “tripod section” of my night accomplished, one affixed a “bright lens” to the camera and began scuttling back towards Astoria. The walk home to HQ was uneventful, but I didn’t find my way inside the domicile until well after midnight.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 23, 2018 at 11:45 am

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

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