The Newtown Pentacle

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vital nature

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Engine 400? New toys at NY&A?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, after a series of puzzling moments over on the Newtown Creek side of industrial Maspeth, a humble narrator decided to begin the journey back to HQ and headed northwards. Often have I described how ridiculous I look when I’m out night scuttling – as the usual filthy lack raincoat has a yellow reflective vest draped over it. In addition, I’ve got the tripod, camera, and a knapsack full of camera stuff. I’m the lone pedestrian you see when driving down the truck routes and waterfront edges, and it’s not unknown for me to walk for hours at night around the Creek without seeing another living soul. Not Monday.

Just as I got to a particular intersection near a certain burnt out diner that I used to frequent, a New York and Atlantic train set rolled by on a spur of the Lower Montauk tracks. I asked one of the crew who was working the signals if he anticipated that the train old be coming back anytime soon and he indicated that it indeed would be. I inquired as to a safe spot to stand and shoot from that wouldn’t interfere with their operations, and in the zone indicated I found a relatively photogenic spot, and began to set up for my shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of Maspeth was once like Chicago, with lots and lots of rail customers amongst the industrial powers back here. These days, there’s still industrial freight clientele around these parts, but the rail spurs (secondary tracks) that serve these businesses are largely inaccessible without straight up trespassing through all sorts of property – government, private, you name it. While I was waiting for the train to return, a van with MTA branding on it pulled up next to me and the two Cops inside inquired as to what I was up to. “Nothing sinister, I assure you” was my reply. I explained my purpose, identified myself without being asked, and offered the two badges a short history lesson about the Long Island Railroad in Maspeth and described my night photography project to them. They said “no problem” and explained they had to inquire as it looked odd seeing someone take pictures in the dark around the properties they patrol. They drove off and the train rolled in. Not a problem.

I offered part of the above missive to some friends on Facebook, and was surprised at their sentiments towards the cops. Speaking strictly as someone who expresses his First Ammendment rights regularly, I full throatedly say that I bloody well want the cops inquiring when they see some weirdo in a black raincoat and safety vest standing near a rail line in the middle of the night with a tripod setup in NYC. They didn’t interfere with me, or even get out of the van, just were asking what was up and why I was there. As a counterpoint, the MTA’s Security Guard/Rent A Cops at the nearby Grand Avenue Bus Depot are aggressive and have chastised and interfered with photographers – including me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NY& A folks had seemingly visited another customer on a hidden spur found to the west of the intersection. The signal arms went up and I crossed the tracks over to the north side of the street. The signal arms triggered again and I got into position for one last shot as they descended.

So, I’m going to be conducting a free walk in LIC on the 30th of March, it would seem. The Sunnyside Yards project has roared back to life in the aftermath of the Amazon debacle, and since the Manhattan people are going to all sorts of effort to get this thing done… Click here for details on the “Skillman Corridor” walk.


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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.

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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

secretive days

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Darkness and cold, it’s all darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last night, I was menaced by a raccoon over in Industrial Maspeth, but that’s another story for a different day. Last week, on the other hand, I was on Borden Avenue in LIC where I discovered that the Borden Avenue Bridge is undergoing an asbestos remediation project that nobody in Queens seems to know anything about. Unlike asbestos jobs I’ve seen elsewhere, there was no plastic sheeting on the scaffolding and nothing in place to guard against bits and pieces from falling into the water.

Multiple inquiries were made. Even the NYC DOT (the people I’m supposed to ask are at Deputy Commish level, suppose I’m going to have to use back channel sources to find out), whose bridge this is, were stumped as to what’s going on.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It often startles me how close the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are to the very center of NYC, both geographically and politically, yet it often feels like you’re in a foreign country when talking to Manhattan based “officialdom.” The actual geographic center, according to NYC City Planning, is at Queens Blvd. and 58th street – if you’re the curious type. I am.

It’s funny, actually. Land in LIC is worth more now than its ever been, or at least more than its been valued at in at least a century, but just 3/4 of a mile from the East River at Dutch Kills you’re in a black hole.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Irving Subway Grate iron works site pictured above. Long abandoned, it was immolated about eight or nine years  ago and has been standing fallow ever since. This is huge footprint site, just a few blocks from the red hot Degnon Terminal area on Thomson Avenue and a ten minute walk from the white hot Court Square zone. The dreams of avarice are being realized for real estate industrial complex speculators in Court Square, yet this gigantic patch of ground sits febrile.

Go figure.


“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.

such odours

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Hiding in the dark, me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sort of places I inhabit, and any physical description of me, are best analogized by early European folkloric accounts of a wild man living in the wasteland and hiding in the shadows. That’s where I like to menace passerby and scare children from, the scrabbly edges of civilization. Sometimes I like to howl, which booms alongst the bulkheads. Hurling rocks at isolated dwellings, allowing photographers to get blurry shots of me moving through the brush, tearing up vegetable gardens in the dead of night… Maybe it’s more of a Native American legendarium that I belong to.

I’ve become a Creeksquatch. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are all handheld shots in today’s post, not the long exposure type which I’ve been displaying for awhile. The cold patch of the last month or so has really gotten in my way, and the only reason I was on scene to capture these was because I was helping someone out. This fellow I met on one of my tours last year was desirous of doing audio recordings around the Creek using a super sensitive microphone and recording device, and he asked if I’d take him around the creek at night to do his thing. We donned our reflective vests and went for a short walk after one of the many Newtown Creek Alliance oriented community meetings which I religiously attend.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The path I chose to take this fellow on was a fairly safe one, centered in on Long Island City and Blissville.

Above is the garbage train, moving around under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in Blissville.


“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 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek

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The big announcement is here, and it’s a photo book!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek is finally ready for public consumption, I’m proud to announce. 88 pages of full color photos encased in a perfect bound card stock cover edition, this is the first of several publications which Newtown Pentacle will be offering this year. This edition is a magazine format photo book, one embellished with minimal text beyond simple descriptions of location. It collects the night photography work which I’ve been engaged in for the last year around the Newtown Creek Superfund site at locations in Long Island City, Greenpoint, Maspeth, Ridgewood and East Williamsburg/Bushwick.

The sales price is $30, and here’s the link again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve chosen blurb.com as the printer, who will handle ordering and fulfillment. Sample copies in hand look and feel great, and everybody whom I’ve shown them to has been blown away by the quality of their printing. I’m thrilled with it, and hope that everybody reading this will consider placing an order for a copy of the book. A not insignificant percentage of the sales price will end up in my pocket, which will help support this blog and the time and expense that go into producing it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Many of the photos contained within “In the Shadows at Newtown Creek have been displayed at Newtown Pentacle soon after they were captured, such as the shot of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge pictured above and of Maspeth Creek pictured below. The urban landscape around this highly industrialized waterway found at the heart of New York City is frankly spectacular, visually dynamic, and I have been working extremely hard to capture its vibrant spirit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you new to the Newtown Pentacle and the world of Newtown Creek, I’m Mitch Waxman.

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance historian, official photographer for the Working Harbor Committee, Steering Committee at Access Queens, and also a member of the NYS DOT’s Stakeholders Advisory Committee for the ongoing Kosciuszcko Bridge project. I’ve been offering walking, bus, and boat tours of the Newtown Creek watershed, and the greater harbor beyond, for nearly a decade. I’m a steering committee member of the Newtown Creek Superfund Community Advisory Group, serve as an ad hoc member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (which provides citizen oversight of the DEP’s sewer plant project in Greenpoint), and I was a Parade Marshall for three of the NYC Bridge Centennial Committee celebrations back in 2009 including the Manhattan and Queensboro events. My photography of Newtown Creek and NY Harbor has appeared in National Geographic, the NY Times, Scholastic publications, lots of local websites and newspapers, several official NYC and NYC EDC publications, as well as a bi weekly column I used to write for Brownstoner about Westrn Queens. On June 9th of 2009, this blog – the Newtown Pentacle – was founded, on the day of the Queensboro Bridge centennial.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last several years, the shots that I’ve captured which have really caught my eye have been the long exposure night time ones, and in the last year or so it was decided to “get serious” about low light urban landscape shooting. The results gathered from Newtown Creek are collected in this new book of mine. Blurb.com’s “In the Shadows at Newtown Creek” sales page offers an online (partial) preview which will give you an idea of the layout, and content, of this publication.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Geography governed the placement and sequence of the images presented, starting with Newtown Creek’s intersection with the East River and then ranging nearly 4 miles eastwards towards the bitter end of things at the English Kills tributary in Bushwick/East Williamsburg. Along the way, every bridge, important site, and tributary is visited – many of which are locations accessible only through jagged holes in chain link fences or through acts of physical derring do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A chance to support for this blog, and a humble narrator, is offered. June 9th of this year will mark the tenth anniversary of this publication, which publishes five days a week and fifty two weeks a year. I’m beginning to think about doing some sort of event to celebrate the anniversary, as a note. Also, there will be more print publications later in the year.

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your library.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 28, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Another day, another bridge across Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are five bridges crossing the Dutch Kills tributary of that lugubrious ribbon of urban delight called the Newtown Creek, here in Long Island City. You’ve got two movable railroad bridges, the retractile Borden Avenue Bridge, the high flying truss which carries the Long Island Expressway and then slopes down into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and the good old Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. There’s been a bridge of one kind or another here since about ten to twenty years after the Civil War, with one notable span made of wood whose opening and closing was powered by ropes and a donkey. The current bridge was installed in 1910, when Michael Degnon was building his industrial terminal around Dutch Kills, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was finishing up their construction of the Sunnyside Yards.The Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was originally a double bascule drawbridge, but back in the 1980’s, the City rebuilt the roadway and replaced the mechanism with a single bascule version, which is the one featured in today’s post.

Apparently, Hurricane Sandy did quite a job in the electrical equipment that operates the thing, and since the City is required by the United States Coast Guard to maintain the HPA Bridge as a movable structure there’s been folks working “down below” in the gears and gizmos of the thing. It’s on one of my main routes when I’m out for a walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other night, Dutch Kills was frozen into a giant plate of ice. This isn’t surprising, since the hydrology of the canal displays very little in the way of laminar or horizontal flow. The water rises and falls with the tide, obviously, but the shapes and angles of the bulkheads in addition to zero sources of flowing water at its terminus other than a couple of open sewers cause the waters of Dutch Kills to mimic the behaviors of a stagnant lake rather than a flowing creek.

A few years ago, I started reading up on hydrology and talked to some of the powers that be about using “shaped” concrete forms to cause zones of compression and expansion which would passively move the water around a bit, but nothing really came of it. I still think this sort of engineering is the way to go, however. As I understand the concept, rounded shapes act as “brakes” in fluid systems, whereas narrowing the width and obliquing the angle of channel walls causes water to flow (think river rapids). Essentially, large bodies of water can’t rise that much above the level of surrounding water bodies they’re connected to, so when the volume hits a point of compression it gets “squeezed” and pressurized which causes it to begin moving towards a point where it can expand again. As an example, the same water pressure in your kitchen faucet is what feeds into your garden hose, with the only difference between the wildly dissimilar behavior of the same water pressure being that the stuff in the hose has been compressed all the way through the nozzle and the sink faucet flow can just expand into the basin.

Design in enough points of compression and expansion, you’ve got “flow.” Or at least, that’s my theory. What do I know, I’m a schmuck with a camera, not an engineer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another hypothesis I can offer is that the Newtown Creek is far more biologically active at night than it is during the daytime. All the time I’ve spent around the waterway in the last year at night has revealed an otherwise hidden world that comes out in the dark. There’s higher mammals, both feral cats and raccoons, which are occupying the predator and scavenger niches. You can see and hear vast numbers of fish splashing around in the water, and there’s all sorts of critters crashing around at the littoral edges and along the bulkheads.

The shots in today’s post were exposures of about thirty seconds, so you won’t see what I saw when shooting them unless it held stock still for that interval of time. What I saw was a big fat raccoon foraging around at the water’s edge, scooping up shell fish and other horrible wriggly things to eat for dinner. Actually, it was probably for breakfast, as the trash pandas are nocturnal – just like me.


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hoarsely explained

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Checking in on the Kosciuszko Bridge project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor has found me wandering around the fencelines of the Kosciuszko Bridge project site again, and causing their security guys all sorts of worry. As always and as a rule, one does not trespass, preferring instead the peripheries.

The second phase of the construction project began shortly after clearing the rubble left behind by the “energetic felling” of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge, and this is the first post of 2019 that delves deeply into the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The overpasses carrying the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over the streets of Maspeth are nearing completion, and the crews from NYS DOT’s contractor – Granite – seem to be heavily involved with installation of various sorts of pipe. Some of these pipes will presumptively carry water down and away from the roadway, while others will be conduits for electrical cabling, or at least that’s what it looks like to this layman’s eyes.

There’s still all sorts of disruption to the local street traffic occurring here on the border between LIC’s Blissville and Industrial Maspeth. That’s the intersection of Laurel Hill Blvd. and 54th avenue, for the morbidly curious amongst you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

More recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting, and the aftermath of the demolition as seen from Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section in this post from October 5th. This post from December of 2017 closed out an event filled year in DUKBO, and a visit to the site at night is described in this March of 2018 post. Another progress report was offered in June of 2018. A nocturnal visit occurred in December of 2018, and here’s a short post from January of 2019.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on 43rd street, the first phase of the project which has been carrying traffic since April of 2017 is visible, with the two new concrete towers of the second phase also in sight. The first phase towers (which are in Brooklyn) are the ones that are garishly lit with cartoonish LED lighting, and the unlit ones are the second phase which are anchored into Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street remains a barren industrial path, populated by heavy trucking, warehousing, welding supply, and crane companies. Set into a severe incline, 43rd street crosses Maspeth’s 56th road (which is called Review Avenue on the LIC side of the Bridge project) and continues southward towards the former premises of the Phelps Dodge company towards Newtown Creek. There’s an “at grade” rail crossing at its end, and a street called 57th avenue which is occasionally referred to as “Galasso Place.”

There’s a huge FedEx shipping hub down there, and the Restaurant Depot company, both of which sit on former Phelps Dodge properties.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A main thoroughfare for industrial traffic, 56th road is one of those fairly terrifying street crossings you find around Newtown Creek which was definitely designed with little thought to pedestrians. As is my habit in areas like this, and particularly at night, a high visibility “safety vest” is pulled over the shoulders of my filthy black raincoat.

Given the amount of night shooting I’ve been doing over the last year, that vest has become a standard part of my camera bag kit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking through the fences at the heart of the project, southwards towards Brooklyn, from Review Avenue/56th road.

Intentionally, I went down to the site on a Sunday night when no work was going on so as to not get in the way. While you were watching the Super Bowl, I was shooting this.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the waterfront of Newtown Creek, looking westwards towards Manhattan, whose skyline you can just see peeking out behind Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery. The Brooklyn side is on the left, is nearby the tail or northern end of Meeker Avenue. I call both areas “DUKBO” or Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards from Review Avenue in LIC’s Blissville section, along the Lower Montauk tracks of the Long Island Rail Road. According to people in the know whom I’ve asked, the new bridge is due to open in either Q2 or early Q3 of this year. It all depends on the severity of winter weather.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 6, 2019 at 12:15 pm

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