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 for $30.

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It’s National Sacher Torte Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete devastations of Newtown Creek, after the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has slipped behind and become occluded by the state of New Jersey, are spooky. During daylight, they’re just a cautionary tale with occasional glimpses of terror and wonder, but after darkness settles in on the soot stained masonry offered by the warehouses, factories, and the Great Wall of Calvary Cemetery – one finds himself constantly looking over his shoulder. In the case of the furtive glance captured above, my apprehension was directed towards the spot where Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd. nearby the old and nearly forgotten Penny Bridge. The masonry of the 1894 Penny Bridge is still extant, despite the actual span having been demolished around 1940. The first Penny Bridge, which was little more than a rope walk, opened thereabouts in 1803. It is at Penny Bridge that the presence of the spectral Blissville Banshee was first reported in 1884, as she glided across the oily waters of the Newtown Creek.

I mean – this ain’t Queens Plaza – where legions of vampires are known to drop from the steel rafters of the subways when night comes – but… Blissville after dark is just plain weird.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not just me who feels this way, either. Last Spring, a buddy of mine – who’s fairly fearless – was walking along this stretch with me at night. He began to ask insistently where we were, and opine that he was completely disoriented despite being in his native borough. Paranoid ideations began to blossom in his mind, and despite my insistence that we were on very familiar ground, anxiety began to overwhelm his reason. A distinct sigh of relief escaped his cranial breathing holes when we emerged onto Greenpoint Avenue after walking down shadow haunted Review Avenue in a generally northern direction.

Perhaps he was experiencing the sort of chronal tunnel vision that I often do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Could he have subconsciously known that Van Iderstine’s used to be here, or about Fleischmann’s Yeast with their stable of pneumoniac cattle. The unhealthy condition of these cattle, which attracted the attention of newspaper reporters, hygenicists, and State Board of Health Inspectors from Albany back in 1879, was attributed to being fed only fermented grain produced by the yeast brewers, which slid into their feeding troughs still steaming and straight from from the distillery process. The milk these cows produced was blueish in coloration, and nearly 1% alcohol by volume. This so called “swill milk” was not considered fit for general human consumption, as it was the lowest grade of dairy product commercially available in that era, but was considered a fitting protein source to serve to the orphans and prisoners confined on Blackwells Welfare Roosevelt Island. Nellie Bly might have spent ten days in a madhouse, but I don’t think she mentioned drinking swill milk in her famous exposé.

Van Iderstine’s, for those of you lucky enough to it have never heard of the business which used to inhabit these parts, ran a fat rendering mill hereabouts that was extant until the latter half of the 20th century. Animal parts, spoiled meat, rotten eggs, barrels of butchers blood – all were boiled down in open copper vessels here in Blissville in pursuance of the manufacture of tallow. Ghastly business, that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the atmospheric temperatures being low enough to allow one the usage of his full armor – the filthy black raincoat and a stout hat coupled with durable clothing woven from ruggose fibers – one is always aware of his vulnerability and obsequiousness to malign elements of society due to conducting my excursions on foot. It would be a simple matter for one or two stout men to overpower one such as myself, known for his physical cowardice and nervous temperament.

Others with stronger constitution might venture into the shadows of rumor haunted Blissville, but a humble narrator chooses instead to acknowledge his lurking fear and remain naught but a passing outsider and scuttling stranger.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the inverse end of Review Avenue, a quick glance over my shoulder revealed a small group of stocky men forming up and pointing in my direction. They were clad in shadow, but the outlines of their group against the sodium lit walls of masonry revealed shapes which did not seem “right.” Discretion being the better part of valor, a humble narrator engaged the services of a passing taxi and made haste for the locked doors of HQ back in Astoria.

The world is a scary place, and the concrete devastations of Western Queens can be scarier than even the pathless deserts of Arabia, where the secrets of cities lost await discovery by the scientifically curious. What might be found… in those wisely abandoned metropolises… if occult rumors are to believed… could easily spark another dark age, and retard the forward progress of mankind – or possibly end civilization itself and condemn mankind to an endless era of ape like barbarity.

As far as the Blissville section of LIC goes – who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there?

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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

debased patois

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America’s Workshop, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marching involuntarily down Borden Avenue in LIC recently, one decided to head east on Review Avenue towards Calvary Cemetery. Along the way, the striking architecture of the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the larger Long Island Expressway caught my attention. This section of Borden Avenue rose out of a swamp shortly after the Civil War, originally manifesting as a courdoroy or plank toll road for horse and ox carts. Its purpose was to connect Hunters Point with upland farms in Maspeth (Borden… as in dairy) “back in the day.” This is the sort of thing you’ll hear about if you come on tomorrow’s “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” tour, btw, with ticketing links found at the bottom of the post.

At any rate, one elected to head in a generally easterly direction, leaving the great steel expressway which was installed over Borden Avenue in 1939 by the House of Moses behind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the old General Electric Vehicle complex was demolished a couple of years back, and as is the case with many of the “development” properties in this section of LIC, the lot sat dormant for a while. Construction has started up on the property, which I believe is going to host yet another self storage facility.

One could not help notice the hookup to a fire hydrant which the construction guys on the lot had set up, as it was geysering a spray of water into the afternoon sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that this is a part of town which could really use a good wash, or at least a nice rinse. The bad news is that the water in this hose was under serious pressure – fire fighting pressure, as it were – and an uncountable amount of water was escaping from the hydrant system. This, no doubt, reduced the amount of water available for… y’know… fire fighting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The hydrant itself was burbling and gushing as it fed the construction hookup, feeding a small but growing pond on Review Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The water was ultimately being fed into this unknown device, which seemed to be some sort of hydraulically driven piston. Can’t tell you what it’s purpose was, but it made a sound which I can try to describe as “shish clack whirrsh clang shish.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sensing the presence of humans moving around behind me, one noticed that the geyser of water was serving another purpose on this warm afternoon in LIC. The pause that refreshes, indeed.

So, whatcha doing tomorrow morning? Want to come along on the walking tour I’m conducting with Atlas Obscura of the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek? The weather should be perfect, btw, and quite similar to today. Ticketing link is just below.

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Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle


– photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be, Queens, the 22blog,, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

– photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

hideous meaning

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Startling, recent transmissions and recitations from a weird and alien country called Albany brought word that the Governor of New York State has arranged to accelerate the Kosciuszko Bridge project. Complicated planning, difficult execution, and extreme expense hang gruesomely around this project- originally scheduled to commence in 2014, and now expected to begin in 2013.


Construction on a new bridge is now expected to begin in spring 2013 — a year ahead of schedule, thanks to $460 million made available for the job by Gov. Cuomo’s New York Work initiative.

The 73-year-old bridge, which carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway over the Newtown Creek, qualified for the money in part because it is on the state’s “deficient bridge” list.

The initial phase of construction will build an eastbound lane next to the existing bridge, according to the state Department of Transportation, the agency overseeing the project. The 1.1-mile bridge is expected to be done in 2017 and will cost about $800 million.

When completed, two new spans with a total of nine vehicle lanes and paths for pedestrians and bikes will replace the original structure.

It’s the single biggest project made possible through the New York Works program, an initiative to create jobs while repairing the state’s infrastructure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 1939 workhorse, erected at the whim of Robert Moses, will no longer soar above that mirrored ribbon of risible metaphor known as the Newtown Creek in just a few years, as scheduled work is meant to conclude in 2017. Area wags shrug and sigh at this, wearily offering that such projects often extend well past their scheduled and budgetary goals, and that the Creek itself will present a series of unexpected problems to be solved.


Following seven years of alternatives analysis, environmental studies and extensive partnering with community groups and stakeholders, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the New York State Department of Transportation’s (NYSDOT) selection of Alternative BR-5 for a new Kosciuszko Bridge in its March 9, 2009 Record of Decision and granted authorization to proceed with Final Design. The Project Team has been working to complete key initial phases of the Final Design which would lay the groundwork to develop and complete the detailed design of the new bridge structure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Extensive documentation exists at the State DOT website, with coruscating revelations about both the current structure and anticipations of obstacles and opportunities which will be encountered during pursuit of the new structure. Your humble narrator, threatened by such rapid change, remains nevertheless excited about the idea of a pedestrian walkway overlooking not just the Creek itself- but Calvary Cemetery. Architectural drawings of the future DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp) show an intriguing and modernist setting.


Under all Build Alternatives, excavation of soil would be performed to a depth of about 4.5 m (15 ft), and the walls of the excavation would be braced. Contaminated soil and groundwater would be collected and disposed of. The new foundations would be pile supported, and either large diameter drilled piles or concrete filled driven pipe piles would be used. Drilled pile construction would generate less noise and vibration than driven piles, but may be difficult to install if boulders are encountered. Additionally, there is widespread soil contamination in the area, and contaminated soil and water extracted while drilling would need to be collected, treated and disposed of properly. This construction impact study assumed the use of driven piles.

After pile installation is complete, formwork for the pile cap would be installed, rebar installed, and concrete placed. Pier construction would follow, working from ground level up in approximately 2.5 m (8 ft) segments. Formwork would be installed, rebar installed and concrete placed. After the concrete has cured sufficiently, the forms would be stripped and the sequence would be repeated until the pier was complete.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A frequent commenter at Newtown Pentacle, “George the atheist”, asked me a while back for clarification and or documentation of my assertion that the reason for the truss bridge’s enormous height over the Creek was to allow egress to ocean going vessels with high stacks (smokestacks). During the course of some general research on Newtown Creek in the first half of the 20th century, this 1951 photo popped up at the NYS Digital collections site which illustrates just such a scene.

from wikipedia

The Kosciuszko Bridge is a truss bridge that spans Newtown Creek between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, connecting Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Maspeth, Queens. It is a part of Interstate 278, which is also locally known as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The bridge opened in 1939, replacing the Penny Bridge from Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn to Review Avenue and Laurel Hill Boulevard, and is the only bridge over Newtown Creek that is not a drawbridge. It was named in honor of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish volunteer who was a General in the American Revolutionary War. Two of the bridge towers are surmounted with eagles, one is the Polish eagle, and the other the American eagle.

suitable apparatus

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the redolent cargo of my camera card revealed- this “Grand Walk”, a panic induced marathon which carried your humble narrator across the East River from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan into Williamsburg and up Grand Street to Maspeth and the baroque intrigues of the Newtown Creek– wound down into it’s final steps on Laurel Hill Blvd.

Examining the images recorded on my camera, photos which I don’t remember taking, the ineluctable feeling that something was missing from the modern scene was inescapable.

from wikipedia

Nichols, along with his son Charles W. Nichols, helped organize the merger of 12 companies in 1899 to create General Chemical. Under his leadership, the company grew its asset base and increased its earnings threefold, making Nichols a force in America’s fledgling chemical industry. His vision of a bigger, better chemical company took off when he teamed up with investor Eugene Meyer in 1920. Nichols and Meyer combined five smaller chemical companies to create the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, which later became Allied Chemical Corp., and eventually became part of AlliedSignal, the forerunner of Honeywell’s specialty materials business. Both men have buildings named after them at Honeywell’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. His original plant along the Newtown Creek in Queens is infamous for its legacy of pollution. Nichols is rumored to have once emptied vats of excess sulfuric acid into the creek rather than sell it cheaply to a businessman he had no respect for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nichols Chemical, from which the legendary Phelps Dodge Laurel Hill plant would someday sprout, would have been found along the Newtown Creek nearby the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge – which is itself doomed and consigned to the stuff of future reminiscence. At it’s apex, this industrial site employed 17,500 people and squatted along some 36 square acres of the Creeklands.

The tallest chimneys in the United States (at the time) stabbed at the sky from here, painting the Newtown sky with poison effluvium whose pH content was sufficient to cause marble and granite to melt like ice cream left to the merciless gaze of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge is slated for demolition and replacement in a few short years of course, and this scene will irrevocably alter when a modern structure is put in place. The high flying bridge was built large to accommodate the sort of ocean going craft which were common in the 1930’s- cargo and passenger vessels with enormous smokestacks that would have been serviced and outfitted by other corporations just up the Creek.

Additionally, the war department held certain intentions and reserved the option to sequester battleships in Newtown Creek, with the intentions of protecting the vital industrial center from a safe inlet, were an invasion of North America attempted by hostile European adversaries via New York Harbor.

from Greater New York: bulletin of the Merchants’ Association of New York, Volume 2, 1913, courtesy google books

When a manufacturing establishment decides to increase its output fivefold; when it decides to tear down its present buildings and put up new ones; and when it owns valuable waterfront which is marketable at a high price, that concern considers carefully the question whether it will remain in its present location or move to some other. Now our friends above mentioned would doubtless at once aver that, if this concern was a New York concern and found itself in this situation, there could be but one answer—”To Jersey for us”— or to some other place near land’s end where land can be purchased for a song, where government regulations are unknown and where, in addition, the manufacturer would find himself surrounded by a great and aching void.

But all these prophesies are as wormwood and the pessimists are confounded. Over In the wilds of Queens there Is a place—look it up on the map—called Laurel Hill.

Laurel Hill is not a place of beauty. The undulating hills in them neighborhood are covered with cemeteries, rocks, and ugly houses and through the midst of it all (lows the far-famed Newtown Creek, covered at all times during the day and night with busy water craft. But Laurel Hill is one of the most important manufacturing districts in Greater New York and Newtown Creek is one of the foremost commercial arteries in or about NewYork City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the aphorisms which has emerged in my studies of Newtown Creek and the surrounding communities is this: “all roads lead to Calvary“.

Whether it be ancient ferry lines which fed the street car roads, or the occluded pathways of the aboriginal Mespaetche and Decadent Dutch, all the roads of western Queens and North Brooklyn point inevitably to this spot. Semi conscious during this “Grand Walk”, your humble narrator nevertheless found himself at the corner of Laurel Hill Blvd. and Review Avenue once again, standing before the great and sacred Polyandrion of the Roman Catholic church in New York City.

also from Greater New York: bulletin of the Merchants’ Association of New York, Volume 2, 1913, courtesy google books

Perhaps the foremost industry at Laurel Hill is the Nichols Copper Company. To this factory each year come by boat and by rail thousands of tons of copper, some of it in the raw state— the ore—and much of it already in bars ready for the final refining. The copper is refined here and put into a variety of forms and shapes ready for the market. The raw material comes in from the Lake Superior region, from Mexico, and even from more distant South America. The finished product goes to manufacturers in all parts of the world. The annual value of this product is over $60,000,000, and there are between seventeen hundred and eighteen hundred men engaged in converting the raw copper into the refined product which has made this factory famous tne world over.

In this factory, located within Greater New York, there is three times as much copper refined as in any other factory in the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here lies Tammany, the Dead Rabbits, and a good percentage of those colorful characters who populated the “Bloody Sixth Ward” of the Five Points in 19th century New York. Here lies the Newsboy Governor, the “Original Gangster“, and the rightful heirs to the throne of Ireland rest within the ground consecrated by the legendary prelate called “Dagger John” alongside the “Fighting 69th” and “the 21” and the “Abbot“. Here is the secretive cruciform shaped repository which contains the remains of thousands of priests and nuns, in a catacomb which lies some 50 feet below the Almirall Chapel.

Additionally, here might be found the grave of a man who died in 1718, lying with both his descendants and his african slaves in the only Protestant burial ground entirely contained by a Catholic cemetery in North America.

And from above, that thing in the Sapphire Megalith which neither thinks nor breathes but instead hungers, watches.

from Illustrated history of the borough of Queens, New York City, 1908, courtesy google books

The Alsop family was also among the early settlers. Richard Alsop, the first of the name to locate here, came at the request of his uncle, one Thomas Wandell, who was said to have left England because he had become involved in a quarrel with Oliver Cromwell, though this report is doubtful, for it is known that Wandell was living at Mespat Kills in 1648, or before Charles I was put to death. He had secured a considerable tract of land by patents and purchase which he left to his nephew, Richard Alsop. The family he founded became extinct in 1837 when the last of the name died without issue.

pitiably inferior

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the last posting describing this “Grand Walk” from Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral to Astoria in Queens, the section of modern day Maspeth which lies between the Grand Street and Kosciuszko Bridges was offered to you as “a gateway to hell”.

Allow me to explain, and describe what happened to the towns of Berlin and Blissville.

from Annual report, Issue 4 By New York (State), 1884, courtesy google books

On the line of the Long Island city division, known as the Manhattan Beach railway, pig-styes and cow stables are numerous, and in an offensive and filthy condition.

The nuisances herein before described and found chiefly upon the Montauk division (south shore) of the Long Island railroad and upon the Long Island city division of the New York and Manhattan Beach railway.

George Aekerman’s fat boiling establishment on the flats of Newtown creek, Queens county side of it and near Metropolitan avenue, uses open kettles, presses oil from fish and renders fat from butchers’ scrap.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prior to the Civil War, there were two communities remote from Manhattan by the standards of the time, which earned their living agriculturally and benefitted from the vernal wonders offered by access to the Newtown Creek.

A sparkling wetland, Newtown Creek and its various tributaries spread many miles beyond their modern boundaries. Dutch Kills once extended to the foot of the Queensboro Bridge, and Maspeth Creek stretched halfway to modern day Flushing. Newtown Creek’s main body was known in the hinterlands of Bushwick, and English Kills was reported to share headwaters with the Cripplebush and Wallabout Creeks as well as its well known parent.

also from Annual report, Issue 4 By New York (State), 1884, courtesy google books

Pig-styes and cow-stables — The inspectors describe six of these nuisances as being near and a little west of the Woodside railroad station. In the first one were found sixty pigs, thirty-two cows and six goats, besides many other domestic animals.

The stables and the filthy condition of keeping manure must, if possible, be corrected. The animals are mostly kept upon “hotel swill,” which is boiled on the premises in open kettles and fed to the animals.

Grease is boiled and treated by Peter McArdles, whose premises and their contents are described as exceedingly offensive. The gases escaping from the agitators or boiler render the atmosphere of the locality offensive.

The establishment of Walter Bownes, in the woods, between the old Astoria road and Greenpoint avenue, is found to be exceedingly offensive, a reeking nuisance, where horses are killed and their remains utilized.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the iron road came, however, along with the great polyandrion of the Catholics- Blissville contracted toward Greenpoint Avenue, and Berlin was all but swallowed into the earth. First Mills, then Distilleries, and finally Industrial Factory complexes followed the rail and took root here. The stories of the Night Soil and Offal docks and the bone boilers and the acid manufacturers are passed down, but there are tidbits- enigmatic mentions in century old press pieces which hint at the commonplace terminology and “way that things are” that defined that world.

I read a lot of very old newspapers.

That’s how I discovered the term “Swill Milk”, and found another of those horrible facets for which the jewel called Newtown Creek is known worldwide.

from Archives of pediatrics, Volume 11, 1894 courtesy google books

The first series of experiments began August 25th, 1876, with milk obtained by several agents early in the morning from the following sources:

  1. Park milk, i.e.,- combined milk from a number of cows at Prospect Park. These cows were healthy, had good pasturage, and were well cared for. The milk obtained was taken from the cows in the presence of the purchaser and may be considered as equal to the best country milk.
  2. Rushmore’s milk, i.e., milk obtained from the Rushmore depot for milk in Brooklyn. Mr. Rushmore was one of the largest milk dealers and of good reputation. The milk furnished by him came from Queens County, L. I., and was obtained from the cows in the afternoon of the day preceding the morning of the one in which it was bought by my agent. Such milk represented very well the milk sold in cities at that time by the most reliable dealers. In 1876, little, if any, milk was shipped from dairies in bottles and with the care that is now exerted in certain quarters to keep it sweet and pure.
  3. Grocery milk, i.e., milk obtained from an ordinary grocery in the tenement-house district of the city. Where the milk came from and how long it had been in the grocery was not ascertained.
  4. Grain milk, i.e., milk obtained direct from cows through a dealer in milk living in the outskirts of the city, owning a few cows, fed almost entirely on brewers’ grains, with no pasturage except what a poor vacant lot afforded. They were poorly cared for.
  5. Garbage milk, i.e., milk obtained direct from cows fed on house refuse, much of which was decomposed. Cows were in the outskirts of the city and poorly cared for.
  6. Distillery milk, i.e., milk obtained direct from cows fed almost entirely on hot distillery slops or refuse obtained from a distillery at Blissville. These cows were in very poor condition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other night, while regaling our Lady of the Pentacle with tales of grisly import and putrefaction over dinner, your humble narrator let slip about the so called Sludge Acid trade.

Before I go off on a Sludge Acid trip, I’d just like to note the part of Rust Street/56th Drive/Review Avenue this photo represents would have been right in the natural course of Maspeth Creek and I would be standing in about eight feet of water if this was 1811.

Remember, the ground anywhere within a mile or two of Newtown Creek in Queens was swamp and marshland, a tidal zone. The surface we walk and drive on is actually pilings and fill, and the ground water mixes freely with Creek water.

from Annual report, Volume 1 By New York. State Engineer and Surveyor, 1913

The topography of the region between Newtown creek and Flushing river shows the valley of Maspeth creek extending inland nearly to the present main line of the Long Island railroad at Winfield, and the marshes of Flushing river and its tributary Horse brook extending from Flushing bay to Grand street, Elmhurst, the valley of the latter continuing nearly to tho railroad. Another area of low marsh land, known as Train’s meadows, extends from a point in Flushing bay just south of Sanford Point and North Beach to Woodsidc. Separating tho eastern and western valleys is the ridge of glacial drift about three-quarters of a mile wide and from 40 to 50 feet high.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

OK, in the 19th century it was standard industrial practice to boil the organic or putrescent waste of Cities (dead animals, kitchen waste, rotted meat of all kinds, and human feces or “Night Soil”) in sulphuric acid in order to free valuable chemicals from the material. The waste product was called Sludge Acid, which contained all sorts of fatty residues and undigestible bits of connective tissue and filth. At Newtown Creek, where one might do whatever one’s conscience allowed one to do, it was dumped directly and untreated into the water. Most reports describe the exhaust pipes as being below the surface, so as to cause lethal gases to percolate and dissipate. Further, wherever one of these outlets might lie, an accompanying pool of the bubbling mess could be observed.

On the Brooklyn side of the Creek, back at the confluence of Metropolitan and Grand, there was a business who sent crews out to collect this free bounty and return it to their mill. They had a way to filter the stuff and concentrate the acid back into a commercial product which they would then resell or repurpose, what we’d call recycle. The fats, oils, and other nasties went back into the Creek by a delivery method of open ditches and spillways.


New York & Atlantic Railway began operation in May 1997 of the privatized concession to operate freight trains on the lines owned by Long Island Rail Road. The railway serves a diverse customer base and shares track with the densest passenger system in the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What happened to Berlin was first called Nichols Chemical, later Phelps Dodge. The copper refinery had a long history of troubles in the area, including being forced to build the tallest chimney in the Untied States to waft emanations away from surrounding neighborhoods. Phelps even went so far as to establish a “Potemkin Village” vegetable garden at the top of Berlin hill to demonstrate that their factory posed no risk to life and limb.

What happened to Blissville, however, had nothing to do with life.

from Historical records and studies, Volume 1 By United States. Catholic Historical Society, 1899, courtesy google books

In the meeting of trustees, Sept. 19, 1845, it was announced that the Alsop Farm, consisting of about 115 acres, in Newtown Township, Long Island, had been secured for a cemetery. The deeds are dated Oct. 29, 1845. On July 31, 1848, at a special meeting of the board, it was resolved that “the cemetery at Newtown Creek, recently consecrated in part, should be called Calvary, and placed at the disposal of the public; that after August 2d the 11th Street burial-ground, as well as the free vault at 50th Street, should be permanently closed.”

Calvary Cemetery began to be used August 4, 1848. The first interment was that of Esther Ennis. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 had been previously blessed. No record is preserved, however, of the ceremony.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Legendary are the tales of the industries which lined the shorelines of the Creek itself. Van Iderstines and Cord Meyer’s, and a dozen smaller operations which all were in the rendering or fertilizer business. An unbroken line of rotting filth, oil refineries, and distilleries extended from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge all the way to Furman Island (at modern day Maspeth Avenue) where the greatest and worst of them all- Peter Cooper’s Glue Factory-  could be found.

A third rail topic of the environmental crowd which is never discussed or mentioned is exactly what the toll of siting a cemetery might entail. Calvary Cemetery in particular went to great pains to isolate their grounds hydrologically, installing a vast system of subterrene drains, catch basins, and sewers upon the high ground of Laurel Hill. The first interment in Calvary was 1848, but the place didn’t start to fill in any great numbers before the late 1850’s. One of the least commented upon and surely grandest civil works projects of the early 19th century went on here, removing some 300 million tons of soil from the hill in the name of conquering the land.

Often, I ponder what effect the pure tonnage of decaying human meat- suffused with formaldehyde and other preservatives- means for the water table.

from The Index, Volume 5 By Free Religious Association (Boston, Mass.), 1874, courtesy google books

A single cemetery of Brooklyn,—Calvary,—the principal cemetery of the Roman Catholic Church,—there were, in a single year, nine thousand interments,—about forty per cent, of the whole city dead. The procession of hearses thither is incessant. The ground is not a large one, and the dead He there in layers three or four deep in places, the upper ones being so near the surface that the effluvium taints the air. Yet the medical inspector who gives the numbers contents himself with remarking: “The records of this city of the dead exhibit singularly instructive records of the nationalities and ages of the decedents belonging to that religious denomination!” That here is a pressing danger who will deny?

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