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certain amount

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Holiday traditions, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Sunday, like every other history geek in Queens, I found myself at Queens Plaza waiting for the MTA’s annual “Holiday Nostalgia Trains” event to start. I missed the first roll through, as I was up fairly late the night before, but got there in time for the second showing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Nostalgia Trains are late model subway cars maintained by the transit museum that are still quite functional. They make a round trip from Queens Plaza to the City’s Second Avenue stop on what’s normally the “F” line.

As an aside, my railfan pals can cogently argue that the subway cars which the modern day F is using could qualify as museum pieces, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Nostalgia Trains run several models of car which would be familiar to New Yorkers of the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Some of these units were online as late as the 1970’s, I’m told. Back in the day (as late as the 1980’s), as it were, the L or Canarsie line had incredibly low ridership by modern standards, so MTA used some of these antiques to service it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One missed last year’s Nostalgia Trains, for a variety of reasons, but after the long holiday weekend – Our Lady of the Pentacle suggested that I get out of the house for a while. I ran into a number of people I know onboard, and met a few new people – including a Subway Historian named Andrew J. Sparburg.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MTA is going to be running the Nostalgia Trains every Sunday during December, and the link below offers a bit of nitty gritty about the eight historic examples of their rolling stock, and a schedule of when and where you can board and ride.

from mta.info

Seven of the cars on the “Shoppers Special” are nearly identical except one: No. 1575, which appears much more modern than the rest of the consist. No. 1575 is the prototype for the subway car class that followed the R1/9, with amenities such as fluorescent lights and smaller ceiling fans. Customers can visit the train year-round at the Transit Museum, though it sometimes makes guest appearances for special occasions such as anniversaries and the holidays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does wish that MTA had preserved just one of these historic units in the actual distopian condition which distinguished the NYC Subways during the “bad old days.” Graffiti, mess, etc. It would be great if they hired a professional junkie to pass out on the rattan seats as well. Spray some piss scented air freshener around, hire a couple of thugs to menace the crowds, etc. Poop on the windows… y’know – New Yawk, Fun City.

The problem with museum pieces is often the loving restoration, which belies what their true operational ambience was.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I was rather happy that all of the shooting which I’ve been doing in the Subways over the last couple of years seems to have finally paid off. Practice, practice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The nostalgia trains carried us from Queens Plaza to Manhattan, where a short interval was suffered and the reverse trip was begun. I spent much of the first half of the journey catching up with friends and acquaintances, then got busy on the return to Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you’re planning on attending and photographing the trains, I’d recommend bringing along a bright lens (f2.8 or better) and shooting at a fairly high ISO speed. Modern subways are quite a bit better lit than these survivors.

The shot above, if you’re curious – was captured at f3.5, ISO 4000, and a shutter speed of 1/250th. It’s also pretty important, when shooting in the “system,” to adjust your color temperature settings. If you’re on AWB or “auto white balance,” you’re going to be losing a whole lot of the image to an orange cast which will increase image noise. I shoot in raw format, and therefore always adjust the color temperature of the shot during the development process, but these were captured under the menu settings for tungsten light and later adjusted to 3750K.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thanking the merciful creator that I didn’t have to spend much time in Manhattan, the Nostalgia trains soon reentered Queens Plaza, where riders were commanded to debark by the MTA personell. It seems they didn’t want us to see the turnaround track, for some reason.

Funny thing is, the crowd who was in attendance at this event seemed to be at least 50% railfan. Railfans will tell you the kind – and exact model – of the screws used to hold the track in place, when it was installed, and where the rails were forged.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The train disappeared into the east bound tunnel, whereupon it executed a reversal along the occluded turnaround track, and then picked up another load of lookie loos for the journey back to Second Avenue.

The Nostalgia trains are running every Sunday until the end of the year.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 2, 2016 at 11:30 am

preliminary session

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Sometimes, you have to let the crazy out and let it play.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One’s life experience displays a certain dichotomy which is often hard to reconcile. For the first two thirds of my time on this planet, if someone spotted me lurking around their periphery they’d begin to batten down the hatches. Ladies would grasp at their purse, gentlemen would assume a proactively aggressive posture, and Policemen would eye me suspiciously. One has never understood this, as I’ve always been what law enforcement personnel would describe as “harmless.” By and large, however, I’ve always been reviled and rejected.

It’s always been an issue for me to remain curiously upright, since any accusation about a humble narrator is easy to believe. “Hey, I just saw Mitch running up and down Houston street wearing a clown suit and screaming about invading aliens. He also had a goat with him.” Most people would just say “yeah, I could see that.”

For the last third of my life, there’s been people who seem to actually want me to hang around them, occasionally. It’s weird, because I’m the same sort of objectionable fellow that I’ve always been. Maybe I’ve just figured out how to sugar coat it, or put some lipstick on this pig, or maybe I’m just getting old and they’re humoring me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weird part of the particular stage of life I’m in – I’ll be turning fifty (hopefully) in 2017 – is the physical transition which I can’t see but which is quite visible to everybody else. My beard used to be dark brown, for instance, and my eyes are looking out of a face which doesn’t chime in with what I think I look like. Also, I make a noise when settling into a chair now, a pained exhortation which sounds like “uhhhhhnnnnnnk” that is coupled with a staccato popping of the ligaments as they stretch along decaying joints with their cartilage deficits.

If I was a late model car, the mechanic would probably tell me that with a regular maintenance schedule, there’d probably be 15-20 thousand miles left before the junk yard beckoned. Saying that, my shocks and struts are shot, and I regularly fail on my emissions tests. I routinely describe my aches and pains as due to the presence of a “pain squirrel” which spends its time running from branch to branch over the course of the day. Today, the squirrel is on the left foot, tomorrow the right arm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, including being “an environmentalist,” a “shill for the real estate guys,” and a “historical preservationist.” The latter bit is an assumption on the part of certain of my friends and colleagues. What I’m actually about – and everything I’ve been doing here at your Newtown Pentacle over the last seven years – is documenting the transformation of the ancient neighborhoods of Western Queens and North Brooklyn which surround the Newtown Creek as they transition from post industrial to residential. My researches into the subjects have revealed a paucity of the last age of transformation around the Creek, which occurred roughly a century ago. My plan is to leave behind some sort of record of what was here, before it’s all replaced by luxury condos. Hopefully, some future history kid will be able to make something out of it all.

I wish I got started sooner than I did, but kay sera sera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the midst of all of this man-o-pausal angst, my wanderings have begun to carry me to places whose pavement I haven’t darkened in several dozen months. My experiential desires at the moment are for the desolate, the wind blown, the discarded. Especially, I want to be alone while I’m walking the earth, for an interval.

Other people suck. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, there is no shortage of lonely locations in the concrete devastation, and it is filthy black raincoat weather again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens is talking to me, can’t you hear her too?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

engulfed in

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Stealing the Sky, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one was headed for Queens Plaza and accordingly marched down Jackson Avenue. The startling rapidity of construction going on in the area claws at my sanity, as in nearly half a century spent in NYC, I’ve never met anyone who said “Man, I really want to live in Queens Plaza.” Queens Plaza? Really?

The shot above is from about a week ago, specifically the morning of the 19th of November in 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from June of 2015, and represents approximately the same point of view as the one above – although I was a little further west on Jackson Avenue than I was in the 2016 shot, and the N train is crossing the POV. LIC is one of the few spots in NYC these days where you can produce a “now and then” shot that only covers a 17 month interval.

Woof!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The two furthest buildings are going up on the site of the former West Chemical factory, which is classified as a NYS Brownfield Opportunity Area – meaning there’s a bunch of “yuck” in the ground left over from the age of industry. According to various sources, this construction you’re looking at – in Queens Plaza – will bring something like 1,800 apartments online in the next couple of years, and represents more than a million square feet of development. That’s a lot of toilets flushing into the decrepit Bowery Bay sewer plant, which overflows into Newtown Creek.

Stealing the sky, indeed.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 29, 2016 at 11:00 am

blasphemous disturbance

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Evil lurks, in darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has long decried the presence of a horde of vampires in Queens Plaza, where they spend their days hiding in the steel of the elevated subways. The presence of the Baltic Strigoi and the Cretan Kalikantzaros in Astoria, the Liches and the syncretic wizardry of South America observed at St. Michael’s Cemetery, the Egyptian Djinn of Steinway Street, those curious Celtic creatures lurking in the post industrial subterrene voids of Blissville, and the unmentionable Dibbuks of the Chabad in Williamsburg have all been discussed in the past. These are all immigrant imps, however, carried to Brooklyn and Queens by the European masses. Supernatural immigrants from old world to new.

Occluded, however, are the belief systems of the original inhabitants of western Long Island.

from wikipedia

Kishelemukong is the creator god, not involved in the daily affairs of the Lenape. Instead, he directed the manitowak, the life-spirits of all living things, which were created by Kishelemukong. The manitowak were venerated in ceremonies, rituals, dreams, visions, games and ohtas (see below), as well as through the interventions of the Metinuwak, who were healers, spiritual and emotional guides, and religious leaders; they could communicate with the manitowak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Living, as we do, in a time when the 19th and 20th cultures of Brooklyn and Queens are being dismantled and burned away in the crucible of “development,” one has been ruminating of late about the aboriginal cultures which were similarly dismantled by the Manhattan people during earlier eras. The “Lenapehoking” pre conquest era has captured my interest, but I’m dismayed at the primary source materials which I’ve been able to lay my hands on. Unfountuntely, much of the early source material on the subject I’ve scanned propagates the mythology of the “Noble Savage” and what Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden.”

Problem is that almost everything I’ve been able to find on the Lenape – and their various cultural splinters around New York Harbor – was written by the very same people who decimated and conquered them. It’s a bit like reading a Nazi history of the Second World War, or a British history of their empire in the Raj. I’m looking for some guidance on the subject, books to read, scholars to query. I’ve already reached out through my social network to modern day members of the surviving Lenape nation, but that’s a set of relationships I’m just beginning to develop. Any suggestions on “what to read” would be greatly appreciated, if you happen to be clever about the subject, and I’d ask you to share links and suggestions “with the group” by dropping links into the comments link below.

from wikipedia

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden’s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”. The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This line of inquiry was initiated for me by an argument I found myself in with an academic ignoramus who decided to describe the Lenape to an audience of students not too long ago. Her version of the Native Americans of New York Harbor was a composite of Hollywood representations of the Cree and Lakota cultures, which included teepees and solar worship.

I am quite familiar with the Native cultures of northern and central Mexico, as a note. The Mexica – or Aztec – imperial culture of Lake Texcoco is something which I’ve studied in great depth for instance. I can actually offer quotations of Aztec poetry, speak intelligently about their economy and agricultural systems, and have a more than passing knowledge of the complexity of their religious traditions. If the Mexica Triple Alliance Empire – Aztec is a Spanish word – had another hundred years to develop, the Europeans would have encountered an analogue of Cesarean Rome when they landed at Vera Cruz, and the story of the North American continent would have turned out VERY different than it did.

Wisdom of crowds time, lords and ladies – what and who should I be reading?

from wikipedia

The Lenape (/ləˈnɑːpɛ/) are a Native American tribe and First Nations band government. They are also called Delaware Indians and their historical territory included present day New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River watershed, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley.

Most Lenape were pushed out of their homeland during the 18th century by expanding European colonies, exacerbated by losses from intertribal conflicts. Lenape communities were weakened by newly introduced diseases, mainly smallpox, and violent conflict with Europeans. Iroquois people occasionally fought the Lenape. Surviving Lenape moved west into the upper Ohio River basin. The American Revolutionary War and United States’ independence pushed them farther west. In the 1860s, the United States government sent most Lenape remaining in the eastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma and surrounding territory) under the Indian removal policy. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in the US state of Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada) and in their traditional homelands.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm

tapering arms

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Back in lower Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dover Street in Lower Manhattan is the stuff of historical legend. It starts its western path abruptly at South Street, and to the north is the tangled steel of the FDR Drive ramps and the always victorious Brooklyn Bridge. There are buildings on Dover which date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The interesting thing is that they’re not churches, or government buildings, instead they’re shops with homes above.

As a note, when the British controlled Manhattan before and during the Revolutionary War, everything in the shot above was pretty much the East River. It’s all landfill, from the modern shoreline west to Front Street, which is coincidentally the corner this shot was captured on, meaning I was standing on the historic shoreline of the island. This is the northern extent of the South Street Seaport Historic District, and Peck Slip is about a block away. Governor Al Smith grew up in this neighborhood in the late 19th century, back when it was still a port, and Tammany ruled it all.

Al Smith is buried is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The South Street Seaport is a historic area in the New York City borough of Manhattan, centered where Fulton Street meets the East River, and adjacent to the Financial District. The Seaport is a designated historic district, and is distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It is part of Manhattan Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, and is bounded by the Financial District to the west, southwest, and north; the East River to the southeast; and Two Bridges to the northeast.

It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, and modern tourist malls featuring food, shopping, and nightlife, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Water Street at Dover is where you’ll find a solid claimant to the title of oldest bar in NYC. It’s the Bridge Cafe, which I’m told is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy damages. The original shell and frame of the building went up in 1794, and was altered steadily until the 1880’s when it assumed its present form. Bridge Cafe has a nice history of the building at their site. Doesn’t mention the great fire of 1835, but there you go.

Just down the block, Kit Burn’s “Sportsman Hall” at 273 Water Street was a saloon where you could watch bare knuckled humans boxing, or bet on the canine and rodentine combatants that were fighting in the 250 seat (400 standing) octagonal rat pit Kit maintained in the basement. The Sportsman Hall was housed in what’s considered to be the third oldest building in Manhattan (1773), which is now called the Joseph Rose House and Shop. Kit Burns and his competitors in the rat pit game are a big part of the reason that the ASPCA was formed back in 1866. Kit died in 1870, and is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

Born Christopher Keyburn in New York City on February 23, 1831, Burns joined the Dead Rabbits as a young man and, by the late 1840s, co-led the organization with Tommy Hadden. Both men started their own businesses in the Bowery with Burns opening his Sportsmen’s Hall on Water Street. His establishment was widely known for holding illegal bare-knuckle boxing prize fights as well as featuring such entertainment as the infamous “rat pit” where blood sports such as rat and dogfighting took place. In these events, large gray wharf rats were captured and set against dogs. These dogs, mostly terriers, were sometimes starved for several days beforehand and set against each other as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too far away, over on Canal and Lafayette, is what was once known as the Bruce Building – 254-260 Canal Street. George Bruce was a rather successful printer when he started to build his NYC headquarters back in 1856. The Bruce Building was converted over to office space back in the late 1980’s, but what makes it really special are the iron works which dress the walls. They’re the (1850) patented work of James Bogardus, according to prevailing opinions. Bogardus was the guy who pioneered the cast iron facades commonly seen on Victorian era buildings in NYC and elsewhere.

James Bogardus is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but he was a descendent of Dominie Everardus Bogardus, who died in a ship wreck in 1647. Dominie Bogardus was granted a piece of property by the Dutch colonial government across the river from Manhattan, a point of rocky land surrounded by swamps and salt marshes, which came to be called “Dominie’s Hoek.” It adjoined a fertile waterbody still called the Mispat, but which we know today as the Newtown Creek. The LIC saloon “Dominie’s Hook” is named after him. In 1825, the Hunter Family acquired the Hook, and its been called Hunters Point ever since.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The Reverend Everardus Bogardus (1607-1647) was the dominie of the New Netherlands, and was the second minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest established church in present-day New York, which was then located on Pearl Street (Manhattan) at its first location built in 1633, the year of his arrival. Bogardus was, in fact, the second clergyman in all of the New Netherlands. (The slightly obscure early history of the Dutch colony meant that he was often considered the first clergyman.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

abominations and blasphemies

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Fight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Gaze upon the Newtown Creek. Currently an EPA Superfund site. Is it going to be one for long? Will there be an EPA this time next year? Would this be a good place, instead, to site a black and gold casino? I’ve been considering the Trump victory, and its implications. I’ve been reading a bunch of stuff written by people like myself, who thought the Presidential Election would be a logical slam dunk in favor of the more qualified candidate. All of us “lefties” have had to admit that we were wrong in our assumptions that our fellow Americans would actually vote in their own economic and cultural interest.

C’Est la Vie. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Early thoughts on the “new normal” involve trying to take advantage of it, which is the American Way. Should Mr. Trump make good on his promise to build a wall across the narrow part of the North American Continent, rebar and Portland Cement futures look like they’ll be a promising investment. Also, I’m planning on finding out who the leading players in immigration law are, and whether or not they are publicly traded companies.

It’s the EPA thing that we’re all talking about on the Creek, I would mention.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s going to be a very interesting few years, I think.

Mainly, because the Republican Congress is likely going to eat the new President for lunch. Those are shark infested waters down in the District. Let’s face it though, all that Donald Trump actually wants to do stand in front of the cameras while cutting the ribbon on all the “bridges to nowhere” and crony projects they’re going to be building.

The game just continues. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, and as I’ve often opined – National Politics is way above my pay grade. I’ve got other, more decidedly local problems to worry about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a Newtown Creek vacation for the last month, and it’s time for me to get back on the job.


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maximum diameter

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Well, that sucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is dismayed at the results of yesterday’s election results, and I’m in fact struck dumb by them. I was hoping that the United States wouldn’t succumb to its baser instincts in this election, but I’ve been disappointed before. It always strikes me as odd that working class people across the country continually vote against their own interests – which is what a vote for either one of the major parties ultimately turns out to be.

Saying that, as I’ve opined several thousand times in the last year – the National level stuff is above my pay grade, and that the only thing we can really have any effect on are the local issues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can offer you predictions – based on having lived through several rightist swings in the White House about what the next half decade holds. There will be war, and recession, an unregulated corporatist nirvana, and the very same rural and rust belt people who voted the new administration into power will be the ones most impoverished by its policies.

This is nothing new, of course, and it hasn’t been so since Marius and Sulla.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The mistake made by the leftists in this election was in the choice of a technocrat candidate who seemed to be awaiting a popular voter enabled coronation to the Presidency – despite being remarkably unpopular. The national level party bosses repudiated, and destroyed, the chances of the populist wing in their own party structure in the name of ensuring this coronation. As the Book of Revelations says – you are neither hot nor cold, you are lukewarm, and I spit you out.

They ran a 20th century campaign in 2016, and lost.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rural/urban divide is something I’ve been talking about for a long time, incidentally. I’m of the belief that we are headed for a second Civil War in these United States, one that isn’t based around a North and South divide, but instead one that is based around whether you live in a City or a Town.

Cities are internationalist, towns nationalist.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Beyond all of that, one is absolutely speechless and sort of terrified. Apoplectic is an appropriate word.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, this election came out of NYC.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 9, 2016 at 12:30 pm

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