The Newtown Pentacle

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subaqueous civilization 

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The camera was desperate for an adventure last week, so a humble narrator acquiesced and took it out on the water for the Working Harbor Committee‘s Education tour. The Education tour is a private event, a boat trip which is conducted for school groups that culminates a program of classroom instruction on the subject of the harbor of New York and New Jersey. There’s a lot of great jobs at the Port, and for some reason most New Yorkers don’t consider it an option when they’re looking for work.

It ain’t just longshoremen or sailor type stuff either, as Ed Kelly from the Maritime Association and Andrew Genn from the NYC EDC explained to the hundred or so high school students who were onboard.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, one had to cross through the cursed earth of Manhattan to get to the WHC boat at Pier 11, which is roughly in line with Governeur Lane down in the financial district. This was in the midst of that sudden three day heat wave last week, so rather than walk in to town from Astoria or take the Ferry from LIC (my preference for such excursions) I just jumped on the subway. Why it takes so long to get from “a to b” these days is a complete mystery to me, as the trip ultimately resolves down to around 8 miles.

The good news is that on the way home, I used the Citywide ferry service to return to the blessed and heavy metals rich soil of Queens. I’m planning on hitting the new Rockaway Route soon, btw, as soon as my schedule allows it. It has been a very, very busy month of May for a humble narrator.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the new Citywide Ferry service, I still haven’t ridden on one of the new Hornblower model ferries. The one that met me for the trip home was an older but super reliable NY Waterways version, the model which has been servicing the East River route for several years now. While the boat was making its regular stops, I spotted this little push boat tug towing a barge which had a crane set upon it. Couldn’t resist popping out a few shots of the thing.

The camera slept well that night, after having gotten some exercise and a bit of a workout on the water.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance and Riverkeeper Visioning, June 3rd, 1-4 p.m..

Imagine the future of Newtown Creek with Riverkeeper and NCA at the Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) details here.

Newtown Creek Alliance History lecture with NCA historian Mitch Waxman, June 3rd, 7 p.m.

An hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint).


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

prime exporters

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It’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, it seems to me that for most of the 20th century New York City waged an unyielding war against the natural environment. The process of city building, of course, has always been a tale of harnessing and controlling nature – but the 20th century in NYC saw something tantamount to a military campaign waged against clean water and air. The highways were driven through wetlands (called waste meadows at the time), and anything that could be plated over in concrete received a few inches of the stuff. Sewage and industrial runoff was channeled directly into waterways like my beloved Newtown Creek, garbage was burned in municipal incinerators or dumped into the ocean, and there doesn’t seem to have been any regard given to the natural world at all other than in the name of conquering it.

What can you do about it, though? This is the world as we received it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot of hair pulling and teeth gnashing these days, in government circles, about how to rectify this inheritance. Partially its because the government people have to worry about fiscal responsibility, as related to flooding and storm resilience. It’s also about the fact that scientific opinion now points at the efficacy and effect which a healthy biome has on the welfare and earning potential of the citizenry, and the effect that environmental factors have on the economic prosperity of urban areas. Here, at your Newtown Pentacle – and on my many walking tours of the creeklands – I’ve been known to rattle on about storm water, green roofs, the Maspeth heat island effect, bioswales, and all other the other types of so called “Green Infrastructure” which officialdom has been experimenting with in the attempt to get a handle on this inheritance from earlier generations.

“Gray Infrastructure” is defined as sewer plants, retention tanks, various sorts of concrete structural devices which are found deep below the street – that sort of thing. “Gray” is incredibly expensive, and disruptive to the day to day lives of the citizenry as it disturbs the flow of traffic during construction and also generates noise and dust. “Green” is far cheaper, and uses the mechanisms of nature itself to accomplish the same goal as gray. The corollary of using the “green” approach is that you also get the aesthetic and practical benefits of having vegetation in your neighborhood – trees which shade both buildings and pavement for instance, meaning that summer heatwaves are theoretically less severe in terms of energy costs. Green is a win, win – essentially.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s one of the literally hundreds of outfall pipes you will observe in Long Island City which descend from the elevated highways – in this case an onramp to the Long Island Expressway on Borden Avenue. To my knowledge – there is not a single bridge, elevated highway, or subway in the City of New York which doesn’t ultimately drain into the combined sewer system or – in fact – directly into area waterways. Even the brand spanking new Kosciuszko Bridge that the NYS DOT is building over my beloved Newtown Creek right now will drain into the creek via a system called a “vortex drain.”

This post is not meant as a chide, however, rather it’s meant to point out to anybody in the world of officialdom who might be reading this that there’s a huge opportunity to do something curative around these outfall pipes using the “Green Infrastructure” approach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That overpass, spillway, and pipe – in this case – are the property of the State government. The drain, sewer, and sidewalk are likely owned by the City government. What if the spillway contained a small rain garden designed to drink up water and catch the trash coming down from the highway? The City wins in not paying fines to the State for clean water violations, and the State solves a problem it caused, and all for the price of a bit of gardening.

These hundreds of outfall pipes and their spillways would make for a brilliant spot to install some of that “Green Infrastructure” mentioned above. As far as maintenance of the installation, local community boards could “adopt” these outfalls and parcel out the care and maintenance duties (trash removal mainly) to their constituent businesses and community organizations (Boy Scouts, Kiwanis clubs, etc.) in the same manner as upstate communities do with the “adopt a highway” program. Win?

What if?


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm

#SUPERFUN on May 31

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Welcome to Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised – the big Monday Announcement!!! On May 31, I’ll be narrating on a boat tour of Newtown Creek for the Working Harbor Committee. WHC is offering a special $30 ticket price, discounted to $25 for seniors. It’s a two hour tour which will leave from Pier 11 in Manhattan at 11 a.m. I’m anticipating having a couple of other guest speakers onboard, but I’m still firming that up.

For tix’s to WHC’s morning tour with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman, on Newtown Creek. For group rates, or questions – contact Working Harbor Committee at workingharbor@aol.com

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So what could be more fun than visiting a superfund site? Visiting two, of course.

A separate and distinct excursion will leave from Pier 11 at 1:10 p.m., as Working Harbor Committee’s afternoon trip to the Gowanus Canal embarks. Last I heard, it’s the same deal as Newtown Creek for pricing and tix, and it’s a two hour tour as well.

Click here for tix to WHC’s afternoon tour of the Gowanus Canal.

Newtown Creek is better, of course, because it’s mine.

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problematical attempt

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Alright already, jeez.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As previously mentioned, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself enjoyed a short vacation at the end of the last month, and for part of that duration we were at sea. Hence, your humble narrator is a bit short on content as I’ve been off my beaten path. Therefore, a couple of shots of the oceanic sky greet you today. This was about 15 minutes or so after the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself opened.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunset, on the same day as the one above. We hit weather for most of the “away game,” it was 42 degrees in Florida for instance, so seeing the ole burning thermonuclear eye of god itself open and close at all was a treat.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

physical resistance

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This is actually a Newtown Pentacle post, sorry for the spam this morning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not sure how, as my passwords etc. were still secure when I checked, but at 8:24 this morning – a spam posting propagated out from this site. First time in better than 5 years that there’s been a breech, but security protocols (changing passwords, mainly) have been invoked. Sorry for the spam, however, but… y’know, hackers and spam bots are clever.

The offending post has been removed from the Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr feeds, but there’s nothing I can do about the emailed subscriber feed so please delete it without clicking on the links. Believe me when I tell you, the last thing I wanted to deal with before finishing my coffee was this.

Your humble narrator is preparing for quite a busy weekend, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Saturday, I’ll be leading an excursion with the Atlas Obscura folks in Long Island City. 13 Steps around Dutch Kills will explore the Queens tributary of Newtown Creek and wind up over in Brooklyn. We’re meeting at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 23rd street at 11 a.m. and the walk will be around three hours or so. There’s lots of great stuff to take pictures of, and the route will carry us along one of my favorite paths. Advance tix are recommended, click here for the link, but walkups are also very welcome if you’re a last minute sort of lord or lady.

The tour will set you back $20, and as it’s the last Dutch Kills walk of 2014, come with?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday, the tour will be in DUKBO – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp – a part of brooklyn which I fondly refer to as “the Poison Cauldron.” This is likely the second to last time EVER that this tour will happen, as the coming bridge project is going to tear most of this area down. I was there last weekend and most of the businesses are gone, leaving behind a post industrial moonscape. We’ll be walking through petroleum country at the beginning, and I’ll be telling the story of Standard Oil and the Greenpoint Oil Spill along the path. Seriously, if you’ve been putting off coming on one of these, do it now. The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek will soon be a construction zone, which will preclude exploration.

This tour is being produced by the good folks from Brooklyn Brainery, whose ticketing page is found here. Walkups are very welcome, we’ll be at the corner of Kingsland and Norman Avenues in Greenpoint at 10 a.m. The tour will set you back $25.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, September 27th, 13 Steps Around Dutch Kills
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Sunday, September 28th, The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek
Walking Tour with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for tickets and more info.

Magic Lantern Show at Brooklyn Brainery

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The Newtown Creek Magic lantern show returns.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On February 27th, your humble narrator will be narrating humbly at the Brooklyn Brainery – here’s the details. This is the 2014 version of the thing, btw, updated with newly learned information and recently captured images. In the past, this photo presentation and info dump has been offered to political clubs, historical societies, and to the general public at a variety of venues.

Come with?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn Brainery is a swell operation, located in the nice part of Brooklyn nearby Grand Army Plaza and several Subway lines. I’ve worked with them a few times in the last year, doing walking tours, and they’re very cool folks. Also, the space they’re located in is very nice – physical comfort wise and such.

From their website

We host classes about all sorts of things: from physics to Australian desserts, from HTML to shorthand and just about every nook and cranny in between.

All of our course topics are dreamed up and suggested by you, and our teachers are a group of awesome people from around Brooklyn and the whole city. Anyone can teach–you just need a passion for the topic and a desire to share it with others. We do all the planning, taking care of sign ups, marketing, and materials, so you can focus on the important stuff (teaching, duh).”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The presentation will be about 2 hours long, with the actual slideshow and talk occupying roughly one and a half hours. What follows will be a Q&A session, wherein questions will be offered that a humble narrator will endeavor to intelligently answer. Brooklyn Brainery is asking $12 for the class.

There are still a few tickets left, so click on through and join the conversation about Newtown Creek on February 27th at 8 p.m.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm

2013 Newtown Creek Boat Tour

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The 2013 Newtown Creek Boat Tour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Saturday -the 28th of September- the Working Harbor Committee is producing and offering a boat tour of the Newtown Creek for any interested parties to attend. A special emphasis on the waterway’s storied history and maritime legacy will be made.

I’m going to be doing the history part, speaking in my capacity as the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and am tasked with highlighting the various points of interest encountered along the route. Anticipated to be some three hours in length, this boat tour will be delving some three miles inland, proceeding to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge crossing English Kills in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Maritime History of Newtown Creek is one largely forgotten in these decadent times, but even now an odd tugboat and barge might be spied making their way down the waterway on any given day. Property owners were considered to have been blessed by some of the finest industrial bulkheads in the world a mere century ago, yet many of the businesses based along the Creek today ignore this invaluable resource, allowing their waterfront property to decay and decline.

Nevertheless, a staggering amount of maritime traffic is still observed here, and towing companies such as Reinauer, K-Sea, DonJon, and Poling and Cutler are regular visitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast operations will be witnessed by those onboard, many of which are involved in the scrap metal and recyclables trade. Responsible for an enormous amount of cross harbor shipping, companies such as SimsMetal are heavily reliant on the maritime trades for their economic success.

Not all that long ago, Newtown Creek carried a greater tonnage of cargo than the entire Mississippi River.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An active and thriving industrial zone in the center of New York City, from the water one can truly grasp the sheer scale of Newtown Creek’s busy waterfront. Normally hidden by high fences and obscured by street facing structures, the intensity of the Newtown Creek is laid bare before the admiring gaze of first time visitor and veteran urban explorer alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A tributary of the estuarine East River, Newtown Creek extends some 3.8 miles from its junction with the more familiar waterway, and provides demarcation for the currently undefended border of much of Brooklyn and Queens. Named to the Federal Superfund list, the Creek suffers from a history of environmental degradation and municipal neglect.

An era of great change is upon the Newtown Creek, and this trip will be one of your last chances to see it in its current form.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We will see four moveable bridges, and this year will be your last chance to see the static Kosciuszko Bridge which carries the BQE, as the NYS DOT has indicated that construction on its replacement will begin quite soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along it’s banks, great fortunes have risen.

Amongst others- Peter Cooper (BO Railroad, Canton Iron, and Cooper Union), Charles Pratt (Astral Oil, and Pratt University), and ultimately John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil)– all grew richer than the dreams of avarice in this place. Alongside them, the darkest mills of the industrial revolution- rendering plants, yeast distilleries, bone blackers, and acid factories provided tens of thousands of jobs to the immigrant populations of Brooklyn and Queens. Today- National Grid, BP, Amoco, ExxonMobil, and a host of other multinational companies still maintain an enormous investment in this valuable industrial canal.

Upcoming tour: Hidden Harbor Tours: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman.

Come explore Newtown Creek by boat with Working Harbor Executive Director Captain John Doswell and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as your guides.

Boarding begins at 2:30 p.m., and departs at 3:00 p.m. sharp. The 2.5 hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion departs from and returns to the New York Skyports Marina found at East 23rd Street & the FDR Drive in Manhattan.

There will be a cash bar onboard.

Tickets are $45.

For inquiries about group discounts please call 212-757-1600.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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