The Newtown Pentacle

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secret assemblages

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It’s National Mac & Cheese Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, I guess it’s kind of been “Creek Week” around these parts this last week, so let’s finish things up with a tugboat!

As mentioned in Monday’s post, one has been desirous of capturing a few last shot of the old Koscisuzcko Bridge before its deconstruction is engaged, just for the record… y’know? While setting up my gear for a night shoot, the Donjon Tug Brian Nicholas, which appeared in Wednesday’s post briefly, suddenly appeared. I hadn’t affixed the camera to the tripod yet, so I got busy with the clicking and the focusing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas has been in many, many posts at this – your Newtown Pentacle – over the years. Just below is my favorite ever shot of this tug, from 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 75 feet long, with a gross tonnage of 104 GRT, the Brian Nicholas is owned by DonJon towing and powered by 2 850 HP engines. Brian Nicholas was built in 1966 and retrofitted in 2010 as a “green tug.”

from docs.google.com

This past June, Donjon completed the top-to-bottom refit and replacement of the main engines, generators, gears and related equipment of its tug Brian icholas. The refit was performed in house at Donjon’s Port Newark, New Jersey facility under the supervision of Donjon’s Gabe Yandoli and Robert Stickles. As a result of the refit, the Brian Nicholas is now a “green” tug, compliant with all applicable EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations.

The rebuild included a repowering of the main propulsion with Cummins K38-M Marine engines, which were specifically developed by Cummins to meet EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations. The new engines also meet the IMO, MARPOL and EU Stage 3A requirements. Similarly, the generators were upgraded to incorporate John Deere 4045TFM75 engines, also Tier 2 compliant. In addition to the replacement of the aforementioned engines, the project required virtually total replacement of exhaust lines and routing of new control lines and panels in the engine room and wheelhouse.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was towing a barge of what looked like shredded metals and construction debris, which would mean that it’s coming from one of the waste transfer locations found along the English Kills tributary further east.

As I’ve said in the past – whether they’re pushing or pulling, tugs are always towing – that’s what the term is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was headed for the East River, and ultimately it would likely head over to New Jersey, where the recyclable metals on its barge could be packaged up, loade on a container ship, and be then sold on a global commodities market.

See you next week, with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Also, I’m doing a tour of Dutch Kills tomorrow – come with? I’ll show you something cool.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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odd pantaloons 

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It’s National Fried Chicken Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pondering just what the hell I’m doing with my life is something that happens everytime I cross the Pulaski Bridge, for some reason. As a matter of fact, existential pondering on that subject is a mental activity reserved specifically for crossings of the Pulaski Bridge, and a point is made of not wasting time on such matters elsewhere. I have other locations around Newtown Creek, all of which are assigned to different sets of worries, such as pooping my pants whilst conducting a tour and figuring out how to deal with the public shame and embarrassment (I worry about that at the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge) – but that’s another story.

I’m all ‘effed up. 

Anywho, that’s the Mary H. Tug entering Newtown Creek while towing a fuel barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mary H. is a regular on the Newtown Creek, working for the Bayside Fuel people whose facility is coincidentally found alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, over on the East Williamsburg side of the world. Technically speaking, Bayside Fuel is on the English Kills tributary and if memory serves – they’re 3.1 miles back from the East River.

Personally, I’ve always thought it pretty cool that tugboats service an industrial dock some 3 and change miles deep into Brooklyn, but that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bunch of the photographers I know have been doing the aerial drone thing of late, so this view of a tug has become rather commonplace in recent years, but I still prefer doing the old fashioned way – finding a high vantage and waiting for it to come to me. I worry about losing my technical edge when I’m over on the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, if you’re curious. You don’t want to know what I worry about on the Borden Avenue Bridge… brrrr.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.”with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

failing light

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It’s National Hazelnut Cake day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the tug Sea Lion in the shot above, hurtling across the Kill Van Kull with an industrial section of Bayonne, New Jersey and the skyline of Lower Manhattan providing a backdrop. One hasn’t been focusing in on the harbor all that much in recent months for one reason or another, but it’s nothing personal, rather it’s an “art” thing. There’s only so many ways to frame and shoot a passing vessel, when you really get down to it. I’ll figure out some way to make it interesting again, as I was trying to do in the shot above by shooting “wide open” and going for depth of field rather than my normal “tack sharp” narrow aperture method for maritime shots.

Sea Lion is looking pretty good, given that she sunk a few years ago off the coast of Long Island – check out NY Media Boat’s page describing that disaster.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Passing out of the Kill Van Kull, and into the Upper Bay, three McAllister tugs were observed “wrassling” a cargo ship into position for it to exit NY waters. There’s two tugs pictured above, the Eric and Bruce A. McAllister’s, and the third one was on the other side of the cargo ship.

I was onboard a NY Waterways boat hired by the Working Harbor Committee for a tour of Newark Bay, in my capacity as the group’s official photographer. These WHC trips have become quite a melancholy experience for me in the last few years, as I spend most of my time onboard reminiscing about a few buddies whom I always enjoyed hanging out or working with on these excursions that have left this mortal coil – Bernie Ente, Capt. John Doswell, and most recently John Skelson.

Absent friends… lift glasses… clink.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I didn’t observe the usual post op ritual which the WHC crew enacts this time around, heading over to a hole in the wall bar on Pearl Street for a pint to compare notes about the trip. Queens was calling, and given the intensity of my schedule during the month of May, I was of no mind to delay getting home to our Lady of the Pentacle and Zuzu the dog.

The 5 line carried me from Lower Manhattan to the 59th and Lex hub, where an R line transfer was enacted, which carried me home to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria.


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, 5:00- 7:30 p.m.

An free hour long lecture and slideshow about Newtown Creek’s incredible history at the gorgeous Kingsland Wildfowers Green Roof (520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint) followed by a walk around the roof and a Q&A – details here.

Green Drinks Queens LIC, June 5th, 6:00- 9:00 p.m.

Come celebrate UN World Environment Day with Green Drinks: Queens on the LIC Waterfront! This year’s theme is “Connecting People With Nature.”details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

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

hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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flaming thing

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It’s Tag des Deutschen Apfels (German Apples) day in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bright passage, it’s a not unlikely spot to find a group of cultists dropping a bizarre golden diadem into the water hoping to contact those who might lie below the seething waters. Hells Gate, with its bizarre and blasted subterrene topography, cannot possibly host a race of non human intelligences, can it? That would be crazy.

I mean, is this Queens or Innsmouth?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of alien intelligences with unintelligible plans for the future, the DEP’s MV Red Hook sludge boat slid through the bright passage while one was contemplating what sort of life might inhabit the craggy bottom. Between the strong cross currents of the tide, all the endemic pollution… it boggles.

It’s almost as if the area is being terra formed for a different and quite alien species.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was pleased that a concurrence of maritime and locomotive subject matter occurred as Amtrak’s Acella came rolling by on the Hell Gate bridge at the same time as Buchanan 1 tug slid through the Hells Gate narrows of the East River. When I left the house this day, I rued not having the time to visit Staten Island and the Kill Van Kull – my original intention for the afternoon. What with the sun setting in the late afternoon, it’s kind of difficult to complete that journey from Point A in Astoria while the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is still hanging in the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to worrying about the ones who cannot possibly exist in the deepest waters of Hells Gate, and their land dwelling acolytes who surreptitiously accompanied the wholesome Hellenes during their 1970’s migration to Astoria, did a humble narrator’s thoughts turn.

There are too many individual and quite minor clues to mention which lend credence to the theory of their presence – odd smells and sounds, brief flashes of unrecognizable shapes seen when walking past closing doors, the popularity of Bosnian cuisine, bizarre chanting. This is an entirely different “thing” than the occluded witch cult operating out of St. Michael’s cemetery, incidentally, but perhaps I’ve already said too much.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sound of chitinous scratching on my second floor garret window will no doubt resume after this posting, and the whispered calls to leave this life behind and to either go into the water or dance with the night ghouls of Nephren Ka across the rooftops and tombstones of western Queens will no doubt follow.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there, beneath the waters of the Bright Passage?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

luring skyline

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It’s Christmas Eve, if you’re Russian Orthodox, and Christmas Day if you’re Armenian Orthodox.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself dipped behind New Jersey, whilst on my way to that Holiday party in Hells Kitchen I’ve been talking about all week, I was reminded of something about myself. I’m lucky. Despite the objectionable nature of my personality, the disgusting personal habits I readily display, my sloth, bizarre opinions loudly repeated, and everything else which causes those who know me to curl their upper lips up in disgust – I’m lucky. I also need to get out more often.

As I was passing by the Circle Line at 42nd street and found myself approaching Pier 84, I noticed a series of maritime cranes and tugs at work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was DonJon towing doing the work – the Sarah Ann and Brian Nicholas tugs were quite busy. You don’t get to see much maritime industrial stuff going on at the Hudson River coastline of Manhattan, in this century at least.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DonJon tugs were “wrassling” two barges into place, one carried a maritime crane, the other was full of what I originally perceived as being scrap. Couldn’t have been more wrong, as it turned out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – know that I have a certain fascination with the DonJon towing company, who operate regularly on my beloved Newtown Creek. They have wonderful toys, DonJon does.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The flat top barge was carrying huge “lomticks” of steel, which conversation with one of many “hard hats” on the pier described as being destined for the Hudson Yards project. Scrap indeed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the reason that I originally thought the flat top barge was handling scrap was the significant tonnage of the stuff that I normally observe the DonJon people moving around the harbor. This post from 2012 follows the DonJon Tug Sarah Ann, pictured above, towing metal and employed by the recycling people.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other DonJon towing vessel on duty was the Brian Nicholas, discussed in another 2012 post, one which also happens to carry one of my all time favorite “tugboat on Newtown Creek” shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The location which the steel was being delivered to is a fairly narrow channel that’s normally used to launch human powered boats by the Manhattan Kayak club people, adjoins Hudson River Park, and it neighbors the Intrepid Air and Space museum. This location is analogous to the Manhattan street grid as being 44th street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crane barge is DonJon’s Columbia New York. She’s got a 140 foot long boom, dates back to the 1970’s, and can lift 310 short tons while its base is revolving. Everything you’d care to know about the thing can be found here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The entire operation slowed down to a crawl as they approached the Manhattan bulkheads. A small workboat was zipping around, and everywhere you looked on the vessels there were sailors peering over the sides communicating on walkie talkies. I guess they didn’t want to scratch the Intrepid or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas hung back as the crane and flat top barges moved into position.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crane barge began lowering its “spuds,” which are long steel bars that extend down to the bottom of the river and act as stabilizers (think table legs). While that was happening, ropes were flung around and tied off to bollards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having successfully killed the time between leaving Point A (Astoria) and that Holiday party in Hells Kitchen by walking through LIC, taking the 7 to Hudson Yards, checking out the Hudson Yards megaproject from the High Line, and then luckily running into this maritime industrial display – it was actually now time for me to begin heading there directly.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Couldn’t resist one or two more shots, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s some of the structural steel being delivered to the Hudson Yards project, in a somewhat elevated shot gathered from a pedestrian bridge at West Street between 45 & 46th streets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the same elevated position, and from a bit of a distance, you can get a better idea of the size of the crane.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While all this was going on, rush hour was playing out on West Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, that’s the story about all the stuff I saw because I got invited to a holiday party in Hells Kitchen. I should leave the house more often, I guess. See what happened the next time I went out, next week at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

Also, Merry Christmas to all you orthodox Russians and Armenians. Sunday the 7th is “Gristmas,” btw, or Greek Orthodox Christmas.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

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