The Newtown Pentacle

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High toe drama continues.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually amazing how quickly a relatively small chunk of the old anatomy malfunctioning can shut down the entire operation. The drama with the smashed toe continues apace here at HQ. My pal Hank the elevator guy dropped off some sort of orthotic walking boot he had in his house, a medical device which actually caused me more pain than it solved, and Our Lady of the Pentacle is all over the place with concern. The digit does look like a makeup test for a zombie movie, so there’s that. Before you ask, I’m being really careful about infection, and keeping the foot iced and elevated. Luckily, I historically heal pretty quick and there’s that whole pile of books and television shows which I’ve been saving for the eventuality of a broken bone.

I’m probably finally going to watch Battleship Galactica this week. If the drama continues, I’ll reread the Powerbroker. Funny that no one has made a Robert Moses porno called “The Powerborker,” though. Would give a whole new meaning to “bridge and tunnel crowd.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One way or another, I’m going to conduct the infrastructure creek tour tonight, as I’m likely going to have medical bills to pay due to this injury and… well… I am made of leather and iron and pain is an old pal of mine. I consider dealing with painful injuries while going about my day to day as training for some future situation in which I’m a refugee. It’s like going to the gym, but in anticipation of a civil war rather than needing to look good at the beach next summer.

The good news is that parts of my big toe are starting to look like normal skin again, the swelling is going down, and my toenail hasn’t fallen off yet. The bad news is that the spot where the giant flower trough impacted the digit is still oozing blood, but that’s where the swelling forced the serum to the surface in the form of blood blisters. When your day starts with “hey, the blood blister is smaller today,” you’re winning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve already caught up on “The Walking Dead” which continues to kind of suck. I can recommend “Rick and Morty,” and a youtube channel called “Crypt Tv” which has a series of horror shorts that sport absolutely top notch monster makeup. A friend lent me his copy of “The Ungovernable City,” which is about John Lindsay’s turn as NYC Mayor, that I plan on devouring this week as well. Might be the right moment to drop the hammer on reading Mike Wallace’s “Gotham 2” as well.

My big problem right now is serving the dog lunch, and keeping Zuzu the dog from stepping on my big toe as she skitters around her newly full food bowl.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek AT NIGHT! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! October 29th, 7-9 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 29, 2019 at 2:00 pm

lethal foliage

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Would that a humble narrator might tell you that these shots were captured whilst riding upon some Hedorah like cacodaemon, but it was actually during one of last fall’s Newtown Creek Tours and onboard an entirely mundane NY Water Taxi that the subject of this “Maritime Sunday” posting was photographed.

As you can see, something was advancing toward us on the Newtown Creek that day, something newly born.


Newtown Creek, located in the City of New York, is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary and forms the northern border of the Borough of Brooklyn and the southern border of the borough of Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City. More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards. The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Built Nov. 04, 2010- this is the tugboat Crystal Cutler and her articulated barge (the Patricia E. Poling) plying the Newtown Creek. The article linked to below will tell you everything you could possibly ask about this tug and those who Captain and command her.

What mysteries they might have witnessed along the Creek, however, are not discussed in this profile.


The 70-foot, 1,500-hp twin-screw tug Crystal Cutler has been pushing and occasionally towing a 15,000-barrel clean oil barge since the tug was introduced in 2010. The tug places a high demand on her captains and crews as she ventures into shallow rivers and estuaries, moving about in a highly dynamic harbor with loads of gasoline, fuel additives or heating oil for small oil terminals.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Amongst the larger harbor community, Newtown Creek is seldom referred to in glowing terms. There are those who dispute its role and historical significance to the maritime industry- as their eyes and hearts are drawn to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the West Side of Manhattan, and the gargantuan modern ports in New Jersey.

Many would like to abandon it as an industrial corridor entirely, saying that its day as a working waterway is done, and give it over to kayaking and other recreational occupations.


Founded in 1995, Poling Cutler began operations near the time the former Poling Transportation went out of business.

The Founders of the new company were Ed Poling, whose grandfather started the former Poling company, and Gary Cutler who spent years working in the financial world before getting involved in Marine Transportation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the greatest sins along the Newtown Creek is precisely how few of its docks are utilized today. Most of the modern business along the Creek looks toward truck transportation to bring their goods to market and for the delivery of raw materials, ignoring their valuable docking rights and imprimature. Miles of bulkheads, expensively installed during prior generations, are allowed to rot away.

What a wasted opportunity.


Moving essential bulk materials by barge is more efficient economically and environmentally. From what we hear, a single barge has the same capacity as 28 – 56 long haul trucks, depending on the industry. Compared to other transportation modes, barge transport of bulk materials is safer in terms of worker injuries and generates far fewer emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, CO2 and nitrous oxide on a per ton mile moved basis.

Despite the critical importance of barge transport as a best practice for industries on Newtown Creek, much of the bulkhead along this waterway is in disrepair. Overall bulkhead condition reveals a trend of disinvestment in maritime transit and a decline in related industries. According to Army Corps of Engineers, there were 19 businesses with working docks in 1999, compared to the nine that remain active today, as of January 2011.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When you boil it down, the whole purpose of the Newtown Creek in its current form is to bring bulk goods into New York City by barge. Admittedly, the days of Standard Oil, Phelps Dodge, and the great Lumber interests are long gone- but… imagine some farmers in upstate New York loading their harvest goods onto a barge, and sending a floating green market directly to Long Island City or Greenpoint or even Maspeth. The barge could return to the farmer laden with cash and whatever else might be needed for the next harvest, completing a virtuous circle.

Imagine standing on the shoulders of giants, rather than rifling through their corpses like so many bugs.


Commercial and industrial development along Newtown Creek began circa 1854-60 and accelerated rapidly, spurred by low land values, water access for ships and boats, and relative remoteness from populated areas or regulations. The first kerosene refinery in the United States (1854) and modern oil refinery (1867) helped transform Newtown Creek into an industrial waterway. The first few industries also included a distillery near the Newtown side of the Penny Bridge, and the Peter Cooper glue factory relocated from elsewhere in Greenpoint to a site in Bushwick north of Maspeth Avenue10. The influx of industry and jobs, aggressive real estate development in and around Hunter’s Point, including LIRR’s presence on the creek in 1861, and the explosive growth of refined petroleum products all enhanced Newtown Creek’s attractions and helped transform the drainage into an industrial waterway circa 1860-1880. At the Industrial Revolution’s height, Newtown Creek’s industries were flourishing, bringing thousands of people to work at its plants and factories.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The United States Coast Guard sometimes refers to Newtown Creek as part of “America’s Maritime Superhighway”, a vital industrial waterway which must be protected from the interests of those too short sighted to realize its potential to reinvigorate the economies of those communities through which it flows. It is the very definition of the future, and New York’s destiny is and has always been directly linked to it.

It’s heart warming to see clear eyed mariners like those onboard the Crystal Cutler plying its waters.


Significant Maritime and Industrial Area

Newtown Creek, at over 780 acres the city’s largest SMIA, abuts portions of the Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City, and Maspeth industrial areas. The waterfront area is characterized by heavy industry and municipal facilities, many of which are water- dependent. Newtown Creek is also the largest SMIA in terms of employment.

Although from 1992 to 2008 the SMIA lost roughly half its jobs, from 2000 to 2008 the number of jobs in the SMIA grew by nearly 1,400 to reach a total of approximately 15,000 jobs. Nearly half of the jobs in 2008 were in transportation and warehousing and wholesale trade. However, the business mix is becoming much more diverse. In the eight-year period examined, non-industrial jobs grew by more than 35 percent.

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