The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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familiar details

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 16, 2013 at 2:13 am

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Kinda personal post today, its been a bad day.

Yesterday, Tuesday the 25th, your humble narrator was helping out on a Working Harbor Committee tour of New York Harbor. The goal of this tour was to encourage a group of inner city kids to continue their education beyond secondary school and to present the notion of a career in the maritime industries for their consideration. Several notable speakers made the case while I shot pictures of the event, and of course- passing tugboats and other watercraft. That’s when the phone rang.

It was a Doctor, a nursing home staffer on Staten Island that had been caring for my Mom. He adjured me to make all haste toward their facility as her time was near. Trapped onboard the ship, however, I would either need to return to Manhattan and catch the Staten Island Ferry or jump ship and swim – the irony was that my actual location in the Kill Van Kull was a mere mile from their inland location. Within moments, the phone rang again, and the Doctor informed me that Mom had died.

from wikipedia

The Kill Van Kull is a tidal strait approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1,000 feet (305 m) wide between Staten Island, New York and Bayonne, New Jersey in the United States.[1] Spanned by the Bayonne Bridge, it is one of the most heavily travelled waterways in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Kill Van Kull connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. The Robbins Reef Light marks the eastern end, and Bergen Point its western end. Historically it has been one of the most important channels for the commerce of the region, providing a passage for marine traffic between Upper Bay and the industrial towns of northeastern New Jersey. During the colonial era it played a significant role in travel between New York and the southern Thirteen Colonies, with passengers changing from ferries to coaches at Elizabethtown. Since the final third of the 20th century, it has provided the principal access for ocean-going container ships to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the busiest port facility in the eastern United States, and Howland Hook Marine Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My mother has been dying for nearly 10 years, with periods of intense illness followed by long lulls spent in a half life of pharmacological stasis. Her once vast intellect had shattered, her body weakened, and finally her physicians ordered her to give up the smart little apartment she had bankrupted herself for. She checked into a nursing home, which was her last mailing address.

Suffering from dementia, she ended up on the sixth floor, where the screamers are. Her life became something very close to my personal vision of hell- an institutionalized and undignified existence without a shred of freedom or self determination. Confused, sick, confined.

Don’t get me wrong, the old lady was no angel, this isn’t one of those stories. Just like every other post here, at your Newtown Pentacle, this description of her fate was neither good nor bad- it just is.

Today, a priest who never met anybody in my family will officiate at a ceremony in some town on Long Island that we have no connection to at a burial ground which adheres to a peripheral and unfamiliar religious system. He will speak in a language that nobody present will understand, and say prayers that were ancient when Rome was founded. At the end of it, the extended family will disperse to diners.

People will try to comfort me, offer open ended promises, and search my face for emotional cues to follow. Problem is that I’m a cold fish, very hard to read, and will appear aloof. Nobody can do or say anything right now, and the offers are appreciated, but one of the traits my Mom beat into me was “freak out later, take care of business now”.

from wikipedia

The Jewish funeral consists of burial, also known as interment. Cremation is not considered a viable possibility. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. Jewish law forbids embalming. Displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place.

In Israel the Jewish funeral service will usually commence at the burial ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service will either commence at a funeral home or at the cemetery. Occasionally the service will commence at a synagogue. In the case of a very prominent individual the funeral service can begin at a synagogue or a yeshivah. If the funeral service begins at a point other than at the cemetery the entourage accompanies the body in a procession to the cemetery. The funeral itself, the procession, the burial, are referred to by the word levayah, meaning “accompanying.”

Levayah means “accompaniment” because the funeral procession involves accompanying the body to the place of burial. Levayah is Hebrew and it also indicates “joining” and “bonding.” This aspect of the meaning of the word levayah conveys the implication of a commonality between the “souls” of the living and the dead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The great commonality of human existence is that nobody dies well. There is no “good death”. As long time readers can attest, I understand the actual physical processes of death in arcane detail, and it ain’t nice.

Mom, however, died in a bed with a team of experts doing their level best (within the legal restrictions of her wish to not be subjected to “heroic measures” commonly called a DNR order) to save her. How lucky, and wonderful an end, for in her last moments- Mom had regained control over her life again. That’s something.

The Pentacle won’t be updating with anything new for a day or so, your humble narrator has to engage with the funerary industrial complex for the next couple of days.

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi, indeed.

from wikipedia

A do not resuscitate document is a binding legal document that states resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. Abbreviated DNR, such an order may be instituted on the basis of an advance directive from a person, or from someone entitled to make decisions on their behalf, such as a health care proxy.

DNR documents are widespread in some countries and unavailable in others. In countries where a DNR is unavailable the decision to end resuscitation is made solely by physicians.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 26, 2010 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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First, for almost every correct pronunciation of the name “Cooper”- as enunciated by Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman, click here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Peter Cooper is a name known to modernity as a place name, and as the founder of the Cooper Union academy on the Bowery, and ephemerally as a product of a degenerate Dutch and Anglophile ruling class called the “Knickerbocracy“, which ran the City of New York well into the late 19th century.

He was a great deal more, and its odd that histories of the United States produced in the 20th century generally omit the name of this prominent industrialist- an opponent of slavery and proponent of Native American rights, father of a New York City Mayor and father in law of another Mayor– from discussion. His contributions to the Nation’s industrial history are similarly overlooked.

A Newtown Pentacle posting of June,4 2009 revealed that the origins of his great fortune were founded along the loathsome Newtown Creek, where his industrial operations chemically converted animal tissue and bodily waste into useful products like glue and Jell-O brand gelatin (as a note: if you enjoy gealtin treats, NEVER inquire as to what it is actually made from, or the methodologies employed in manufacture– for you will strike this item from your diet forever. I warn you, and point out that similar warnings against investigating the realities of Chimpanzee Attack have been proven out in the past).


Peter Cooper was a self-taught engineer, beloved philanthropist, presidential candidate and founder of the Cooper Union in New York City (the nation’s first free institution of higher learning).

Cooper had a number of patents and inventions to his credit. Builder and inventor of the famous “Tom Thumb” protoytpe locomotive, which was used to demonstrate the potential of steam-powered rail transport to leaders of the American transportation industry, he also obtained the very first American patent for the manufacture of gelatin (1845). He subsequently established a number of other patents for its manufacture and established manufacturing standards for its production. Some time later (1895), Pearl B. Wait, a cough syrup manufacturer, bought the patent from Peter Cooper and adapted Cooper’s gelatin dessert into an entirely prepackaged form, which his wife, May David Wait, named “Jell-O.” The rest is history…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cooper was instrumental to the B&O railroad, instigated the installation of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, and ran for president of the United States at the age of 85. The statue pictured above is sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and can be found alongside the Cooper Union university building in Manhattan. It shows a promethean and physically robust specimen, which is a somewhat inaccurate visual description. Thanks to the archives at that august academy of the arts, photos of the great man in life are available.

from wikipedia

Influenced by the writings of Lydia Maria Child, Cooper became involved in the Indian reform movement, organizing the privately funded United States Indian Commission. This organization, whose members included William E. Dodge and Henry Ward Beecher, was dedicated to the protection and elevation of Native Americans in the United States and the elimination of warfare in the western territories. Cooper’s efforts led to the formation of the Board of Indian Commissioners, which oversaw Ulysses S. Grant’s Peace Policy. Between 1870 and 1875, Cooper sponsored Indian delegations to Washington, D.C., New York City, and other Eastern cities. These delegations met with Indian rights advocates and addressed the public on United States Indian policy. Speakers included: Red Cloud, Little Raven and Alfred B. Meacham and a delegation of Modoc and Klamath Indians.

Cooper was an ardent critic of the gold standard and the debt-based monetary system of bank currency. Throughout the depression from 1873-78, he said that usury was the foremost political problem of the day. He strongly advocated a credit-based, Government-issued currency of United States Notes. He outlined his ideas in his 1883 book Ideas for a Science of Good Government.

photo from

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 6.5 acre site of Cooper’s glue factory, which picked up stakes and left Brooklyn in 1895, was sold by his descendants to the City of Brooklyn for $55,000 (that’s $55,000 in 1895, by the way). Today, it’s known as Cooper Park, which sits between Sharon and Olive Streets and Maspeth and Morgan Avenues in Greenpoint. The Glue factory was considered quote a nuisance by contemporaries- but one wonders how much of that reportage was driven by politics. Cooper was what modernity would classify as a liberal and progressive reformer, and was a bulwark against the trusts and Tammany. A powerful man gains powerful enemies- or as Stan Lee would put it- “with great power comes great responsibility”.


Peter was born in New York City to Methodists Margaret Campbell and John Cooper. Their home was opened to traveling clergy. Peter later recalled that his “father’s religion was of that kind that he feared everybody would go tumbling into hell.” Although he abandoned his father’s doctrine, he never strayed from the work ethic his father instilled in him from an early age.

John Cooper attempted several craft and merchandising occupations, with little success. Among other tasks, Peter had to “boil the hair out of the rabbit skins to be used in the manufacture of hats.” This experience may well have inspired his later invention of gelatin, made by boiling animal skin and connective tissue. He began inventing early in adolescence. He devised a machine for washing clothes, which aided his mother greatly. He helped his family by finding new ways to net wild pigeons, construct shoes, make bricks, and brew beer. So occupied, he had little opportunity for schooling. “My only recollection of being at school,” Cooper explained in his autobiography, “was at Peekskill [New York] about some three or four quarters and a part of the time it was half-day school.” As he began to hone his entrepreneurial skills, his lively curiosity nevertheless helped him to acquire an informal education.

In 1808 Cooper was apprenticed to a New York coachmaker. Although he showed promise in this trade, he declined to take the loan necessary to set himself up in the business. Instead he took a job in Hempstead, Long Island with a manufacturer of cloth-shearing machines. There he obtained a license to make and sell the machines in New York. He then designed, patented, and manufactured an improved version of the machine. He recalled that “the first money I received for the sale of my machines was from Mr. [Matthew] Vassar, of Poughkeepsie, who afterwards founded that noble institution for female education, called Vassar College.”

In 1813 Cooper married Sarah Raynor Bedell. Only two of their six children, Edward and Sarah Amelia, survived childhood. For a time he operated a grocery store in partnership with his brother-in-law. A jack-of-all-trades, he also ran factories to make furniture, glue, and isinglass. In 1828 he founded the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore, Maryland. This made his fortune. He set up other foundries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and a rolling mill in New York (which he later moved to Trenton, New Jersey).

In addition to the washing machine, Cooper invented a cutting device for lawn mowers, a torpedo boat, and the first American steam locomotive (named “Tom Thumb”). With his brother Thomas, in 1854 he manufactured the first iron structural beams. He also invented the first blast furnace, a compressed air engine for ferry boats, a water-powered device to move barges down the newly-constructed Erie Canal, a machine to grind and polish plate glass, and a musical cradle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just for giggles, I include this tangential link- which takes you to’s “Historic and Antiquarian Scenes in Brooklyn and its vicinity“. Examine the “Suydam House” section, which is the 1700 farmhouse that was commandeered in revolutionary times as a barracks for Hessian soldiers, uses phrases like “Dutch pertinacity” and discusses the history of the site that the Cooper Glue Factory would be built on. Notable moments in the english language found within include:

“It is built as was the invariable practice of the old Hollandish settlers, in a gentle depression of the ground, where it would be protected from the sweep of the dreaded north wind. The airy site and broad prospect which so entice the newer occupants of Brooklyn soil, had no attractions for the phlegmatic and comfort-loving Dutch race.”

“The Germans early entertained a fondness for the soil of Bushwick and Brooklyn, for even at this period they exhibited the strongest desire to escape from military control, and settle upon it. That they had then discovered its capacity for the manufacture and storage of lager beer is susceptible of some proof. Certainly all the frightful tortures which awaited the captured deserter did not deter them from attempting escape from British protection. Many of them settled in Brooklyn, and by their thrift and industry acquired not a little property.

One of the subjects of the Elector of Hesse Cassel, named Louis Warner, in some quiet Dutch fashion of his own, crept out of the watch and ward of his majesty, George the Third’s soldiers, who zealously endeavored to return the dear subjects of the Elector to his paternal care. Louis pursued the occupation of milkman for a long time on the Luqueer farm, in Bushwick, now nearly covered by the building of Peter Cooper’s glue factory, where he had bivouacked with his Hessian comrades for many months during the revolution. “

and finally from, (click through to their page to see the various diagrams and photos referred to in the quotation)

1820-1865: Age 30, Peter Cooper buys a glue factory from Mr. Vreeland in Kipps Bay (Grammercy Park) Manhattan. Peter had bought glue from there knew the business to be a good one. He sells the grocery shortly thereafter to concentrate upgrading the glue factory. He’s nearly killed several times in this. As business expands he moves the glue factory to Burling Slip, Brooklyn and later to Maspeth, Queens. In Maspeth, Queens, near Newtown creek, Cooper builds the large facrtory shown in the picture below. Peter Cooper invents the double boiler, a major innovation (see figure) that avoids burning the glue by heating it directly with a fire. Instead, in the double boiler water is heated by coal fire, and steam from the hot water cooks the glue. The double boiler is used to this day thoughout the food industry, and steam remains the most popular heat transfer fluid throughout the chemical industry. Using the double boiler Peter Cooper’s begins to make glue in ten, different, standard grades. The lightest grade will be sold as edible gelatin as well as for glue use. Cooper invents a method for freeze-drying glue and similar products, 1845. (need technical details — how was this done in the 1800s?). Quality control is an important part of Cooper glue. Peter Cooper invents a vernier test for glue stiffness (see picture below); a weight is placed on a block of gelled gule, and one measures how far the weight sags. His test method for testing glue stiffness will be used till the 1950s.

Peter Cooper’s glue works also produces animal-fat based oils and chemical products. Of particular importance is Neat’s Foot Oil, a lighting and machine oil made from calves feet. It’s comparable to whale oil, and is still in use today. Peter Cooper invents American Isinglass, a brightener and clarifier derived from fish oil; it is cheaper than Russian Isinglass, used to clarify wine and deserts. In 1865 Cooper retires from active involvement in the glue business. He sells the main factory and land to his son, Edward, his agent, William Serrell, and their children for $200,000. At this point, the Glue Factory is probably the largest in the country, and perhaps in the world. It is selling approximately $200,000 worth of glue per year, with distribution from London to South America. In the 20th century the glue works would leave Queens for Gowanda, NY. There reamins a small monument to the factory in Maspeth, Queens. His Grandson, Peter Cooper Hewitt will patent an improved chiller table for gelatin making.

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Don’t Know Jack

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Social obligations carried your humble narrator to the teeming streets of New York City’s famous Chinatown over the weekend, where this enigmatic ovum was observed. Alien to my eyes, this is a Jack Fruit, which is apparently one of  asian cuisine’s most popular cultivars. Ignorant of the pacific tropics and their unique biota, my initial thought upon encountering the Jack Fruit was that it was a pod not unlike those utilized by the “Body Snatchers” during one of the many attempts to infiltrate human society by extraterrestrials during the 1950’s. Turns out that the Jack Fruit has been a part of the Asian diet since Ashoka the Great ruled India in 250 BC. The name Jack Fruit is derived from the Portuguese term for it- Jaca, after the Malaysian Chakka.

from wikipedia

The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus or A. heterophylla) is a species of tree in the mulberry family (Moraceae), which is native to parts of South and Southeast Asia. It is the national fruit of Bangladesh. It is called Kanthal (কাঁঠাল) in Bangla, Katahar (कटहर) in Nepali, Panasa (पनस) in Sanskrit, Katahal (कटहल) in Hindi, Nangka in Bahasa Indonesia,Halasu (ಹಲಸು) in Kannada, Panasa in Telugu, Pala in Tamil (is one of the three auspicious fruits of Tamil Nadu),Chakka in Malayalam language, Phanas in Marathi language and पणस in Konkani language. It is well suited to tropical lowlands. Its fruit is the largest tree borne fruit in the world, seldom less than about 25 cm (10 in) in diameter.

photo from wikipedia

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Armstrong, the Newtown Pentacle’s far eastern correspondent and expert on asian dessert items, simply states that the Jack Fruit is delicious. After a lifetime spent in New York City, with the limited compliment of American staple fruits (banana, citrus, apple, grape, peach, tomato) and their variants available, it is a real pleasure to see that the latest waves of immigration are expanding the variety of foodstuffs. I’ve seen other exotic and alien crops, Durrians and Yuca for example, on sale in Queens markets in the last couple of years. Even the local supermarket here in Astoria carries a remarkable variety.


In Malaysia and India there are named types of fruit. One that has caused a lot of interest is Singapore, or Ceylon, a remarkable yearly bearer producing fruit in 18 months to 2-1/2 years from transplanting. The fruit is of medium size with small, fibrous carpels which are very sweet. It was introduced into India from Ceylon and planted extensively in 1949. Other excellent varieties are Safeda, Khaja, Bhusila, Bhadaiyan and Handia. In Australia, some of the varieties are: Galaxy, Fitzroy, Nahen, Cheenax, Kapa, Mutton, and Varikkha. None of these appear to be available in the US at this time.

Yet, even as the ever changing ethnic waves bring new and exciting comestibles with them, other traditions fall away. Corned Beef does not sweat in bar room steam tables anymore, I haven’t seen the Krishnas making rice and beans in Thompson Square Park for a while, Jewish Deli is virtually extinct, and…

What ever happened to the Bear Claw?

do they still exist in sticky sweetness, within the City of New York?

more on this Bear Claw business to come…

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Alive and well

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry for the lack of postings in the last few days, but the next big batch of photos and research has been occupying me, and I’m a little “written out” at the moment. As mentioned in previous posts, I’m attempting to control myself- to not allow an “all cemetery” Newtown Pentacle to emerge. Of course, that would indicate that there was some sort of grand plan governing when things appear here, or that these postings are following an agenda of some kind. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the weather has largely shut me down for the last month or so on the “gathering content” front lines. As is usually the case during this time of the year, I’m frustrated by my inability to be outside due to my vulnerable and weakened constitution.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news is that I was recently invited to take a series of shots indoors at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at JFK airport, while under the supervision of airport personnel which assured no hassle with security. Certain restrictions (don’t shoot security or actual runways) applied, and the vast majority of the shots are in the hands of and controlled by a major metropolitan ad agency, but I’m authorized to share a subset of them publicly- which will be coming sometime this week. Proper postings will resume shortly, why not subscribe to the RSS feed found in the toolbar to the right so you don’t miss anything? No spam or commercial crap from me, can’t speak for wordpress but that’s really not their style- and the nice bit about “push” services like RSS is that you’ll be able to read the Pentacle on the gizmo of your choice.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Astoria, Uncategorized

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