The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Walking Tour’ Category

Modern Corridor

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Want to see something cool? Bring a camera, and follow me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I decided to start doing walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed a few years ago, I found myself presented with a significant organizational issue. There’s a different story to be told about Maspeth than there is about Greenpoint (also, there are arguably two Greenpoints), yet… the two communities are inextricably linked up. Same thing with Bushwick and Ridgewood, or the residential centers at the Creek’s intersection with the East River. 3.8 miles long by around a mile wide, the Creeklands are vast when on foot. There is also SO much information to pass along, not just about the Creek’s past, but about all the stuff that’s going on right now- EPA, Superfund, the cool things my pals in NCA are doing with Green Infrastructure and Citizen Science…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My solution was to simply to connect the stories of these places up along the ancient roads or paths along which they grew, and follow the water from one borough to another. “Poison Cauldron” does the Greenpoint to Bushwick route, “Insalubrious Valley” follows a colonial era turnpike path, “Glittering Realms” moves from residential East River Greenpoint back to the industrial zone along another colonial pathway, and “13 Steps around Dutch Kills” traces the Queens tributary back to the Creek and ends at its smaller counterpart Whale Creek in Brooklyn.

The new one- “Modern Corridor”- is all about Hunters Point, one of the least known sections of New York City, which sits directly opposite the Shining City of midtown Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This “Modern Corridor” walking tour starts at the old city center, nearby Jackson Avenue and Court Square, and explores the brave new world rising from the ashes of a 19th century industrial titan- the independent municipality of Long Island City. Writ large, the growing community of the titan real estate development which has reshaped the colonial vintage section of Queens called Hunters Point will be encountered, and one of the finest parks in the entire city visited. This park is built upon a significant piece of rail infrastructure which once allowed train cars to be loaded onto barges for maritime transport to Manhattan and points west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then we walk through to the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, and to the industrial machine surrounding the infamous Newtown Creek. Former home to sugar refineries and cargo docks, rail yards and powerhouses, this will be the future home of thousands who will live in the forthcoming Hunters Point South development which has already begun construction. See it as it is, before the towers rise and the land is reshaped to modern wants and desires.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Skirting along the Creek, you’ll see vast infrastructure, visit DUPBO (Down under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp), and walk over railroad tracks as we head back to the modern incarnation of Long Island City. Bring your cameras, as your friends won’t believe you when you try to describe the places you’ve witnessed. Closed toe shoes are also highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol as there will be little to no shelter from the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself. The walk will be approximately 2 hours in length and will cross all sorts of ground. There will be one flight of stairs involved.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

We’ll be passing from the 21st century all the way back to the 1600’s with particular emphasis on the late 19th century, when the fellow pictured above- the notorious Patrick “Battle-Ax” Gleason, served as the last Mayor of Long Island City. Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite PS1 schoolhouse pictured in the second shot above, which nearly bankrupted LIC- amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption- Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel- which is today the LIC Crab House- and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal. He told those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor”, instructing them instead to “Just call me Paddy.”

Hope you can come along, this Saturday at 10- meetup at Court Square Station on Jackson Avenue.

idle curiosity

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In today’s post- The New York Marble Cemetery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If your view of second avenue in Manhattan’s East Village looks like what you see in the shot above, there’s only one place you can possibly be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You would be standing on the other side of these gates, found at the end of an alley, and within a walled off corridor which was established in 1831- the same year that the French Foreign Legion first deployed and Charles Darwin left England for the Galapagos onboard the Beagle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the perks of working with Atlas Obscura is that I can sometimes insert myself into somebody else’s adventure, and in this case, it was Allison Meier’s walking tour excursion to the New York Marble Cemetery at 41 1/2 Second Avenue. She graciously allowed me to attend her sold out tour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out this page, which I think Allison wrote- at the Atlas Obscura– for the full history of the place (there’s no point in me paraphrasing it). The tombs are all underground, with the grave markers arranged on the walls in the form of stone plaques. The surrounding neighborhood has literally risen around the place, with every building style from 19th century tenement to ultra modern luxury hotel represented around it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The president of the cemetery association was there to talk to the attendees, and she described the walls as being quite fragile and in bad condition. Nearly two hundred years of New York air, and vibration, have taken their toll on mortar laid down just ten years before Mary Rogers “the beautiful cigar girl” was found in a trunk floating along on the Hudson- sparking the interest of none other than Edgar Allen Poe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the plaque denoting the tomb of Uriah Scribner, father of the eponymous founder of the publishing house “Charles Scribner’s Sons.” Uriah died in 1853.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

1830’s New York City is literally the stuff of legend.

It’s Poe’s town, as well as the NYC that Herman Melville and Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant knew, a city which had less than a quarter million inhabitants. What we call the lower east side was farmland back then, and the center of town was down near the Battery.

The river fronts were described as a “forest of masts” for all the merchant trading vessels found docked there.

Check out the New York Marble Cemetery here.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

possible variations

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tour- the Parks and Petroleum tour- May 12, next Sunday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Meetup at the corner of Kingsland and Norman Avenues in Greenpoint.

We will be exploring the petroleum and waste transfer districts of the Newtown Creek watershed in North Brooklyn. Heavily industrialized, the area we will be walking through is the heart of the Greenpoint Oil Spill and home to scores of waste transfer stations and other heavy industries. We will be heading for the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge, which is scheduled for a demolition and replacement project which will be starting this year.

Photographers, in particular, will find this an interesting walk through of a little known and quite obscure section of New York City.

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic, and experiencing a virtual urban desert as we move through the concrete devastations of North Brooklyn. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed toe shoes are highly recommended- as are a hat or parasol to shield you from the sun.

Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk, which will be around three hours long and cover approximately three miles of ground.

Drivers, it would be wise to leave your cars in the vicinity of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint.

Click here for tickets to the Newtown Creek Alliance Parks and Petroleum walking tour with Mitch Waxman,
Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 11 am.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp, or DUKBO, is the name I’ve assigned to this lunar landscape of industrial mills and waste transfer stations which lines the Brooklyn side of the Creek. This year is functionally the last time you will be able to witness this place, as the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project will be kicking into high gear in the fall of 2013.

For the urban explorer and photographer crowd, this is a wonderland of shattered streets and rusted infrastructure which will soon be eradicated from all but living memory.

Tickets are available, should you care to witness the place prior to its forthcoming demolition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour will tell the story of Standard Oil at its start and cross over the Greenpoint Oil Spill’s heart, revealing that lost world of industrial aspiration and 20th century dissolution which lies less than a mile from the geographic and population centers of New York City.

In the past, I’ve described the area as “Mordor” at this, your Newtown Pentacle, and the Tolkien analogy is apt. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume, the water is hopelessly tainted with bizarre combinations and millions of gallons of petroleum and industrial chemicals, the soil is impregnated with heavy metals, asbestos, and truly- who can guess all there is that might be buried down there?

An odd concentration of food distribution, waste transfer and garbage handling facilities, and energy industry plants make the area remarkable, and everywhere you look will be a “colour“- a bizarrely iridescent sheen which resembles no wholesome nor familiar earthly color but is instead like something from out of space- coating every bit of broken masonry and the sweat slicked skin of laborer and passerby alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other upcoming tours:

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

for a full listing and schedule of tours and events, click here

The 2013 Spring and Summer Tours Schedule

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle


– photo by Mai Armstrong

Want to see something cool?

Odds are that a bunch of the folks who will be reading this might have no idea who Mitch Waxman is, why they should come along with him on a tour of some weird neighborhood in Brooklyn or Queens or Staten Island, nor what a Newtown Creek or Kill Van Kull are- let alone where. Who is this weirdo?

Check out the “bio” page here at Newtown Pentacle, or this profile of me from the NY Times published in 2012. My tours of Newtown Creek have garnered no small amount of interest from the fourth estate- whether it be, Queens, the 22blog,, or Queensnyc, and I’ve turned up in a bunch of media reports, documentaries, and been interviewed for multitudinous reports on the lamentable history of the Newtown Creek.

Most recently, it was National Geographic and Curbed. Attendees on my tours come from a variety of backgrounds- photographers, history and rail buffs, maritime enthusiasts, and there always seems to be an odd and welcome concentration of elected officials and journalists about.

What is with this guy?

I’m the Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, Official Photographer and Steering Committee member of the Working Harbor Committee, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and the Newtown Creek CAG, and am also a member of the Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Advisory Committee. Newtown Pentacle, this blog, has been steadily published since 2009. I live in Astoria, Queens with my wife and our little dog, Zuzu.

In just the last few years, I have exposed thousands of people to the Newtown Creek, and its incredible history. This is where the industrial revolution actually happened, along this 3.8 mile long waterway that defines the border of Brooklyn and Queens.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In 2013, continuing relationships with Atlas Obscura, Newtown Creek Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee (as well as friends like the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and others) allow me to offer the following schedule. Live ticketing links will be made available as they come online, and all dates are subject to cancellation or rescheduling due to weather or unforeseen circumstance. There are 6 unique walking tours listed here, and one boat trip in which I will be the principal speaker.

Private tours are possible, schedule permitting, and can be arranged by contacting me here. Last year, for instance, several private University classes engaged me for a day at the Creek, as did a few private groups. As mentioned, contact me and we will figure something out if you’ve got a meetup group, college class, or special request.

Here then, is my official schedule as it stands right now. There will likely be a few additions as time goes on, which I will let you know about as they occur. Best to subscribe to this blog (top right, email subscription)  or “follow” me on Twitter @newtownpentacle for news.

In April, 2013- There will be a brand new tour  of Greenpoint debuted, which I call “Glittering Realms.”

Glittering Realms Saturday, April 20, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

In May, 2013- We start off with 13 Steps around Dutch Kills, go to the Insalubrious Valley, visit DUKBO, and finish off the month with a Working Harbor boat tour.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills Saturday, May 4, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Parks and Petroleum- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, May 25, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Hidden Harbor: Newtown Creek tour with Mitch Waxman – Sunday, May 26,2013
Boat tour presented by the Working Harbor Committee,
Limited seating available, order advance tickets now. Group rates available.

NCA Birdwatch Bus tour- June 24, 2012

– photo by Mai Armstrong

In June, 2013- We visit the Poison Cauldron, return to the Insalubrious Valley, and check out the Kill Van Kull.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

In July, 2013- We visit Queens’s Hunters Point with a brand new tour. I might have another offering or two for you, but nothing I can speak about quite yet.

Modern Corridor- Saturday, July 13, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.


– photo by Mai Armstrong

In August, 2013- We return to the Poison Cauldron, repeat the 13 steps, and the Kill Van Kull walks.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, August 10, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets on sale soon.

13 Steps around Dutch Kills- Saturday, August 17, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets on sale soon.

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets on sale soon.

There are a few other dates coming in the fall, and a couple of more summer events which are still being discussed, but I’ll let you know more about them in coming posts.

Also, I will definitely be onboard but not on the microphone during the Working Harbor Committee “Beyond Sandy” Hidden Harbor tours on Tuesday nights, all summer. Hope you can come along.

Click here for more on “Beyond Sandy.”

excellent care

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve recently had the honor of making the acquaintance of the Queens Borough Historian, Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, and when I heard that he was going to conduct a walking tour around a section of Newtown Creek for the Municipal Art Society- I asked if I could come along. Luckily he consented, and even introduced me to his group. They were a little taken aback, as you’d imagine, as your humble narrator is extremely horrible in appearance and manner.


I hold a Ph.D. in urban geography (University of Michigan, 1972) where my dissertation was titled Magic, Mobility and Minorities in the Urban Drama. I’m a lifelong observer of NYC and other large cities around the world. My expertise lies particularly in quantitative methods, historical urban geography, migration, ethnicity, and technological change. I maintain a storehouse of urban concepts, researched facts, and biased memories of bygone eras.

Much of what I know about digital NYC comes from a career in the Property Division of the NYC Department of Finance collecting data and modeling valuation of tax parcels. Most of whom I know in NYC comes from founding and coordinating GISMO, NYC’s GIS user group, participating in non-profit institutions like the Municipal Art Society, and teaching at Hunter College (CUNY). I continually update my familiarity with NYC by walking, walking, and walking in all five boroughs.

In June, 2010, I was appointed Queens Borough Historian. My agenda includes advising the Borough President, convening people and organizations concerned with Queens history, education at all levels, promoting Queens’ history-related attractions and changing cultures, and introducing the concept of “digital history.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing you should know, lords and ladies, is that the historical community here in Queens spends most of its time fighting with each other. Often, I’m angry at someone, who hates me back. Alternately, this historical society is at war with that one, usually over some small point of contention. Everyone is actually pretty ok, and most of the arguments- which seem like the end of the world when they’re ongoing- settle out after a period of time. Such heated discourse, however, is something which I avoid at all costs and is why I spend my time- alone- down by the Creek. I would hate having Jack’s job as Borough Historian, and don’t know how he deals with the politics and backbiting without striking out or fleeing into the night. He’s a cooler cat than I.


They give lectures and tours and help New Yorkers learn about their neighborhoods. Their positions are mandated by state law…but they don’t make a penny for the job. They’re the five city historians, one for each borough. This summer, we’ll be meeting them and finding out some of the secret knowledge about their respective ‘hoods.

Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum is the new kid on the block. He got his job in June, promising not to hide behind books.

In the Flushing apartment he’s lived in for decades, Eichenbaum looks tan and fit in a t-shirt, royal blue track shorts and running shoes. He’s lived nearly all of his 67 years in Queens — a place he believes is still undervalued by the rest of the city.

The people who act like Manhattan is the center of the known universe? Don’t even get him started.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, Dr. Eichenbaum had arranged to meet up with George Trakas at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Nature Walk. Mr. Trakas, who designed the Nature Walk, is a terrific guy and a fantastic ambassador for his inimitable public space. The Newtown Creek Armada art installation was also in place at the Nature Walk that day, which titillated the crowd.


Newtown Creek’s notoriety as one of the most polluted waterways in the country belies its peculiar beauty and uncommon potential to provide vistas of New York’s industrial history and the scale of the city’s waste management machine. It’s also a wicked cool place to impress a date with a surprise picnic.

Artist George Trakas saw the potential of this canalized estuary as he navigated the waterways of New York over the past forty-five years. When the City’s Department of Environmental Protection launched a $3 billion upgrade of the wastewater treatment facility in the late 1980s, Trakas was able to seize the opportunity – through the City’s Percent for Art program – to go beyond the brief and to provide public access to the water for treatment facility employees and local residents. And by access, he means access: visitors won’t merely see the water from above, behind a fence. Rather, you can descend staged granite steps to the water’s edge and sit (or dock your boat) on a series of getdowns perforating the bulkhead along the Whale Creek tributary. It’s part amphitheatre and part shore, with horticultural and sculptural references to local history, geology, and geography. But it’s also a model of a successful community engagement process. Trakas participated in meetings with the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee every month for the past ten years, incorporating community feedback and priorities into his design. Instead of using art to conceal environmental hazards with decorative band-aids, Trakas has created a Nature Walk that provides an interpretive frame on its surroundings and invites visitors to share his delight in water, industry and the urban beauty of the overlooked.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a cool dog who came along as part of the group, said canine seemed transfixed by what he was seeing and hearing along the way. Can you imagine what Newtown Creek must smell like to a dog?

There is so much interest in Newtown Creek amongst the general public, something I learned personally this last summer, and it was quite spectacular to hear Jack’s take on the place. The Municipal Art Society sent along blogger Kate Lenahan to record the event, and her post can be accessed here. Additionally, I got mentioned in a third party’s blog post, linked to below.


First, when I first did the walk, some 15 months ago, the primary attraction was laying eyes on Newtown Creek, which to my knowledge I had never done before. You have to remember that like most industrial waterfronts it was pretty well closed off to civilian eyes and feet. But in that intervening year and a quarter I had done more walks around various parts of the creek than I can remember and also cruised the creek, mostly under the auspices of the Newtown Creek Alliance (it’s definitely worth signing up for their e-mail list), and mostly with NCA historian Mitch Waxman (whose blog, “The Newtown Pentacle,” is always worth checking out).

Second, there’s the Jack Eichenbaum factor. In all the many walks I’ve done with Jack, I can hardly remember one where I didn’t learn something of near-life-changing importance — certainly a change in my way of perceiving the city, and likely the world around me. Walking with Jack, you learn to see how basic factors of physical and human geography have shaped the way regions and neighborhoods have developed and redeveloped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dr. Eichenbaum led the group over the Pulaski Bridge and into Long Island City, but I had to split off and stay in DUPBO. Another event was scheduled to begin later in the day, a presentation on water quality at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. The very good news was that they had beer, and a campfire going down there.

Also- Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

for more information on the October 27th Newtown Creek Boat Tour, click here

for more information on the November 9th Newtown Creek Magic Lantern Show, click here

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

things to do!

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for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here


for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

coloured hills

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are lots of things to do this weekend, lords and ladies. To begin, or end with- depending on ones perspective- this is the closing weekend of the Newtown Creek Armada. A fun and public art project by Laura Chipley, Nate Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright- the show is found at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Nature Walk.

check out details and hours at the armada site.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Sunday, and this comes verbatim from

“Sept 30 – Water Quality event with North Brooklyn Coat Club and Friends

The Capitol to Capitol by Canoe expedition lands at NBBC, and a water quality discussion ensues! The event will feature presentations from a number of local organizations including the Newtown Creek Alliance, Riverkeeper, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance and New York City Water Trails Association. We will also be celebrating the arrival of the Capital to Capitol by Canoe expedition in NYC. A project of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, this 1800 kilometer paddle will travel on rivers, lakes, canals, harbours and bays from Ottawa to Washington D.C. in a 34 foot voyageur canoe.

Full info here.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also going on this weekend- Saturday is “Field Trip Day” in Greenpoint, a free event.

Calling all urban explorers, history buffs, and lovers of Greenpoint. Drift with us through the culture and history of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a tucked away neighborhood sculpted by its maritime and industrial past.

Field Trip day is dedicated to the art of the wander, and discovery through exploration. Come and see Greenpoint for the first time or with new eyes: for on this one day she will reveal herself through the Field Trip app, on-site installations, challenges, and quests.

Discover where colored pencils came from, get up close and personal with one of the most polluted waterways in the US, and take down your opponents in a dramatic restaging of a Civil War ironclad battle! Together we’ll find hidden places, discover secret histories, and learn skills long forgotten.

There are no right choices, no wrong turns – but there are treasures to be uncovered just out of sight.

Click here for more info and registration

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