The Newtown Pentacle

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corridor outside

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Remember, remember…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, June 15th in 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat left its dock at Peck Slip in Manhattan at ten in the morning with just over 1,000 people onboard – most of whom were women and children. It caught fire as it moved north on the East River, and reports of smoke below deck reached the wheelhouse as it was passing 97th street in Manhattan. It didn’t take long for the wood hulled boat to catch fire. It was a product of Tammany’s NYC, where safety inspectors could be convinced to overlook violations for a small sum, which is why the life vests were filled with sawdust and powdered cork and the fire hoses onboard were either non existent or rotted. Most of the crew abandoned ship, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. By the time it grounded at North Brother Island, the official death toll was 1,021. Bodies were washing onshore at Hells Gate for days.

Today is the anniversary of the day that Lassez Faire capitalism and local control of the ferry industry ended in NYC, and why the United States Coast Guard was given broad oversight powers regarding safety onboard vessels in NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Slocum disaster, which scored the largest death toll of any single event in NYC until the September 11th attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard instituted regulations and rules for all shipping in NY Harbor which they enforce with military discipline. It’s why you hear an announcement on every ferry trip telling you where floatation devices can be found onboard, and why private pleasure and fishing vessels in the harbor are often “pulled over” by USCG for safety inspections.

It’s also one of the arguments I make when talking politics, with my friends who identify as “Conservative,” in defense of what they describe as “job killing regulatory oversight.” There is a staggering amount of inefficiency and an abundance of stupid rules in Government, but we also haven’t had anything like a General Slocum disaster in what… 114 years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the focus point of my historical interests, which can be somewhat summed up as “maritime industrial history of NYC from the colonial to WW2 periods,” there’s a lot of horror stories which I’ve stumbled across. 95% of the environmental issues in NYC were caused by unfettered and unregulated industrial operations which, prior to 1972 and the Federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, had zero obligation not to dump acid into rivers and streams or pulse metric shit tons of poison into the air. A disaster can occur in any era, but the needless deaths of 1,021 women and children onboard an excursion boat leaving from lower Manhattan to attend a picnic on Long Island? Unthinkable in the modern era.

All that is due to a regulatory regime for the maritime industry which was largely created and coded into law by Republican Party politicians led by Teddy Roosevelt. Dump acid into the water, or spew sulphur compounds into the sky? Also impossible thanks to a Republican named Richard Nixon. Give credit where credit is due, I say. I also question why the politics of the modern day has members of the same political party chipping away at the achievements of their historical forebears who ensured that you could just mindlessly walk onto a ferry without thinking about the General Slocum


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

furtive fragments

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It’s National Greasy Foods Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Working Harbor Committee, a non profit whose mission is “to educate the public about the Harbor and New York and New Jersey” and which a humble narrator is both the official photographer for and a member of the organization’s steering committee, called a meeting recently. We had some organizational business to conduct, voting on Board members and other nitty gritty at an annual meeting.

Instead of some banal office, however, this time our annual gathering occurred at the South Street Seaport Museum’s Wavertree. a historic sailing vessel which dates back to 1885 and which is the flagship for the museum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It should be mentioned that a humble narrator isn’t possessed of the same sense of wonder and excitement that some of my cohorts at WHC are when the subject of sailing vessels comes up, but it was pretty cool to be able to visit an artifact of the “forest of masts” era on NY Harbor.

The Wavertree recently spent some time at Cadell’s shipyard on Staten Island, wherein the old girl received expert attention and refitting. The renovations and so on are still ongoing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are just a few historic ships in NY Harbor, with the South Street Seaport museum hosting the majority. Given NYC’s predilection towards annihilating anything older than a few decades old whether terrestrial or maritime, the presence of Wavertree in Lower Manhattan is a not insignificant thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot, and the following, are tripod shots captured from onboard the ship itself. The far background in them will appear a bit blurry, as Wavertree was bobbing about a bit in the tide. It was interesting, from a behind the camera POV, to have the fixed point in my focal zone set for the ship I’m on rather then some thing which is off in the distance – the opposite of what I normally do when onboard a vessel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s some complicated rigging up there, and I joked around with one of my WHC pals about him going all “Burt Lancaster” and swinging around on the ropes. My pal assured me that he was not going to go all “Burt Lancaster.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From the quarterdeck looking across the East River towards Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also from the quarterdeck, and looking west towards Manhattan.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

shrewd guessing

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It’s National Cream Filled Donut Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the Labor Day weekend, on September the 3rd to be exact, our Working Harbor Committee presented the 25th Annual Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition on the Hudson River. It was raining at a pretty good clip, which kind of sucked, but… tugboat race. I mean… tugboat race.

That’s a brand new tug above, the Capt. Brian A. McAllister.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is usual for the tug race (this is my seventh or eighth time photographing the event), I was onboard the “official” race boat, but due to the inclement weather and a variety of other conditions, one wasn’t in the best place to shoot the actual race this year. Normally, I like having Manhattan in the background, looking northwards across the competition. Construction barges and other maritime impediments forced the race to occur in the west channel of the river this year, so all you got for background is New Jersey.

No offense to New Jersey is intended, of course, but y’all haven’t got an Empire State Building on your side. It seems nice over there though.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My favorite part of the Tug Race, from a photographic perspective, has always been the line toss competition. That’s Donjon towing’s Mary Alice Tug in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This rope was a thrown from a tug based at Millers Landing, the Susan Mller.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mister T tug also gave it a go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This one was hurled by a crewman of the tug James William.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 14, 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

never cease

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Out on the water with the Working Harbor Committee, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Working Harbor Committee excursion was billed as presenting “Brooklyn waterfront, past and present” and I was on the microphone for a good stretch of the trip. I was sharing the narration duty with my pal, Capt. Margaret Flanagan of the Waterfont Alliance organization, who I told point blank before the trip started that once the boat got past Red Hook “I got nothing.” Not a problem for Capt. Flanagan at all, as her able narration and vast knowledge of all things NY Harbor allowed me to slip away from the proverbial pulpit and shoot a few photos.

One bad thing about being one of the tour leaders for these excursions is that it has really cut into the amount of time I have to shoot, and since I’m Working Harbor’s official photographer – this has created a shortage of photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A full harvest moon rose while we were out, and the shot above was captured while our vessel – a NY Waterways ferry – was plying the rippling surface of Gowanus Bay in South Brooklyn. As is often opined, the best times of year in NYC for photography are in the late spring and early fall, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself in relation to the City is quite efficacious. Obviously, these shots were captured at sunset and dusk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a tremendous desire to just get out on a boat and shoot for hours and hours during these intervals, and record the glorious parade of maritime industrial splendor out on the sixth borough. I took the East River Ferry to Manhattan’s Pier 11 from LIC to meet the Working Harbor chartered vessel in the City, but since the ER Ferry service concludes its schedule in the early evening, one was forced to enter the sweating concrete bunkers of the Subway system to get back to almond eyed Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 59th street, one encountered this fellow, who seemed intent on blowing his own horn.

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

inclement forecast

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A labor day tradition, postponed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The 24th annual Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition has been postponed from September 4th to Sunday, October 9th, 2016 due to the likely appearance of Hurricane Hermine in NY Harbor on Sunday.

Click here for the Working Harbor Blog which will be your best source of information on the storm and the rescheduled Tug Race.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 2, 2016 at 11:00 am

presiding demon

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Bringing the thunder…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned, tomorrow night I’m going to be co-narrating the Working Harbor Committee Newark Bay tour with my pal Gordon Cooper. Now, Newark Bay is WHC’s signature tour, and the people who have handled the narration in the past – WHC’s Capt. John Doswell, Ed Kelly of the Maritime Association, Lucy Ambrosino of Port Authority – lets just say that they’ve set a pretty high standard for this narration on this particular caper.

Tugboat Alley and the 3rd largest Port in the United States is quite a subject to write a tour of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that, I’ve been on this particular tour literally dozens of times and have always paid close attention. I’ve also got a whole bunch of historical information which hasn’t been offered in the past, and I’m hoping to add something to the narrative if such a thing is possible. The good news is that the weather promises to be on my side tomorrow, and a beautiful NYC summer day and evening is forecast.

This should be glorious, and for my part – I’m planning on being in rare form tomorrow night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Port Elizabeth Newark is gob smacking in its scale, history, importance to our regional economy, and in its ongoing maritime operations. Our boat will be leaving from Pier 11 in Lower Manahattan, crossing the anchorage channel, transversing the Kill Van Kull, and then visiting the literal prototype for all modern container terminals. We will be proceeding north into Newark Bay – the confluence of the Hackensack and Passaic rivers – and then exiting back through the Kill Van Kull and heading over to the Statue of Liberty for sunset.

Hey, what better place are you going to get your selfie than at the Statue of Liberty?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The trip will be two hours long, and I’m truly excited to invite you lords and ladies to come along. Ticketing link is below – come with? If you do, bring your cameras, as the Workign Harbor Committe’s Port Elizabeth Newark tour is a not to be missed and quite spectacular experience.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Thursday, June 30, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Elizabeth Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 29, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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