The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Hoagie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few odds and ends today. Whilst walking some folks around the Creek the other day, we found ourselves at the corner of Grand St. and Morgan Avenue, and this atypical MTA bus was observed. The general consensus amongst Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY and myself was that it was possibly heading to the racetrack at Aqueduct, hence “Roadeo” and the pictures of the horses, but who the hell knows? There is a “bus Roadeo” event wherein the MTA shows off its historic rolling stock, but that usually happens in the summer. Anybody out there know?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We encountered a fantastic display of illegal dumping on Varick street nearby the National Grid property, which saw shattered window glass spread liberally about the sidewalk. Often opined, illegal dumping in Brooklyn is amateurish. For color, composition, and overall message – come to Queens. Illegal dumping is the native art form of this borough.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lastly, spotted this lucky fellow driving a vintage Ford pickup down Metropolitan Avenue nearby the bridge of the same name. He was stuck in a traffic jam, so I didn’t want to bother the driver with queries as to model year and the restoration story.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

May 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

veritable ossuary

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It’s National Pie Day, thanks to the American Pie Council, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

People think I’m exaggerating, all the time, about the poison earth surrounding my beloved Creek.

They say it can’t possibly be as horrible as I say it is along the Newtown Creek. Thing is, they’ve never been here during the workday, but instead visited on some nice Saturday in July. To understand the horror of it all, you need to see it, smell it, experience it – personally. That’s why I do my walking tours, but the walking routes I take the public out on are as safe a set of paths as you can possibly scout through the Newtown Creek Industrial Districts. As a note – whenever I’ve got a regulator or political official out with me, I take them to places which are best described as “hell.” I figure that since these officials, and their forebears, are pretty much responsible for letting all of this happen in the first place that they should experience it in toto.

Before I continue… should you decide to come and explore these areas for yourself, I accept zero responsibility or liability for you doing so. I’m telling you point blank, stay away from the borderland of industrial Bushwick and Ridgewood, and the corner of Scott and Randolph in particular. You can easily get hurt, or worse. It’s Mordor up in here, with giant trucks whizzing around, which scare away rodents of unusual size – critters who are oddly used to being out in the daylight. There’s a whole set of rules around here that you aren’t necessarily privy to either. It’s too late for me, but save yourself.

Stay away from the Scott Avenue footbridge zone, yo, this shit’s nasty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Scott Avenue Footbridge pictured above, incidentally, which provides one with an interesting vantage point to observe the area from. It’s a bit like a hunting stand providing an elevated POV in the middle of some savanna. The bridge itself is typical of the Long Island Railroad footbridge model you’ll find all over Queens. A steel and concrete structure that provides pedestrian egress high over one of their train lines. In the case of this particular bridge, which is quite dilapidated I would add, the train tracks it overflies are the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Almost every other time that I’ve stood on this footbridge during the last decade, the New York and Atlantic freight operation has had literally hundreds of rail cars lined up along it – which compose the so called “Garbage Train.” Like all of the sections of North Brooklyn which touch the Newtown Creek, gentrification is under way in Bushwick. Large numbers of people are moving in just a few blocks east of here. Flushing Avenue’s intersection with St. Nichols is just a few blocks east of here – the heart of the “Brooklyn thing” which the real estate guys are so into.

Notably, the real estate guys will sometimes refer to this area as Williamsburg, rather than Bushwick or East Williamsburgh, to prospective clients. Eventually, “Williamsburg” will extend into Nassau County.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This little neighborhood of blue collar laborers, however, is rife with hazard for the unwary. As has often been mentioned, the “working guys” have a protocol for handling themselves around heavy equipment and such, and not being privy to its mores makes you quite vulnerable to random accident. For instance – never, NEVER, cross in front of a piece of equipment – whether it truck, forklift, whatever – without stopping and waiting for the operator to acknowledge you and wave you on. Can’t tell you how many people I see just darting in front of construction equipment.

Also, advice offered to everybody crossing Northern Blvd. back in Queens is to stand behind a pole or something while you’re waiting for the light to change. Same thing applies in Queens Plaza, and the western extent of Queens Blvd. which feeds into it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a waste transfer station, or twenty, hereabouts. The garbage guys will tell you “it’s got to go somewhere,” and in the case of the Newtown Creek watershed and surrounding industrial districts, about a third of New York City’s garbage comes here every day. Trucks come in full and leave empty, leaving behind tons and tons of construction debris, recyclables, and putrescent waste.

Have I ever mentioned that I don’t seem to get sick that much, almost as if my immune system is all jacked up and running at maximum speed for some reason?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north-west (ish) you’ll notice the everpresent Sapphire Megalith of Long Island City.

One navigates about the Newtown Creek via triangulation of position between the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan, the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, and the Sapphire Megalith in LIC.

To wit – if you want to go the waterfront of the East River in LIC from Ridgewood or Maspeth, find a spot where the Empire State and the Megalith seem to line up and head in that direction. Going to Astoria? Keep the Megalith and Empire State on the left. Williamsburg? Freedom Tower at center with Empire State on your right and the Megalith behind you. When they finish all that horrible construction in LIC, I’ll have to decide on a new landmark, as the megalith won’t be the tallest building in Queens much longer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Close to the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Scott is a NYC Department of Public Works access – or manhole – cover embedded in the sidewalk. DPW is one of the many agencies that were compressed into the DEP back in 1983, and out here in North Brooklyn, DPW was the inheritor of the City of Brooklyn’s 19th century sewerage projects which were all consolidated into the City of Greater New York’s holdings in 1898. It’s an intersecting sewer, which my “understanding of” indicates that below will be found some vault like structure that leads into a big pipe on one side, which is fed by a series of smaller pipes located on the other – but I don’t know that because I haven’t been down there.

The smaller pipes do feed in from upland sources, and in the case of this spot, those sources can be as far away as East New York and Canarsie. That’s something I actually do know since I’ve argued about it with officialdom.

The big pipe empties into the East Branch of the Newtown Creek across the street, at a “the size of a semi truck trailer” open sewer that’s called “Combined Sewer Outfall NC-083.” This CSO pollutes the water here with some 586 million gallons of untreated sewage a year, which is a debatable and out of date number that’s attibutable to official sources. It’s amongst the largest of the 400 CSO’s in the City, just as a note. A major contributor, roughly 20%, to the approximately billion and half gallons of raw sewage that flows into Newtown Creek annually, can be accessed below this hatch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

BPF? A water main cover which is close proximity to the “intersecting sewer” hatch featured above, the “BPF Water” thing torments one such as myself. Does “BP” stand for “Borough President,” and if so, “Borough President” what? Is it “Brooklyn” or something else?

Arghhhhh. Something which I don’t know every detail of around the Creek? I’m a complete failure, and now everybody knows it.

Sometimes, if I didn’t make this “job” of mine up out of thin air, I’d complain about how little I get paid for the sheer angst of not knowing what the legend on some random water main cover means.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tittering laughter was heard, carried by an easterly breeeze, as one approached Metropolitan Avenue.

My theory is that some inhuman thing with a three lobed burning eye – housed in the cupola of a sapphire megalith found miles away – made this sound as it giggled at the frustrations of a humble narrator.

Back tomorrow, with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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plateau betwixt

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Back to the cemetery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over at the venerable Cemetery of the Evergreens in Bushwick, the W. H. Guild mausoleum is found. It’s a cast iron and cylindrical structure which is a fairly unique and unusual thing. The W.H. Guild in question is one William H. Guild of Brooklyn, who died in 1878. A rumor I’ve heard from several people is is that this is some sort of naval gun turret or something.

It’s not, it’s a boiler tank. Here’s the scoop –

Guild was a Williamsburg based manufacturer of steam pumps, boiler tanks, and all the bits that you’d fit on to them. His goods found their most useful employment in the sugar industry, but you’d also find the products offered by Messrs. Guild and Garrison of Brooklyn handy to have if you ran a steam ferry or a civil war era factory. It seems that the old man wanted to be buried in something he made, which was (and is) a boiler tank.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You have to learn to trust Kevin Walsh at Forgotten-NY on the subject of what things used to be called, and the hidden hierophant of history proclaims that Kent Avenue in Williamsburg was once called “First Street.(Incidentally, before it was First Street it was Charles Street, so take that Kevin!)

According to Armbruster’s “Eastern District of Brooklyn, K Streets you’d have found the factory of Guild and Garrison on First Street between South 8th and South 9th streets. Armbruster actually uses the factory as a “modern” landmark to place where Kings Distillery’s “Williamsburgh Garden” beer garden was located. A somewhat more modern reference for the location of Guild and Garrison would be that it was a few blocks south of the former Domino Sugar plant. The company also maintained an office at 74 Beekman Street, in Manhattan.

from bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org

The office of Kings Distillery was in HANSFIELD Tavern. Later he opened a 3rd place along
the shore, between South 8th & South 9th Streets, calling it, Williamsburgh Garden and
many balls and festivities were held there.

GUILD & GARRISON’S Machine shop was later established there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that Mr. Guild was involved in a bit of drama during his sunset years, having eloped at the age of 70 with an 18 year old named Rosella Stillman in 1864. The details of the affair were preserved by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in its Wednesday, April 6, 1864 edition, the text of which is found below.

from newspapers.com

EASTERN DISTRICT

ELOPEMENT OF A MAN OF SEVENTY AND A GIRL OF EIGHTEEN

A Prominent Business Man and the Daughter of a New York Editor Disappear–What was Revealed by Inquiries–A Marriage Notice which Settled all Doubt–Off for Europe

Social circles in the Nineteenth Ward are in a state of ferment over the elopement of an eighteen-year old daughter of a well known citizen of that locality, who is one of the editors of a New York daily papers, and one of the most prominent business men in the Eastern District, who is said to be over seventy years of age.

On Monday last Mr. Amos B. STILLMAN, who resides at No. 75 Ross street, went to Coney Island, taking with him his daughter, Rosella, aged eighteen. Upon returning, Mr. STILLMAN proposed to go at once to his business in New York, and his daughter, as was her usual practice, accompanies him on his way to the ferry. At South Eighth and Second streets they parted, Mr. STILLMAN continuing on his journey to the ferry and his daughter, as he supposed, to return home. When Mr. STILLMAN reached his home after having performed his duties in New York, he was greatly surprised at being told by his wife that their daughter had not been home at all that night. The father at once proceeded to make  inquiries, but all he succeeded in ascertaining was that his daughter had visited Theodore DOW’S shoe store, No. 85 Fourth street, soon after he had left her and purchased a pair of gaiters, leaving the ones which she had been wearing, and stating that she would call for them.

Mr. STILLMAN then remembered that on parting with his daughter he had inquired of her if she had need of any money, and received a negative reply. While pondering as to where his daughter had received the money, it suddenly occurred to him that Mr. William H. GUILD, of the firm of GUILD &  GARRISON, well-known manufacturers doing business in First street, who at late was a frequent visitor at his home, had on several occasions made his daughter presents, some of which consisted of money. Mrs. STILLMAN then (yesterday) repaired to the residence of Mr. GUILD, and was told that that gentleman was not at home, and that he had not been on the previous night. Mr. STILLMAN then made up his mind that the couple had eloped. Though filled with grief at what he considered the unwise action of his daughter, the father then let the matter rest. The following notice, which appeared in a New York paper this morning, settles the question beyond all doubt:

GUILD-STILLMAN–In St. Barnaby’s Church, Williamsburgh, on Monday, July 28,

Wm. H. GUILD, of Williamsburgh, to Rosella M., eldest daughter of Amos B. STILLMAN, also of Williamsburgh. After the marriage, Mr. and Ms. GUILD sailed for Europe.

It is said that directly after being made the purchase of shoes, Miss STILLMAN entered a coach which was in waiting on Broadway, and with Mr. GUILD was driven to the church at which the wedding ceremony was performed. They were then driven to New York where they put up at a hotel. The bridegroom is a widower whose wife has been dead about a year and is a man of wealth. He has a family of grown up children.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 28, 2015 at 11:00 am

damnable chance

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From the very edge of the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Cemetery of the Evergreens is found near the border of East New York and Bushwick, is some 225 acres in size, and is home to around a half million corpses. For a short time, during the 1920’s, it was the busiest burying ground in the entire city. Unfortunately, during my visit, the fact that Anthony Comstock is buried here was unknown to me, for I am possessed of a strong desire to first spread out a few issues of Hustler and thereupon urinate upon his grave. If that sounds shocking, you don’t know who that “assassin of joy” called Comstock was. If I’d known he was here, I’d have brought him some porn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Evergreens was my second destination on a recent trip to the south eastern interval of the Pentacle, after having visited Machpela Cemetery. When entering the place, a humble narrator was in a state of willful ignorance. My friend Kevin Walsh over at Forgotten-NY has written extensively (and offered a walking tour) about the non sectarian Cemetery of the Evergreens, btw., but this was my first visit. Personally, I was blown away by the view, as the altitude of the hill that the cemetery is built into offers panoramic views of the entire geologic “soup bowl” that NYC is nestled into. The only competition for these tapophile views from Bushwick, in my experience, are those encountered at the Mt. Olivet Cemetery found a few miles to the north over in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It must be mentioned, as always, that the Manhattan people look to Brooklyn and Queens to dispose of things they don’t want – which includes their dead. Back in 1847, the Rural Cemeteries Act was passed as a sanitary law. The RCA of 1847, a reaction to a recent Cholera outbreak in Manhattan’s Bloody Sixth Ward, decreed that no new burials were to take place on Manhattan Island and that the various sects and houses of worship housed thereupon must acquire properties in “the country.” Back then, “the country” meant the vastness of greater Newtown or the infinity of the City of Brooklyn (independent municipalities, I would mention, who permanently lost a significant acreage of otherwise profitable land to these cemeteries).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observed were a wealth of monuments representing several recent eras in the field of graphic design. Particularly well represented were early 20th century deco and nouveau motifs, and typography such as that used on the carvings above was of high quality and tasteful execution. Having spent as much time studying First Calvary as I have, which hosts monuments that are the epitome of an interval starting during the Civil War of the 1860’s right through 1900 or so (thoroughly Irish and German Catholic in type and marker styling), this sort of “moderne” approach to funereal typography caught my eye. Several examples of this sort of marker were noticed, with the one above recorded simply because the light was good.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For as long as this – your Newtown Pentacle – has been focusing on the various cemeteries which comprise the so called “Cemetery Belt” there have been references offered for “disturbing subsidences.” Presumption is made that you have a life and don’t spend your time hunting around cemeteries, unlike me, and that a little bit of explanation as to what you’re looking at should be attempted for the non ghoul.

This is a washout, not a fresh interment. If it was a new burial, there would be a temporary marker of some kind and the soil would form a slight mound – there would also be tire marks from earth moving equipment and footprints. Additionally, notice the edges of the bald soil! which bear the shape of flowing water. No, what you’re seeing here is a disturbing subsidence, wherein either the entire casket has been shifted or damaged by hydrologic action – or the lid of the casket has simply collapsed – allowing soil to infiltrate, creating a void which caused column of loam to drop down.

As mentioned – a “disturbing subsidence.”

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

crush and engulf

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Late again, sorry. Here’s why.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the weather broke, your humble narrator has lost nary a minute to the Newtown Pentacle, and much in the way of shoe rubber has been expended in the last few days. Saturday, I walked the so called entire “upper creek” (the area of Newtown Creek found between Maspeth Creek and English Kills, which borders Ridgewood and Bushwick). Sunday, I was in Greenpoint all day, but sadly missed getting a shot of that baby seal which turned up at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Monday (yesterday), I conducted a tour of the lower Creek for a group of film students from Pratt University, and this afternoon, I’m hoping to find some time to pop over to Hell Gate in the hope of capturing some interesting images of maritime traffic.

Recent efforts of note – which appear on external websites – include a series of posts describing the non profit scene of Red Hook on the Red Hook Water Front site, and my coverage of Sunnyside’s St. Pat’s Day for All parade can be found at Brownstoner Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is magnificent, this throwing off of the shackles of ice and snow, and returning to the streets. Conversely, a humble narrator’s physique has largely transformed into a quivering jelly over this long winter, and every muscle in my legs and back are liberally painted with lactic acids. Hopefully, within a few weeks, I’ll be back in fighting condition and enjoy a fineness of fettle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Project Firebox 94

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An ongoing catalog of New York’s endangered Fireboxes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This soldier of the realm is found at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in infinite Brooklyn, not too far from the darkest of those hillside thickets found along the Newtown Creek- which is its tributary English Kills. This is is Bushwick, historically, but the area has come to called East Williamsburg in modernity- a term which has zero historical precedence. Of course, ask a realtor where Williamsburg ends these days and they’ll tell you Lake Ronkonkoma.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

blurred and fragmentary

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The scions who run the Newtown Creek Alliance declared that we all gather for a meeting recently, and not wanting to be mocked in absentia (rather in person), your humble narrator set out for the gathering. Only issue with this caucus was that it was being held in far off Ridgewood at the Onderdonk house, which is a pretty long walk from Newtown Pentacle HQ here in Astoria. After having moved things around, schedule wise, a vast scuttle was instituted. The shot above depicts the East Branch of the Newtown Creek at its terminus on Metropolitan Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along the way, I decided to check out the Scott Avenue footbridge. This is a rusted metal and rotting concrete structure which rises over the tracks of the LIRR’s Bushwick Branch, allowing pedestrian traffic egress to Flushing Avenue- a structure seen from distance but never traversed. Due to the aforementioned distance from my quarters, it will be admitted, this is the section of the Newtown Creek watershed with which I am the least familiar and one which still offers pleasant surprises when visited. In the shot above, what you’re looking at is the northward facing tracks of the Bushwick Branch as they head towards Fresh Ponds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The inverse view, to the south and the infinity of Brooklyn. The train cars, homogenous and numerous, are awaiting service by the NY and Atlantic freight railway. What is colloquially known as the “garbage train”, they are gathered for usage at the Varick Street Waste Management facility which is nearby and adjoins the bitter end of the Newtown Creek tributary known as English Kills near Johnson and Morgan avenues. The undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens is also present in this shot, although I cannot tell you exactly where. Additionally, I am unsure as to whether these cars were loaded with their putrescent charge when I gathered these images.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Pentacle postings “approaching locomotive” and “skillfully wafted” discuss the Bushwick Branch and the Waste Management facility at Varick Street in some detail, why not check them out? Luckily, lords and ladies, your humble narrator goes to these spots so you don’t have to. If you did want to see some of the wonders described within these postings- why not consider coming on one of the upcoming excursions I’ll be leading?

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

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