The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Hell Gate

damnable resemblance

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A bit more Triborough, and some thoughts on the current crisis…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ok, here’s the way things are going to go here at the old Newtown Pentacle “for the duration.” I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next couple of weeks at the start of the week of Monday, March 16th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator. That’s the reality right now, it’s all a craps shoot. As of right now, all of my tours and summer events are on hold until we see the way this shakes out.

Also, if anything truly critical happens which needs to be broadcast, I’ll augment the regular blog schedule with news posts. If you’re in any kind of trouble and need help, here in Astoria or in LIC, contact me here and I’ll try to make the powers that be aware of your situation. This isn’t 911 or anything, but I’ve got a line of communication or two with officialdom that most people don’t have, so consider me as a resource.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speculative logic, as in purely speculative – Epidemiological playbooks for the United States Government can and might take the form of soldiers deployed on our streets. Their mission might and will probably include maintaining law and order (the cops are going to be overwhelmed, and will get sick too), as well as vouchsafing and handling the delivery of essential supplies, and possibly handling mortuary practicalities. Border control between the States might happen too. I’ve already seen some goofy things happening on the streets here in Astoria, including some jack ass beating up his girlfriend in front of my house a couple of nights ago. You REALLY don’t want to be incarcerated right now, so best behavior, all.

The traditional American sophistry says that “we’ll get through this together,” whereas the Coronavirus pandemic utterly negates the concept of “together.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So… I hope you’re all doing what you can to stay safe and healthy. Saying that, an aerosol based virus is a very difficult thing to control and contain. If you encounter a situation where you can be kind as opposed to cruel in the coming weeks, please consider enacting the former behavioral set. Check in on your family and friends, via phone rather than just text, especially those in your circle who suffer from mood disorders and other psychological bad weather. Tell people you love that you love them. Don’t start a witch panic by sharing obvious malarkey on social media.

If Newtown Pentacle stops updating, and a humble narrator is no more, please look in on Our Lady of the Pentacle occasionally and make sure that she has enough milk for her tea.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 17, 2020 at 11:00 am

universal belief

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Supermoon in Astoria.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One had yet another of the seemingly endless series of community meetings he is obliged to attend occur, and afterwards a friend gave me a lift over to Astoria Park so that I could wave the camera about for an interval. It was that unseasonably warm day we all experienced, and the celestial calendar indicated that a “supermoon” was going to occur. I had already decided, before getting to my location, that I wasn’t going to be trying to record the “astro” shot palaver where you can see all the details on the moon as well as a clear back and foreground, and was instead going to be shooting more of a landscape dealie with a glowing orb lighting up the sky.

To wit, above is the supermoon framed by the Triborough Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “palaver” mentioned above requires multiple exposures which are then combined in a photoshop composite. You expose one shot for the moon, which is actually as bright as the sun to the camera. Then you expose for the sky, and finally for the other elements in the composition. I’ve done this a bunch of times, so I’m quite familiar with the technique. One of the snags you hit with this however, is that despite what the perception of the human eye indicates, the moon is actually traveling at quite a clip through your frame. Depending on where it is in your frame, you’ve got between 2 and 8 seconds to “get it” before it’s movement causes motion blur. Since it’s night time, you need to calculate the other exposures and when compositing the final shot, compensate for the movement of the orb through the shot.

It is possible to “get it in one” of course, but that’s fraught with technical issues as well. I just went for the “ambience” instead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Thing is, I wasn’t feeling terribly secure as far as my personage when shooting these images. As is the usual case on nice nights, every “Astoria Boy” in the neighborhood was on station along Shore Blvd. There were hundreds, possibly even a thousand, of impulse control challenged post adolescents milling around down there. Their music, played at top volume, was terrible. The clouds of weed smoke rising from their assemblage and drifting across Astoria Park was intoxicating. If you like the “wacky tabacky,” save yourself a few bucks by just sitting downwind from this crowd.

Just to make sure I’m perfectly clear about this most salient of points – their music was computer generated (badly), irredeemable, and unabashedly terrible. Gah.

Teenagers… brrr.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 16, 2020 at 11:00 am

unnamable now

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From Hells Gate, I stab at thee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wow, did we ever get caught in the rain last night on the Infrastructure Creek walking tour. Managed to not destroy my camera and gear, but holy moley. Sheets of rain, lightning, and I had to stick around until all the guests were on their way in ride shares or subway. Drenched. Single shot today, from Astoria, of the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges. Back tomorrow with some more substance.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Upcoming Tours and Events


Thursday, July 25, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Greenpoint Walking Tour w NYCH20

Explore Greenpoint’s post industrial landscape and waterfront with Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 18, 2019 at 2:00 pm

final monosyllables

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Hangin at Hells Gate, on a hot night.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First, there’s a couple of tour announcements at the bottom of the post, both of which are this week – Thursday and Saturday.

It’s been a good few weeks since the last time I was able to get down to the waterfront at night, due to a concurrence of event, weather, and unpleasant circumstance which has plagued one’s efforts in June of this year, but as always a humble narrator perseveres. Last week, a short hop over to Hells Gate here in Astoria gave me a few opportunities to wave the camera around and even set up the tripod for some long exposure shots. That fellow on the phone just kind of wandered into my frame, and then stood as motionless as a statue except for a few wiggles of his arm, for something like a minute or two.

Something which drives me nuts is the way that people will see me there with a tripod and camera, and without even shrugging their shoulders, just go and stand in front of the lens. In the case of the photo above, it actually “made the shot,” but jeez… I stop walking when I see people are about to shoot one of those stupid selfies… common courtesy, like shame, seem to be something people have forgotten about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I had arrived at the Astoria Shoreline (the Hells Gate section of the East River, found between Queens and Randalls/Wards Island and defined by the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges above and Astoria Park and the R/W island shoreline below), shortly before sunset. Despite the light being good and strong, I used an ND filter to allow for a long exposure of the shoreline, as in the shot above. I’m actually a bit disappointed in this one, and wish I used a polarizer as well as the ND filter here. I wanted that water to be more translucent, but that could also be a time of day and oblique angle of light issue. Probably want to use a polarizer at solar maximum, when the angle of the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself is acute rather than oblique.

Luckily, this spot is only about a half hour walk from HQ, so I’ll be back.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I find the shot of mighty Triborough, above, fairly fetching so the disappointment over that shoreline shot is abated somewhat. Interesting lighting to consider in this one as well, as the MTA Bridges unit (TBTA) still uses old school sodium lights on the bridge roadway which cast off a familiar soft orange glow. NYC, on the other hand, is using LED heads for their street lights which offer a radius of illumination that is both cold and bright.

Back tomorrow.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Upcoming Tours and Events


Thursday, July 11, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

“Infrastructure Creek” Walking Tour w Newtown Creek Alliance

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade (which we will probably encounter at a crossing), a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Saturday, July 13, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

“Exploring the East River, From General Slocum Disaster
to Abandoned Islands” Boat Tour w NY Adventure Club

Onboard a Soundview route NYC Ferry – Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Click here for ticketing and more information.


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 8, 2019 at 1:00 pm

alienists were

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Dag, I really got my $2.75 worth out of this ferry ride, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my maiden voyage on the NYC Ferry’s new Soundview route, the boat left its (Manhattan) East 90th street dock and proceeded towards Hells Gate. This is a spot I often visit, but always from the landward side in Queens. Living in Astoria, a frequent destination when I’m out for a constitutional walk is Shore Road, which adjoins Astoria Park and provides commanding views of two bridges which I’m rather enamored with – the Triborough and Hell Gate. The former is just one part of a complex of automotive bridges built under the guidance of Robert Moses which opened in 1936. The latter is a rail bridge (OK, technically it’s a complex of bridges too) which opened in 1917, designed by Hornbostel and Lindenthal, and constructed by Carnegie’s American Bridge Company for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Hells Gate is formerly the most treacherous section of the East River, due to whirlpools and strong currents which wrecked hundreds of ships during colonial and early republic times. Its name is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Hellegaat” which refers to “a bright passage.” The hazardous conditions in this section of the East River were caused by the topography of the riverbed beneath the water, a situation which was dealt with by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in several stages during the 19th century. The USACE efforts culminated with an 1885 detonation of mined explosives that broke up the riverbed, an explosion which was the largest intentional detonation in all of human history until the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945 (debate about certain WW1 military actions does exist on this topic, btw.)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the Ferry moved northward towards its destination at the northern side of the Bowery Bay section of the river, we passed by the “Astoria Energy” power plant located on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. That nomen is one of my own little inventions, indicating the frustration a humble narrator often expresses when discussing the coastlines of the Borough. There’s a solid wall of “not allowed” secure sites along the shoreline, which is ultimately prosaic and appropriate, but still frustrating. You’ve got the power plant, then a sewer plant, then Rikers Island, and then LaGuardia Airport. The first time you might be able to get close enough to even see the water is at Flushing Bay.

Fingers crossed for an East Elmhurst or Flushing Ferry line, anyone?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve seen this POV a few times over the years, but it’s still pretty uncommon for me. That’s Randalls/Wards Island on the right, which used to be seperate islands until Mr. Moses made them one landmass as part of the Triborough project. Hells Gate and Triborough’s East River span are at center, and the former Politti Power Plant (which the Astoria Energy outfit now uses as its campus) are on the left.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 27, 2019 at 2:00 pm

possible cure

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On the boat.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I took a ride on the new Soundview line of the NYC Ferry recently in pursuance of scouting out a tour which I’m going to conduct along its route. Soundview is a long ride by the standards of the new Ferry system, some 46 minutes. It takes you north from Pier 11 Wall Street along the eastern shoreline of Manhattan with stops at 34th street and then at 90th street. Its path carries you along the rather familiar sights of the great bridges section of the East River (Brooklyn to Queensborough) and then proceeds into the River’s west channel between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.

Pictured above is a tug towing an empty fuel barge southwards along the waterway. How do I know it’s empty? Look at how high the barge is riding in the water… that’s how.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The west channel of the East River is preferred for the passage of larger ships and maritime industrial traffic for a couple of reasons, most notably the absence of height restrictions due to the Roosevelt Island Bridge and the “no wake” zone around the Big Allis power plant in Queens’ Ravenswood section. The Soundview ferry uses this channel to proceed northwards, passing by notable Upper East Side landmarks like Rockefeller University in the East 60’s.

That’s another huge articulated tug and fuel barge in the shot above, operated by the Reinauer company. Articulated means that there are cabling connections which allow the Captain of the tug to operate the two entities as a single vessel. There is also a large cutout notch in the bow of the barge which the tug nestles into.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last stop in Manhattan is at East 90th street, whereupon the ferry route heads across the East River to the east channel, and heads into Hells Gate. Those of you with a historical mindset might already have an inkling of what this tour will be talking about, but let’s just say that a little bit more than a century ago on a nice morning in mid June, a large group of people boarded a boat just north of Wall Street at Peck Slip, and more or less followed this route. Things did not go as planned for them, and bad things happened. Very, very bad things.

More tomorrow, at your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm

entropy prone

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Everybody poops, even the Queen of England. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one spent some time last weekend wandering around the forbidden northern coast of Queens. On my way back to HQ on the other side of Astoria, I opted to take advantage of the gathering dusk and swung along the open East River coastline views offered by Astoria Park. The tripod was set up, filter affixed, and that’s a three minute long exposure of Hells Gate you’re looking at above. 

As is usually the case here in Astoria, the tripod and camera gathered no small amount of attention unto me. For many of my neighbors, it seems it would be far less shocking were one to whip out an AK-47 and start shooting randomly into the air than it is to see a DSLR being brandished and operated. Small children had their hands gathered up by parents and caregivers as they walked by, women clutched at their purses, and men began aggressive posturing while chattering away in some central Asian guttural language. iPhones were produced, and a humble narrator was photographed while photographing, which must create some sort of recursive loop in space and time, ultimately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If only these people knew what lurked below the waves… the battrachian horrors which exist in the kettles and broken stones that litter the bottom of the river… but… such matters and knowledge have been carefully suppressed by Federal and State authorities for generations. Suffice to say that Hells Gate and Triborough not only provide for passage above the river, but also act as weights to cage something that we never, ever, want to see rising from the water. 

Brooklyn doesn’t have these sorts of problems. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, a ball game of some sorts was occurring on Randalls/Wards Island, which bathed the mighty Triborough Bridge in cold stadium light. Post facto, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself decided to meet up for dinner back on our decidedly terrestrial side of the neighborhood, whereupon we visited a place which had caught our eye but which we hadn’t patronized. 

Here’s a rare Newtown Pentacle recommendation for a restaurant – District Saigon on Broadway just off 37th street was fantastic and not terribly “spendy.” After my long walk, a delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup was quite a welcome repast. It also pooped out nicely the next day, which is a big part of my consideration when discussing food. I like to review its entire gastrointestinal journey from tip to tail, rather than just the sensations of entry. 


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

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