The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Hell Gate

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. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

swam curiously

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From Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst wiggling about and adjusting the camera settings to capture the image above, a humble narrator was photographed by the occupants of a passing minivan (which slowed down to do so) on Shore Bouelvard alongside Astoria Park last Sunday. The largish iPhone brandished at me skillfully ignored all the folks engaged in romantic congress in the front seats of their cars, or the small army of marijuana enthusiasts who were similarly situated in the parking lane. Clearly, the iPhone person had uncovered some nefarious activity being committed by a strange old man in a filthy black raincoat, and would be reporting so to the proper authorities. I was waiting for the goon squad to arrive and kick in my front door back at HQ later that night.

Mighty Triborough, and the Hell Gate Bridge, in today’s dark light post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is just something about camera equipment that sets off the accent crowd here in Astoria which I’ll never understand. It’s kosher to wave your phone around wherever you go, but if they see a DSLR, it’s regarded with the same sort of caution and concern that you’d expect for brandishing an assault rifle. Given that the times I’m not carrying a camera are so rare that they are statistically irrelevant, it means that I get stared at a lot.

I’d get stared at a lot even if I wasn’t carrying the camera, as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Children gasp or cry, dogs growl, old ladies clutch at their purses… all things that happen when one such as myself scuttles past. Men puff themselves up and assume aggressive posture, police slow down and observe, security cameras pivot on their swivels. The only living creatures which do not react negatively to me are birds, and one can walk through a flock of them pecking away at the ground with nary a ruffled feather.

A few years ago, whilst wandering about, I snapped a quick photo of the facade of a local Greek church – St. Irene’s. A small mob of old Greek ladies suddenly appeared and literally chased me for about 3/4 of a mile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I favor atmospherics like fog for these kind of shots, normally, but for structures as massive and far reaching as Triborough and Hell Gate – fog and mist get in the way and obscure too much detail. It’s particularly dark on this section of the East River as well, which causes any sort of artificial lighting to flare due to the contrast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my never ending quest to break habits, a rare vertical or portrait format shot from the “House of Moses.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I walked into Astoria Park to get this final shot of Hell Gate. I do wish Amtrak would light this bridge up at night.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

avian menace

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a single shot today, depicting a series of CSX locomotive engines which were observed hauling a freight train over the Hell Gate bridge recently. Busy today with developing the shots from Halloween in Astoria, which I hope to be able to show you tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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

November 1, 2017 at 1:00 pm

country seat

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It’s National Turkey Neck Soup Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Racing thoughts, cold sweats, night terrors, or existential anxieties notwithstanding – one is happy to report that the Hell Gate Bridge Centennial has been marked. Last weekend, one attended a walk conducted by the estimable Richard Melnick of Greater Astoria Historical Society celebrating the event. Mr. Melnick was joined by Dave Frieder, a photographer and bridge expert, as well as around fifty enthusiasts. For me, it was nice just to be around people who weren’t chasing or deriding.

Pictured above, a CSX freight train heading eastwards over the bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While following our course, the usual grand panoply of sights were encountered along the east river, including the transit of an articulated tug and barge – the Bouchard corporation’s “Evening Star” tug towing a fuel barge… It’s all so depressing, really.

As always, one reminds that whether they’re pulling or pushing, Tugboats are always “towing.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hell Gate bridge overflies Astoria Park, of course, and one spotted the curious tableau seen above while there.

I’ve been warning all of you about Lovecraftian phenomena occurring in Queens for years, and now at last I can demonstrate the presence of the Shoggoths amongst us.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This looked like the kind of fun I would have enjoyed having as a child, in those halcyon days before my soul had been blackened to a crisp by the unrelenting fires of adulthood. Life – it’s become a neutral gray for me nowadays – banal, ashen, joyless.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greater Astoria Historic Society has a full calendar of Hell Gate related programming coming up, and this summer the folks who live in “Astoria, Astoria” or plainly Astoria’s north side are planning a few summertime celebrations for Lindenthal’s triumphant arch bridge over the East River.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm

flaming thing

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It’s Tag des Deutschen Apfels (German Apples) day in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bright passage, it’s a not unlikely spot to find a group of cultists dropping a bizarre golden diadem into the water hoping to contact those who might lie below the seething waters. Hells Gate, with its bizarre and blasted subterrene topography, cannot possibly host a race of non human intelligences, can it? That would be crazy.

I mean, is this Queens or Innsmouth?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of alien intelligences with unintelligible plans for the future, the DEP’s MV Red Hook sludge boat slid through the bright passage while one was contemplating what sort of life might inhabit the craggy bottom. Between the strong cross currents of the tide, all the endemic pollution… it boggles.

It’s almost as if the area is being terra formed for a different and quite alien species.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was pleased that a concurrence of maritime and locomotive subject matter occurred as Amtrak’s Acella came rolling by on the Hell Gate bridge at the same time as Buchanan 1 tug slid through the Hells Gate narrows of the East River. When I left the house this day, I rued not having the time to visit Staten Island and the Kill Van Kull – my original intention for the afternoon. What with the sun setting in the late afternoon, it’s kind of difficult to complete that journey from Point A in Astoria while the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is still hanging in the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to worrying about the ones who cannot possibly exist in the deepest waters of Hells Gate, and their land dwelling acolytes who surreptitiously accompanied the wholesome Hellenes during their 1970’s migration to Astoria, did a humble narrator’s thoughts turn.

There are too many individual and quite minor clues to mention which lend credence to the theory of their presence – odd smells and sounds, brief flashes of unrecognizable shapes seen when walking past closing doors, the popularity of Bosnian cuisine, bizarre chanting. This is an entirely different “thing” than the occluded witch cult operating out of St. Michael’s cemetery, incidentally, but perhaps I’ve already said too much.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sound of chitinous scratching on my second floor garret window will no doubt resume after this posting, and the whispered calls to leave this life behind and to either go into the water or dance with the night ghouls of Nephren Ka across the rooftops and tombstones of western Queens will no doubt follow.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there, beneath the waters of the Bright Passage?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

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