The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Maspeth

leaping shadows

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Lets talk about the Kosciuszcko Bridge, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Since the big bridge over Newtown Creek’s 77th birthday is coming up – August 23rd for the vulgarly curious – one decided to walk over and through Calvary Cemetery into West Maspeth the other day and check out the latest progress which the NYS DOT and their contractors are making on replacing it. The Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project is humming along.

As a note, this post represents no special access or anything, just some specialized knowledge about Newtown Creek and the points of view thereupon which I am privy to. If there’s an angle of view on the Creek I don’t know about by this point, I will buy you a drink for showing it to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, one has been keeping a running tally of posts about the project.

To start – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway which will be the easterly BQE section leading out of Queens is now largely in place. There’s still a bunch of work going on up there, presumptively it involves the sort of rebar work observed in the May 2016 post linked to above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shape of the cable stay section of the new bridge is beginning to form up as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The steel sections are prefabricated and shipped to the job site via flat bed truck, where they’re then hoisted up and attached to the towers and cables.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down 56th road from Blissville into Maspeth. The area in the left hand side of the shot used to be an NYPD tow yard, which was a great example of NYC’s macabre sense of humor. NYPD tow pounds are typically in places which you can’t reach without a car, and since they’ve just taken your car…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking north towards Sunnyside from 56th road. You can really discern the difference in height between the 1939 and modern bridges in the shot above. Apparently, part of the traffic engineering underlying the new bridge project is to eliminate the steep incline from the approaches.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south towards Brooklyn, while still on 56th road. The property fence line I’m shooting over is the former home of the Phelps Dodge refinery, which is said to be a particularly toxic hot spot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit closer to the water, on another part of the former Phelps Dodge properties which isn’t quite so “hot,” pollution wise. This is the parking lot of a wholesaler catering to the restaurant trade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The cable stay span of the new bridge is growing steadily towards Brooklyn in the shot above. To me, it looks like it’s going to be connected to the Brooklyn side ramp fairly soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A close up on the ramp, and you can see the itty bitty construction guys at work right on the edge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Same perspective, but wide angle. That’s the Newtown Creek flowing below, and we are looking west towards Manhattan. Again, notice the height differential between the two spans.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south again, this time from Maspeth’s 43rd street. The contractors have a lot of their equipment and prefabricated materials staged out here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back on 43rd street, but this time from the very edge of the project site, looking south along the spine of the BQE.

There you are.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

tourist parties

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Bottoming out in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent Saturday found me speaking at an early morning waterfront event in Astoria recently, which was followed by conducting a walking tour of the Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek in the late afternoon. Left with a gulf of time to fill between the two, I decided to spend it by walking from Astoria to Greenpoint via Blissville and checking in on what’s going on with the Kosciuszko Bridge project on the border of West Maspeth and the aforementioned Blissville section of Long Island City.

A bit of history trivia is offered – the Kosciuszko Bridge is built along the “legal” south eastern border of Long Island City and what was once known as “Newtown.” For the curious, the North Eastern border was more or less defined by Woodside Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway ramps on the Queens side of the Kosciuszko Bridge project are now overflying Review/58th avenue and reaching towards Newtown Creek. The Kosciuszko Bridge project engineers have always said that the northern section of the project would lag behind the southern, or Brooklyn, side.

Longtime readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will report that I’ve been keeping track of things at the Kosciuszko Bridge, with this recent post being the latest report from the Brooklyn side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a running history of Newtown Pentacle coverage on the subject – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Supposedly, I’m meant to be gaining some access to the actual worksite in Queens fairly soon, although the only thing keeping me from having walked the site is my own discretion. As far as “urban exploring” goes, this would be an easy conquest. Regardless, I’m looking forward to walking the site sometime in June.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To wit, a graffiti crew which decided to adorn the still under construction masonry of the new Brooklyn Queens Expressway ramps leading to the span. Another crew a little bit further north of here weren’t quite as colorful, and instead painted white swastikas on the brick masonry of the BQE on-ramps.

What you see above is not graffiti, incidentally, it’s time.

Time and opportunity. 

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

antique forms

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Visiting with the Alsops, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Roman Catholic Church purchased the land which would become LIC’s Calvary Cemetery back in 1848 from the Alsop family, who had inhabited it since the time of the Dutch decadence. The first Alsop on the land was a fellow named Thomas Wandell, who had ran afoul of Lord Protector Cromwell back in England and decided his best move was to hide out in the American colonies, specifically the ones which ran the flag of the Staten Generaal up the pole. The property was occupied during the American insurrection by none other than Lord Cornwallis and General Howe, and the experience of the Alsops regarding the forced quartering of troops and the damages inflicted on home and hearth by Hessian and Dragoon alike actually helped inform the Constitution of the United States’s ban on the practice. By 1848, the family line had dispersed and there was only one full blooded Alsop left in Queens. His estate sold the property to the Church, with the provision that the Catholics would maintain – in perpetuity – the Alsop family graveyard within the larger cemetery.

The Alsop plot is a theoretically unique place upon the earth, a Protestant graveyard entirely enclosed within a Catholic one. This doesn’t sound like too big a deal to modern ears, but back in the 1700’s, the Protestant Reformation and the Eighty Years War were still pretty present in people’s minds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Protestant Reformation, incidentally, is the filter by which one such as myself processes the news of the day. When you’re reading about insurgents and terrorists in the Middle East, it’s hard not to think that “those people” are savages and barbarians. That’s because… well, this post is written in English… Europe’s experience with this sort of thing has sort of faded into the historical firmament.

Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church back in 1521, which is coincidentally the same period in which Catholic Spain conquered the Mexica Aztec culture and appropriated an enormous quantity of precious metals and wealth from them. Churches in Spain, to this day, have a lot of Mexican silver worked into their ornamentation. What the Spanish Crown did with most of that silver, though, was fund the war against the Protestant crowns who followed Luther into the cold. It’s how they paid for the Spanish Inquistion, and the Counter Reformation, and it’s how Holland and the Netherlands ended up becoming independent countries after fighting their way out of the Hapsburg empires.

Europe, for a bit more than a century, was ripped apart by the religious wars. Famine, plague, all that good stuff was the result. Ultimately, the Thirty Years war between 1618 and 1648 ended up killing something like 25-40% of what modernity refers to as Germany.

At the end of it, the Crowns of Europe set up authoritarian states which brooked no dissidence and strictly controlled religion, printing, and what we would call “free speech.” The Dutch, and later the English, both began sending their religious zealots to the colonies in the Americas in an effort to try and keep the peace back home.

These zealots – Anabaptists, Puritans, Quakers – even Cromwell himself – were considered to be dangerous and it was best to make them go away. The reformation and its wars were bad for business and everyone agreed that a predictable future was better than the inverse, so the Kings grew ever more powerful in the name of stability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember too, that 500 years ago, what we know as “Europe” was considered a violent backwater. The royalty were essentially the descendants of inbred motorcycle gangs who had ridden into a city and taken over by force of arms. Death came swiftly for the common people, as any infraction of the rules set down by these undereducated masters incurred reprisals that the ISIS people would be very comfortable with. After the Protestant Reformation’s wars had run their course, Europe entered into a period which is referred to as “the enlightenment” during which the winners of the reformation game consolidated feudal holdings they’d won control over into nation states whose names are familiar to modern ears – France, for instance. The countries which were never burned by the fires of these wars remained feudal duchys of the Catholic Church until quite late in the game – Italy comes to mind.

The absolute monarchs who ruled these new “national” territories were tyrants, so much so that the merchant classes of Europe – the so called Bourgeoise – began to pick up stakes and follow the zealots over to the Americas.

These Bourgeoise, who were heavily influenced by the Freemasons philosophically, are the people who led the revolutions against the European Monarchs, and the influence of the very conservative Catholic Bishops, and who set about trying to create Nation States which would operate in “rational” and “scientific” ways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s happening today in the Middle East is not entirely unlike the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants were religious fundamentalists driven to violent action by tyrannical and unfair governments who were supported by a clergy that supported and reinforced the power of the tyrants – those motorcycle gangs mentioned above. The Spanish empire was ruled by the Hapsburg family, who also controlled what would one day be called the Austro Hungarian Empire but at the time was called the “Holy Roman Empire.” Both Catholic and Protestant militarized and controlled vast resource bases, and when the Spanish hit the jackpot in Mexico – things flew into high gear. Genocide was an official policy back then, and the reason that the Crusades were abandoned wasn’t entirely because of the rising power of the Ottomans. It was because the Crusades were being aimed at the Albigensians and Cathars in France and what we would call Germany.

As Americans, we are the inheritors of a particularly Anglophile point of view. The fact that this POV exists at all is because the Spanish Armada never made it to the Thames.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a straight up history of the Alsops, check out this post presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – back in 2011. Institutional memory is something that I constantly rattle on about. Something has gone wrong with our culture – it just might be Facebook – in recent years. A scandal or tragedy occurs, and everybody acts as if it’s something that’s happening for the first time. Ignorance of history seems willful, which breeds a sense of fatalism on the part of many. The world is not going to hell in a hand basket, rather, it’s been there before.

How did the Europeans solve the religious wars which decimated them for nearly 150 years? Totalitarian governments and absolute monarchy, that’s how, which sparked the age of colonialism. How did they solve that? Republics and representational democracy. Where that led – the second thirty years war – WW1 and 2. Which led to the Cold War…

I’ve got to stop hanging out in cemeteries, because places like the Alsop plot are how every story ends.

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cyclopean endeavor

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Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps – DUKBO – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Around two weeks ago, Newtown Pentacle presented a pair of postings (this, and that) showing the progress of the Brooklyn side of the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project. I was invited to walk through the site by the NYS DOT, along with other members of the “Stakeholders Advisory Committee,” and the photos captured during the walk populated the posts. Today, the Queens side of DUKBO.

It should be mentioned that I didn’t enter the site for these, and just creeped around the fences on Thanksgiving weekend. It would have been a simple thing to enter the deserted site, of course, but the Newtown Pentacle way is to never trespass. I’m like a vampire, and have to be invited in before I do my work. Luckily, you don’t need an invitation to walk down the sidewalks of Queens in the direction of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These are the 1939 era bridge’s concrete approaches, as seen from Laurel Hill Blvd., which is the eastern border of Calvary Cemetery. The street that’s all ground up into gravel is “used to be 54th avenue.” “Used to be” is an apt adjectival phrase, as when the new bridge is finished several of the existing streets will have been relocated and the geometry of the street grid will be altered to accommodate the new structure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you can see, security is tight as a drum here in Blissville. Nobody over 350 pounds would be able to get through this gap. It’s at times like these that my “no trespassing” rule really grates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down Laurel Hill Blvd. to the south. That’s Calvary Cemetery on the right of the shot, and the redoubtable 1939 Robert Moses version of the Kosciuszko Bridge on the left. Moses convinced LaGuardia that the old Penny Bridge, which crossed Newtown Creek from the end of Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn and connected to Review Avenue in Queens, would be insufficient to handle the traffic load which the 1939 Worlds Fair in Corona would create. He proposed the “New Meeker Avenue Bridge,” which LaGuardia agreed to. Moses then argued that without the 2.1 miles of high speed approach roads, the money spent on the bridge would be wasted. LaGuardia agreed again. Moses then expanded the approaches, on one side to connect to his “Grand Central” Parkway and Mighty Triborough, and on the other to connect via Meeker Avenue to Grand Street, he also created something LaGuardia did not agree to in the bargain. What would become the “Brooklyn Queens Connecting Highway,” something we refer to in modernity as the “Brooklyn Queens Expressway.”

Clever one, that Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing under the Kosciuszko Bridge at 54th road – a corrugated fence which used to be part of an NYPD towing impound lot allowed for a quick view of the “House of Moses.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By the end of 2017 (if I remember the schedule accurately), this will be an enormous demolition site. All the steel will be coming down in sections, and the cyclopean concrete piers will be chipped away. The stripping away of the central span of the Kosciuszko Bridge promises to be quite an exciting sight.

Essentially, they are going to bring in maritime cranes which will affix supports to the truss section in the center, cut it away from its supports with torches, and then lower it onto a platform composed of several barges. Multiple tugboats will guide it away, heading in a westerly direction down Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing under the Kosciuszko Bridge via 54th road onto “used to be” 43rd street, the now familiar masonry of the BQE overpass appears. The roadway will be considerably lower here, in comparison to the old setup. Not really sure how much I like that, actually. It’s going to be bringing the close to 200,000 vehicles a day that cross the thing down to nearly street level. Noise, exhaust, etc. It’s higher on the Brooklyn side.

Oh well… welcome to Queens, now go fuck yourself… right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is “used to be” 54th drive, and you can see the new concrete supports for the Kosciuszko Bridge approaches are coming along nicely. If you refer back to the two posts from the Brooklyn side linked to in the first paragraph, you can check out what this area will look like probably 6-8 months into 2016. The deck roadway will ride along on the top of this piers, rising to the cable stay supported section spanning Newtown Creek.

On the other side of the concrete structures are a bunch of office trailers which house the administrative and engineering staff for the project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszko Bridge project is striking its path through the former location of the Phelps Dodge company, on a patch of land which was once adjudicated as being “too toxic to park empty United States Postal Trucks on.” Phelps Dodge is a NYS Superfund site, and the company is one of the “potentially responsible parties” named in the Federal Superfund listing of Newtown Creek itself. Incidentally, Phelps Dodge and their copper refining operations were pretty much a 20th century thing, they inherited the property after a merger with a chemical conglomerate that had been here since the 1830’s.

The State Bridge people have made it a point of mentioning that they’re able to deal with the environmental stuff, but that it’s an immensely complicated situation. There’s a sign on the fence that says “Hazwoper.” I mentioned this signage to my Union laborer neighbor Mario during conversation about the project, which caused the big fellow to utter a “woof” sound, followed by “Hazwoper Zone, bro, woof.”

The entire project is an immensely complicated situation, actually.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine building a bridge, next to an existing one which carries the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over a heavily polluted maritime industrial waterway found in the dead bang center of NYC. Imagine that this waterway was where the oil refining industry, and the manufactured gas industry, and the waste disposal industry, and the chemical industry, and the Long Island Railroad, all figured themselves out. Refineries, distilleries, waste transfer stations, open sewers… Ok? Got it?

Ok, so you finish the bridge, and reroute the highway onto it. Ok. Now you have to demolish the old bridge and cart it away. Now, you get to start on building the second half of the new bridge, and then reroute the highway again to take advantage of the completed bridge.

Ahh… my beloved Creek!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks north, from the “will continue to be” Restaurant Depot Parking lot. Most NY’ers are surprised at how much of the food they eat has spent some of its journey to their colons at Newtown Creek, but a humble narrator has reached the age where his innermost psychology can best be described as “a severe and apathetic form of nihilism,” so nothing really surprises me anymore. I don’t buy sausages in supermarkets, as an example of how this numbed acceptance of the world we live in informs my days and tortures my nights.

As you’ll notice, the shots depict concrete still being formed into the columns, and rebar sticking out of a few of them. The Brooklyn side is a bit further along, I’m told it was a bit more complicated on the Greenpoint side due to the rerouting of the BQE over Meeker Avenue, and the presence of dense populations surrounding the road.

In Maspeth, here on the Queens side, there were just two or three private homes and a few warehouse sized businesses. The various entities, hereabouts, were recompensed for their properties by the State and assisted with relocation to parts unknown. Or they might now be sausages in a freezer at a Costco. You’ll never know… which brings me back to the whole nihilism thing. There you go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle often reminds me that whereas everything in the shot above is familiar to me, I shouldn’t make the assumption that everyone reading this enjoys the same visual catalog as my creek chums and I do.

This shot looks towards the west, where you can see the Empire State Building over in Manhattan. Out of sight, not mind, the tracks of the LIRR Montauk line are aimed directly at midtown Manhattan and are travelling under the bridge and along the tree line. The wooded section, on the right, is Calvary Cemetery. Just beyond those concrete blocks is part of the Phelps Dodge site, and the truss section of the 1939 Kosciuszko Bridge is overflying Newtown Creek and traveling out of frame at top left – or south.

Just keeping y’all in the loop, here in DUKBO, Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridges Onramps.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

dog trot

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A bit of weirdness encountered in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before launching into my usual folderol, mention must be made that an equipment failure here at HQ has sent my mac to the shop, and any oddities in formatting of posts and interactions for the next few days are due to the fact that several workarounds have been enacted in the name of keeping the ship afloat. I’m working off an iPad and Our Lady of the Pentacle’s laptop. The iPad is a familiar tool, but crap at formatting posts. The laptop is using a newer operating system than the one I normally use – which is unfamiliar at best and there is a learning curve. Never a dull moment.

Anyway, check out this little oddity noticed on Rust Street in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator had been out and about for several hours when these shots were captured, and having just stepped between a parked truck and the fencelines adjoining the LIRR tracks in pursuance of a private spot in which to answer the call of nature. Whilst painting the street with urea, this little fellow was noticed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I know a lot of tree huggers around Newtown Creek, but this was a new one for this little pisher.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It will be somewhat light fare at this, your Newtown Pentacle, for the next few days. When the repairs are completed, I can begin churning out photos from the “master cylinder” desktop machine again.

I will mention, incidentally, that I find it surprising how the modern operating systems offered by apple get in the way of doing actual work. Then again, they aren’t in the business of selling workstation computers anymore.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 7, 2015 at 11:00 am

border of

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Devastations, concrete and plastic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Broken, abused, cast aside. That’s me. Like every other bit of wind blown trash in NYC, I find myself staring into the abyssal darkness which is the Newtown Creek. Poisoned, polluted, and abandoned. That’s me too.

Here in the wasteland, where dissolution and disease can be found, this is where I belong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shouting at bureaucrats, angrily decrying the injustices of municipal apportionment, demonstrating that the sky is indeed falling to those who can stop it. Demanding not justice, but a simple admission of culpability for the collapsing heavens. That’s me too. Doesn’t make me popular with officialdom, but there you are. Somebody has to do it, and as with a lot of other sections of my life – you gotta do whatcha gotta do.

Assailed from all sides, by do gooders who would rather complain than actually do anything to change this catastrophe we live in, by cocktail party scholastics, by the politically correct. That’s me too.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Periodically, the bile rises in my throat, and rage clouds my eyes. Rhetorical flourish and clever retort gives way to a growling and wild eyed sermon which demands acknowledgment that a dangerous storm is forming in front of the lucky recipient.  It is in these moments that I remind people, and myself, that I am – in fact – not a nice guy by nature and especially by nurture.

What would Superman do? That’s what pulls me back from the edge, when I remember what I aspire to, rather than what I am.

In fact, I can be quite an asshole when I don’t hold myself in check, and remind myself about Superman.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s at these times that a humble narrator picks his way over to his beloved Creek, musing on his private fantasies of visiting exquisite vengeance upon those who have angered him. It’s also when he finds himself thinking of himself in the “third person” and decides that it’s time to get a grip. Superman always keeps his grip, lest all those things which he gazes upon, and through (x-ray vision, which would be handy), burst into flame. He lives in a world made of paper, of course, but hey – you can have your Jesus, my ideal being and eidolon has heat vision and can fly. He’s also highly resistant to bullets and temperature extremes, but has an aversion to shiny green rocks.

It’s not so easy, living between my ears, but shiny green rocks bring me back to Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What this city needs is a good plague, I’ve always thought. That’s the sort of thing Superman never thinks. Newtown Creek, what it really needs are the direct attentions of Superman, but he’d probably avoid the place because it’s covered in shiny green rocks. Superman could probably solve every little Newtown Creek problem in an afternoon, mainly because there would be no one who could say “no” to him.

All Newtown Creek’s really got is me and a few of my friends, I’m afraid. It’s also likely where that plague mentioned above might come from.

We will have to do, until someone better comes along.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

flat platform

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Trucks, trucks, horses, trucks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One spent a pretty decent amount of time wandering about the wastelands for Thanksgiving Weekend.

It was likely a good decision to do so, as my company is aberrant and I can be quite “the downer” around the holidays. My understanding of the origins of the term “downer,” by the way, is that it refers to a cow that was sick when it arrived at the stock yards. Common practice in the factory abattoirs of the 19th century was to move the downers to the front of the slaughter line while distracting the government inspectors. The inspectors were glad to be distracted, but they were already in the pockets of the beef trust anyway.

Cattle which was fed on distillery slop, which produced the “swill milk” which I’ve explained endlessly, were covered in sores and boils and were referred to as “steely.” It was a miserable job slaughtering the steely cattle, according to the historic record, but it’s hard to find any profession in the industrial sectors of the 19th century which wasn’t miserable.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Horses, mules, and oxen were not supposed to be part of the food ecosystem, nor were goats. Saying that, an enormous amount of horse meat found its way into cans of “tinned beef” back then and it was pretty common for “lamb chops” or “mutton” to have exhibited little verisimilitude to lambs. Goat makes for a good stew, at any rate, but I’ve been to Greece a few times and Hellene cuisine can make almost anything taste good. Supposedly, a significant number of the casualties in both the Civil and Spanish American wars were caused by soldiers consuming the tainted tins of meat in their rations.

By the beginning of the 20th century, NYC was producing something like ten million tons of horse manure a day. Modern people – myself included – bitch and moan about truck traffic but can you imagine the amount of shit that our modern world would produce if pack animals were still roaming the streets?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s hard to imagine that version of NYC, although there are a few people left amongst us who experienced it directly. It was still pretty common up until the 1920’s for Fire Engines in Brooklyn and Queens to be driven by teams of horses. FDNY, after the consolidation of the City of Greater New York in 1898, began to outfit the departmental structures in outlying districts and standardize their equipment around the internal combustion engine but that took a while and as you’d imagine – downtown Manhattan came first.

Until the ubiquity of cheap petroleum became a reality, and the supply chain of an automotive industry existed, the horse was still your best bet for moving people and cargo around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was an entire industrial complex built around the horse and carriage trade, as you’d imagine. Just as we don’t think twice about taking a long drive, secure in the knowledge that should we need to replace an engine part or a tire that there’ll be a Pep Boys or auto mechanic everywhere you choose to go – so too did the carriage trade enjoy a dispersed network of supply and demand based equipment and an abundance of skilled mechanics, stable keepers, and tradesmen in every town and village they’d pass through.

Newtown Creek, on the Queens side in particular, hosted a variety of trade manufacturers who supplied the carriage trade. Atavistic industries produced “carbon black,” a kind of paint manufactured from burning and then crushing up animal bones, which provided Victorian era horse carriages (think any Sherlock Holmes movie or TV show) with their shiny black coatings. Others manufactured “neet oil” and the various bits and bobs which the Teamsters would require to ferry people and commerce around the city at the speed of a trotting horse. Funnily enough, that’s just under the speed at which the current Mayor’s “Vision Zero” traffic initiative requires motor vehicles to operate at.

When the pack animals were spent, and their useful occupation at an end, companies like Van Iderstine’s rendering plant in Blissville or Peter Cooper’s Glue factory in Bushwick awaited their arrival.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Researching the history of Newtown Creek, as I do, one often encounters early versions of environmentalist sentiment. A particular period in the 1880’s saw Manhattan based reformers complaining in vociferous fashion about the smells, carried on the prevailing north westerly winds which then as now swept across the Creek and East River, which plagued Murray Hill and the east side of Manhattan Island. I’ll be exploring this in some detail next week, but the really interesting part of this narrative from the 1880’s is the push to rid the Creek of the “organics” processors like the rendering plants, glue factories, bone blackers, and “superphosphate” manufacturers in favor of the “scientific manufacturers” like General Chemical (Phelps Dodge) and the petroleum distillers like Standard Oil. As mentioned, more on this one next week.

As a note, check out that truck in the shot above. Not only is it parked in a bus stop, but it’s also blocking a fire hydrant.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

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