The Newtown Pentacle

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Dutch Kills Monday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has had occasion to ask the right person the wrong question over the years, and the answers are usually not comforting. Should, during the routine investigations surrounding the Newtown Creek Superfund investigations, human remains be discovered in the muck and mire adoring the bottom of the waterway the procedure would be to invoke the investigative arm of the NYPD and the services of the NYC Coroner’s Office. Apparently, NYPD would look at its list of “cold cases” to try and assign an identity to the remains, whereas the Coroner would attempt to describe “cause of death” and confirm or damn the Gendarmes’ assignation. Depending on what state the body is in – whole, decaying, or skeletonized – this process could conceivably take days, weeks, months, or it might be impossible to ascertain whom these bits used to belong to due to decomposition. Dental record searches, DNA recovery, or other alienist techniques might be used, but… don’t fall into Newtown Creek if you’re having a heart attack while not carrying a wallet.

Other queries to the powers that are have involved the recovery of firearms and other weapons, the bodies of various animals, or more esoteric items from the font of Black Mayonnaise lining the canal’s depths. 1940’s cash registers, slot machines from the 1920’s, boxes of light bulbs, fifty gallon drums of some mysterious goo?

Who can guess… all there is… that might be buried down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One almost got a shot of it the other night, alongside the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge.

Ever since rumors of its’ presence here reached me, I’ve been keeping an eye out, but it is stealthy. I’m still not saying what “it” might be, since a humble narrator cannot stand the idea of accusations of credulity. When a shot of it appears here, though…

Whatever “it” might be swam under the bridge and one ran to the other side in the manner of some obsequious and allegorical chicken following it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Those dashes in the water in the shot above aren’t “it,” but they might have been swimming away in response to its presence. Those dashes are fish – likely Mummichogs and Menhaden for the smaller ones and Bunker for the larger – moving close enough to the surface of the water for their scales to catch and reflect the street lighting. Like all predated creatures, I too stick to the shallows when I can, and often hide behind large wooden things when hungry creatures with sharp teeth ply the deeper waters just like these fishies.

It seemed to heading towards the Borden Avenue Bridge on this particular night, so one double timed towards that span about one really long block away.

It lives? If you closely observe the shorelines of Newtown Creek, you might see it, just like I’m trying to do.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, June 29th. 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.


“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.

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Happy Birthday Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One will not assert that the Verrazzano is in fact a giant cage designed to contain a Lenape earth monster submerged in NY Harbor. Instead, the focus is on the engineering achievements of Othmar Amman and the organizational prowess of Robert Moses – the two fellas who are primarily responsible for the Verrazzano opening on November 21, 1964.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator will avoid rattling on about how in just five years Moses’ crews of more than 12,000 laborers constructed the thing, nor about its various statistics and cyclopean size. One will mention that the 228 feet of clearance over high water offered by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge is the governing height used by maritime engineers for how high to build all sorts of shipping. Sooner or later, every ship on the planet will theoretically enter NY Harbor, and the Verrazzano is the gatekeeper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only mistake in this fairly sublime structure’s design was the omission of a mass transit trackway between Brooklyn and Staten Island, in my opinion. The upper deck opened on this day in 1964, but the lower roadway was still under construction and wouldn’t be available for use until June 28 of 1969.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY, whose childhood in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section was framed by construction of the Verrazzano, gave a talk last night at the Bay Ridge Historical Society about the span. I wasn’t able to attend, but I’ve also been privileged to receive his remembrances about the thing in person.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the towers of the Verrazzano are fairly infested with nesting Peregrine Falcons, so it can rightfully be referred to as an aerie. Down below, on the water, it’s a maritime superhighway, as the Ambrose Channel leads commercial shipping into NY Harbor towards Port Elizabeth Newark under the bridge. Suffice to say that a significant number of sensors and scanners are secreted and secured to the span, searching for various security threats which might be carried in to the inner harbor on these ships.

Friends in the maritime industrial world have opined, regarding these devices and technologies which they can’t talk about, that “it’s like Star Trek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today marks 55 years for the Verrazzano. As far as the “mythological” senses shattering behemoth that the Lenape whispered of as being “the grandfather of turtles,” which the Verrazzano’s great weight keeps locked in a primeval prison, the less said the better.

There are also things dwelling in the waters on the… Staten Island… side of the narrows which we must not ever talk about, lest they arise.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

Limited Time 25% off sale – use code “gifts25” at checkout.

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

November 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

protective illusions

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Rainy NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, the whole reason you’ve been treated to me expounding on the hellish nature of the Times Square subway station, as well as positing that the Garden of Eden was located in Times Square itself, is that the Working Harbor Committee offered a Circleline tour during the afternoon and I was in the City anyway. It was positively pouring out, which a humble narrator decided to make the best of. For once, I wasn’t busy on the mike, so a clickety clicking with the camera was commenced.

In addition to the steady downpour, there was a dense fog permeating the scene. Actually, there were seemingly two fog banks, one clinging to the surface of the water, with the second about 200-300 feet up. In between was rain, constant rain. It’s never boring out on the water, I guess,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Foggy days are a formidable challenge in terms of acquiring tack sharp focus. The occlusion of ambient light due to the misty clouds changes constantly, and this sort of climate is especially vexing in terms of not absolutely destroying your camera. Liquids, aerosols, and all the other states which water takes are absolute anathema to digital devices. Luckily, my omnipresent bag of tricks includes the everyday carry of a couple of supermarket carrier bags.

I pop a hole in the bottom for the lens, gaff tape to bag to my lens hood, and then stick my hands through the carrier loops to keep in it place. Looks stupid, but it’s effective, and I don’t pay BH Photo $7-8 a pop for those clear plastic doohickeys. Also, I don’t have to worry about having one with me, since they fold up into a two inch square rather easily and weigh virtually nothing.

Since atmospheric conditions were supplying me with background and foreground separation, isolating my subject was a piece of cake. The hard part was forcing my camera to focus in on the tugboats, rather than the droplets of water falling through the intervening atmosphere between the tug and the lens. Truth be told, I shot the set up above six times and got two positive results, with the one above being the pick of the litter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s always a bit of a trial getting the exposure correct when you’re on the water in NY Harbor. You’ve got great big dark things floating about in a luminous and quivering jelly, with bright sky and a hopelessly complicated shoreline which you’re photographing from a quick moving object, essentially. What do you expose for? Why are you here? Who are you?

Due to the pall of humidity, I had to shoot at a fairly high ISO as far as daylight goes. The hard part was getting the color temperature correct during the development stage of things. Here’s a tip – on high iso days like the one pictured above, set your camera to record in a cooler range to reduce noise. If you shoot daylight (5400 kelvin in the Canon family) the rusts and oranges will barely register as anything BUT noise. Your shot will look weird, noisy, and too warm. I captured these at a custom color temperature setting of 3750 K, and then pushed the color to 5500 K when the raw files were in photoshop. That reduced the amount of noise considerably, while neutralizing the color back into what my eye saw.

Anyway, that was my week of wet, at your Newtown Pentacle.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Come on a tour!

With Atlas ObscuraInfrastructure Creek AT NIGHT! My favorite walking tour to conduct, and in a group limited to just twelve people! October 29th, 7-9 p.m.

Click here for more information and tickets!

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

October 25, 2019 at 11:00 am

away ahead

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More from the Circumnavigation of Staten Island with the USACE.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in prior posts, one was invited to travel with the United States Army Corps of Engineers on their annual harbor inspection onboard the MCV Hayward last week. The first part of the journey left lower Manhattan and then travelled along the eastern coast of the island, which was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. The USACE commander – Col. Thomas Asbery – and his crew described some of their ongoing, and a few of the upcoming, projects which they are working on that are designed to vouchsafe the area in the era of climate change. The Hayward then took a northern turn onto the Arthur Kill, a busy maritime industrial tidal strait connecting Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull with Raritan Bay to the south.

Pictured above is the Dylan Cooper, a Reinauer company owned tugboat. Reinauer, like all towing companies in NY Harbor, paint their boats in a particular fashion. The “colorway” allows for rapid identification of a vessel while it’s under way, so you can call out on the radio to it as “Reinauer tug” long before you see the IMO identification number or vessel name painted on the hull. This practice predates modern day radio transponders, which make it somewhat unnecessary, and provides for a bit of colorful panache on the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The western shoreline of the Arthur Kill is in the state of New Jersey (Union and Middlesex Counties), and the eastern is in NYC’s Staten Island. Arthur Kill is about ten miles long, and has also been referred to historically as the Staten Island Sound. The name “Arthur Kill” is an anglicization of the old Dutch “Achter Kill” which translates as “back channel.” Arthur Kill, geologically speaking, is defined as an “abandoned river channel,” which was carved out of the surrounding land by an ancestral pathway of the Hudson River. The New Jersey side is colloquially referred to as “the Chemical Coast.” The expensively maintained depth of the water here is between 35 and 37 feet, and the channel is an average of approximately six hundred feet wide.

The Staten Island side is largely post industrial, with a few notable exceptions. Arthur Kill is crossed by three bridges – The Outerbridge Crossing, the recently replaced Goethals, and the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge. The first two are vehicle bridges, and the latter is for railroad traffic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the New York Container Terminal (aka Howland Hook Marine Terminal) pictured above, on the Staten Island side of the Arthur Kill. Currently being upgraded and massively expanded due to the acquisition of Proctor and Gamble’s Port Ivory, the NYCT was originally built by American Export Lines, but NYC bought the facility in 1973 and it’s leased by the City to the Port Authority. There’s a rail connection just upland from it, which allows for the transport of containers along the former North Shore railroad route originally built and operated by the Vanderbilt owned B&O railroad.

They handle some commercial cargo here, and there’s a customs facility, as well as deep freeze and refrigeration warehouses. Most of the tonnage moving through NYCT these days though are garbage containers, which are loaded from rail cars onto barges for transport off of Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

MCV Hayward outpaced Dylan Cooper after the NYCT, and we proceeded to cross the Shooters Island reach and head towards Newark Bay. A “reach” in navigational terms is how far you can travel on a single compass heading before heading to adjust your course, if you’re curious. Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull intersect with Newark Bay at the Shooters Island Reach. To the south, some ten miles behind us, Arthur Kill meets Raritan Bay. About a mile south of Raritan Bay is the Atlantic Ocean. Newark Bay itself is formed by the intersection of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers.

Primeval Newark Bay was called the Newark Meadows, before the 1910 efforts by the City of Newark to carve a shipping channel through the wetlands. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921, and their first big project was the widening and deepening of the bay for maritime industrial purposes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In 1927, the PANYNJ used some of the dredge tailings to fill in upland wetlands and the City of Newark took advantage of the new land to create an airport. PANYNJ took over the airport and maritime port in 1948. In 1958, a project at the Bound Brook (formerly defining the border between Elizabeth and Newark) produced enough dredge tailings for the authority to create 90 square acres of new land and the first modern container terminal in NY Harbor was established. The terminal footprint has since expanded to 350 square acres.

The age of containerized global shipping actually got its start here in 1958 when the first container ship – the Ideal-X, a converted US Navy cargo ship – was launched from Port Newark. The cargo container concept was innovated by trucking company executive Malcolm McLean and an engineer named Keith Tattinger. In 1963, the Sea Land Terminal was established at Port Elizabeth Newark, and the rest – as they say – is history.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way back to dock in Manhattan, just east of the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry, another United States Army Corps of Engineers vessel and its crew were hard at work. That’s the MCV Gelbart, and the crew members who are pictured standing on that rig tied up “on the hip” of the tug were busy removing flotsam and jetsam from the water. They were handling the “small stuff,” which Col. Asbery described as being mainly plastics – bottles, carrier bags, and the like. That’s what happens when you litter, lords and ladies, it ultimately ends up in the water.

Tomorrow – something completely different, and Friday’s post will ultimately be all about garbage again. You won’t believe what I got to do.


“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

October 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

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I’ve been colder, I tell ya.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A quick post today, with a few shots from the East River. Apparently, we’ve got a few tix still available for tonight’s “Infrastructure Creek” walking tour, so if you fancy a shvitz – come with. Links available below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My dog Zuzu doesn’t want to leave the air conditioning, so I might have to just hold her over the toilet and squeeze her midsection in order to get her to blow off ballast. She’s a cold weather dog, and whereas I like it warm, today is just ridiculous.

Looking forward to seeing the electrical transformers start exploding this weekend?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the USACE Hayward pictured above, passing under the Manhattan Bridge. It’s job is to keep the harbor clear of flotsam and jetsam. What’s the difference? Flotsam is stuff that naturally falls into the water, like trees and such. Jetsam is something that anthropogenic in origin, as in some bloke tossing crap into the water.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Upcoming Tours and Events


RESCHEDULED FROM LAST WEEK DUE TO WEATHER

Wednesday, July 17, 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.


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 17, 2019 at 2:00 pm

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