The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Mac & Cheese Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, I guess it’s kind of been “Creek Week” around these parts this last week, so let’s finish things up with a tugboat!

As mentioned in Monday’s post, one has been desirous of capturing a few last shot of the old Koscisuzcko Bridge before its deconstruction is engaged, just for the record… y’know? While setting up my gear for a night shoot, the Donjon Tug Brian Nicholas, which appeared in Wednesday’s post briefly, suddenly appeared. I hadn’t affixed the camera to the tripod yet, so I got busy with the clicking and the focusing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas has been in many, many posts at this – your Newtown Pentacle – over the years. Just below is my favorite ever shot of this tug, from 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some 75 feet long, with a gross tonnage of 104 GRT, the Brian Nicholas is owned by DonJon towing and powered by 2 850 HP engines. Brian Nicholas was built in 1966 and retrofitted in 2010 as a “green tug.”

from docs.google.com

This past June, Donjon completed the top-to-bottom refit and replacement of the main engines, generators, gears and related equipment of its tug Brian icholas. The refit was performed in house at Donjon’s Port Newark, New Jersey facility under the supervision of Donjon’s Gabe Yandoli and Robert Stickles. As a result of the refit, the Brian Nicholas is now a “green” tug, compliant with all applicable EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations.

The rebuild included a repowering of the main propulsion with Cummins K38-M Marine engines, which were specifically developed by Cummins to meet EPA and Tier 2 marine emissions regulations. The new engines also meet the IMO, MARPOL and EU Stage 3A requirements. Similarly, the generators were upgraded to incorporate John Deere 4045TFM75 engines, also Tier 2 compliant. In addition to the replacement of the aforementioned engines, the project required virtually total replacement of exhaust lines and routing of new control lines and panels in the engine room and wheelhouse.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was towing a barge of what looked like shredded metals and construction debris, which would mean that it’s coming from one of the waste transfer locations found along the English Kills tributary further east.

As I’ve said in the past – whether they’re pushing or pulling, tugs are always towing – that’s what the term is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brian Nicholas was headed for the East River, and ultimately it would likely head over to New Jersey, where the recyclable metals on its barge could be packaged up, loade on a container ship, and be then sold on a global commodities market.

See you next week, with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle. Also, I’m doing a tour of Dutch Kills tomorrow – come with? I’ll show you something cool.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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It’s National Fried Chicken Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pondering just what the hell I’m doing with my life is something that happens everytime I cross the Pulaski Bridge, for some reason. As a matter of fact, existential pondering on that subject is a mental activity reserved specifically for crossings of the Pulaski Bridge, and a point is made of not wasting time on such matters elsewhere. I have other locations around Newtown Creek, all of which are assigned to different sets of worries, such as pooping my pants whilst conducting a tour and figuring out how to deal with the public shame and embarrassment (I worry about that at the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge) – but that’s another story.

I’m all ‘effed up. 

Anywho, that’s the Mary H. Tug entering Newtown Creek while towing a fuel barge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mary H. is a regular on the Newtown Creek, working for the Bayside Fuel people whose facility is coincidentally found alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, over on the East Williamsburg side of the world. Technically speaking, Bayside Fuel is on the English Kills tributary and if memory serves – they’re 3.1 miles back from the East River.

Personally, I’ve always thought it pretty cool that tugboats service an industrial dock some 3 and change miles deep into Brooklyn, but that’s me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bunch of the photographers I know have been doing the aerial drone thing of late, so this view of a tug has become rather commonplace in recent years, but I still prefer doing the old fashioned way – finding a high vantage and waiting for it to come to me. I worry about losing my technical edge when I’m over on the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, if you’re curious. You don’t want to know what I worry about on the Borden Avenue Bridge… brrrr.


Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.”with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 6, 2017 at 11:30 am

sterner things

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It’s National Bomb Pop Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in yesterday’s post, a hurried flight from “Point A” in Astoria to “Point B” in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section was enacted last Saturday, in order to arrive on time for a walk through and discussion of the NYC DOT’s Kosciuszcko Bridge project’s commitment to create new parkland in the post facto footprint of their construction zone. Invitees were community members, folks from Open Space Alliance, NYC Parks Department, and a few local busybodies such as myself.

That’s Robert Adams, of the New York State Department of Transportation, chief engineer and showrunner for the K Bridge replacement project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve stated many times that the community communications side of this project has been extraordinary. I’ve also reported to a number of people that Mr. Adams, in particular, has been remarkably transparent and amiable to receiving input from those who surround the perimeter of his project. Gold standard, in my experience, as far as handling the impact of a large scale public works projects in the crowded urban industrial setting of Newtown Creek in North Brooklyn and Western Queens. Kudos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As has become familiar – when visiting the K Bridge job site – our little group donned “Personal Protective Equipment,” which included safety glasses, gloves, orange vests, and hard hats. That paved sidewalk, on the left of the shot above adjoining the retaining wall for the Brooklyn Queens Expressway’s Meeker Avenue onramp, is “used to be Cherry Street.” The street we were walking down, in a northerly direction heading towards Scott Avenue, is nouveau Cherry Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the new overpass at Varick Avenue, looking westwards towards the East River.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – 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. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Most recently – a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just shy of Gardner Avenue, currently a closed off section of the construction site, Mr. Adams began to discuss the perimeter of the new park. It will quite literally be in DUKBO, Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. The site will occupy a mostly paved area largely shadowed by the two new bridges. Our group discussed the possibility of shade tolerant plants, and or harvesting “gray water” from the highways to feed into planting beds.

The problem with that, as stated by somebody from Parks Dept. was this – shade tolerant plants are seldom salt resistant and that even without harvesting runoff from the BQE’s drains, there’s going to be a considerable amount of road salting during the winter months both above and below the parcel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The demolition of the old bridge is going to be occurring shortly, which will play out in two stages. First is the removal of the central truss section, then the “energetic demolition” of the approaches. If the schedule holds true, the second half of the new K Bridge will open in 2020 standing in the footprint of the old one.

That’s when the parks business will begin in earnest. There’s a section on the Maspeth side, on 43rd street, in Queens. Another section is this parcel in Brooklyn, and the old Sgt. Dougherty park on Meeker avenue at Chery Street is going to be redesigned and rebuilt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the interjections a humble narrator offered, as one who knows this zone intimately enough to refer to it affectionately as the “Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek,” involved the intended pathways which people from the surrounding neighborhoods would use to get here. The surrounding areas to the east and south are insanely dangerous, traffic wise, with gargantuan trucks whizzing about and all sorts of blue collar people doing blue collar things. Warehouses, waste transfer stations, truck and bus mechanics… not to mention all of the autos at Meeker Avenue angrily straining to get into the approach lanes for the BQE.

In short, way finding and traffic control.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About those waste transfer stations… one of the things that makes this particular “cauldron” so “poison” is the tonnage of putrescent – or black bag – garbage transported here daily. This section of DUKBO is covered in quite toxic dust. Harvesting a booger from your nasal cavity after a walk through this section will reveal many things to you about the quality of air and suspended particulates. There’s also the smell.

DUKBO stinks of decay, rot, and hot garbage. On humid days, you will notice swirls of diesel exhaust along with shiny specks of dust hanging in the ether, as illuminated by an odd shaft of light. In short – dust and odor control are essential.

The choice of this area is an extremely challenging one for a park, but given the paucity of parkland in North Brooklyn – beggars can’t be choosers and you have to work with what you’ve been given.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the construction progress side of things, as mentioned, DOT and their contractor’s efforts are now being focused on the removal of the 1939 era Kosciuszcko Bridge. Up top, traffic has long been rerouted onto the easterly half of the new span, and torch bearing demolitionists have been cutting up small sections of the old bridge. The former walkway and the side railing has been cut up and will be sent off for recycling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Above Newtown Creek, but below the BQE, crews are assembling the “strand jacks” which will lower the central truss down to a waiting barge. The steel of the central truss is also meant to be recycled, and will be making a final journey to New Jersey escorted by tugs sometime during the coming month.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the view from Scott Avenue, and the new park will continue down to the bulkheads and will overlook the water, I’m told. There has been some discussion of waterfront access here, as in a place where you’d be able to put a boat in the water, but one hasn’t been a part of that conversation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking back, as we crossed Gardiner Avenue, I handed off my “PPE” to Mr. Adams and bid the group adieux rather than go all the way back to Meeker and Varick Avenues where we had met up.

I headed down instead to the site of the first Meeker Avenue, or Penny Bridge. Once upon a time there was a swing bridge on Newtown Creek which connected Brooklyn’s Meeker Avenue with Queens’ Review Avenue (and the Penny Bridge LIRR stop). Penny Bridge was demolished in 1939 when the new Meeker Avenue Bridge opened (renamed as Kosciuszcko in 1940) but the masonry on both sides of Newtown Creek are still present.

It was a neat idea, I thought, visiting all three Meeker Avenue Bridges in the same day.

History nerd here, what can I tell ‘ya?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While I was at Penny Bridge, my zoom lens was dialed to its extant focal length and I zeroed in on the Queens side’s strand jacks being erected. Hey, I may be a history nerd, but I know for a fact that several of you out there are engineering nerds.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the things that we, as in the environmental and activist community along Newtown Creek, have been asking officialdom about for years is about why there is zero signage advising the citizenry about not fishing or crabbing in the Newtown Creek. I know this might strike you as odd, but folks actually do fish and crab hereabouts. Observationally, these are people who were born overseas, so the signage issue becomes a bit complicated given the legendary “diversity” of Western Queens and North Brooklyn. The Albany people have always questioned as to why you’d need signage, as it’s illegal to fish without a license, and every NYS licensee has been advised about the environmental conditions encountered on the inland waterways of NYC – which is one of the most “Albany people” things I’ve ever heard.

Luckily, the Feds at EPA realized what we’ve been asking for is necessary and have begun the process of creating advisory signage, and the PRP (Potentially Resonsible Parties) consortium which styles itself as the “Newtown Creek Group” volunteered to manufacture the placards, which EPA would in turn design and install. The signage is pretty close to its final design iteration, and the latest version looks like this. As to where the signs should be placed? Who has carefully documented every little pocket and corner of the streets surrounding the Creek? Who can tell you where people commonly fish? That’s a Newtown Creek Alliance job, anyone can tell you that.

Let’s face it, who ya gonna call?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Accordingly, one found himself in Greenpoint recently at nine in the morning as the EPA team assembled. Civilians cannot ride in Government vehicles (which is an odd rule, as we technically own them) so the third party contractor who will do the actual installation of the things did the driving. We hit every little corner of the Newtown Creek where people can find access to the water, even the hidden spots where the “utes” of Greenpernt like to experiment with cannibinoids.

It was actually quite a beautiful morning, and the light was fantastic, so while the Feds got busy with the tape measures and GPS’d the various locations we visited, I waved the camera around a bit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We did encounter an “enforcement situation” in Brooklyn alongside the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. There’s a protocol for “who’s responsible for what” along the Newtown Creek. Short version is this – EPA is in charge of Superfund, which is specifically related to the sediments under the water. New or ongoing pollution entering the water is the provence of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The NYC DEP is responsible for absolutely nothing anywhere or anytime, it’s not their fault at all, and they have no idea why they were named as a PRP in the first place as it’s all Exxon or National Grid’s fault.

The fellow from EPA I was on the bridge with confirmed my belief that “I should call this in” and the NYS DEC Spill Response hotline was called. If you spot oil slicks, plumes of floatable contaminants, or as in the case of the shot above – hundreds of gallons of milky white mystery juice exiting one of DEP’s open sewers – the protocol is to first photograph it, as documentation, and then to call 1 (800) 457-7362 to let DEC know about the situation so they can investigate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We were, as mentioned above, visiting every conceivable spot that the citizenry could find their way to the water.

That included “off limits” locations like the Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge over the English Kills tributary. As you can see from all the interesting graffiti on the bridge, which carries lead tracks of the Bushwick Branch LIRR, trespassing is pretty common back here. This is the reason that EPA asked Newtown Creek Alliance to send somebody along with them, as there’s the “official story” and a “real story” found along the water.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This family of Canada Geese were encountered at the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road, and were being predated by a feral cat who was anxious for breakfast. Momma and Poppa Goose were just out of frame to the left, so the cat made a brilliant decision and continued on into the brush to look for some easier prey. We encountered a couple of broods of Geese over the course of the morning. Geese can be ornery, as a note, and will smack you up if they’re annoyed.

One of these illegal alien avian bullies, at Maspeth Creek, actually hissed at us as we neared, and stuck its tongue out at me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reasoning behind the signage is based around science rather than good humored politics, incidentally. When you’re chatting with environmental officials, they don’t refer to oysters or mussels as shellfish, rather they call them “bioaccumulators.” Animals that are high up in the food chain have internal organs – livers in particular – and muscular tissues which have amassed dangerous levels of whatever pollutant is found in the sediments of the waterway, which they’ve attained by consuming all the prey critters who are below them in the food chain hierarchy. In the case of crabs, in particular, you can encounter a fantastic amount of chemical concentrates due to their particular niche and occupations.

Newtown Creek is – of course – a Federal Superfund site. The sediment beds hereabout are a goulash of petroleum and petroleum byproducts, organocopper compounds, volatile organic compounds, PCB’s, coal tar, sewage, and everything else that has ever been dumped or spilled into the water. The sediment is referred to as “black mayonnaise” and it’s where the crabs live. It’s also where most of the invertebrates that form the bottom of the food chain for the fish population live. Itty bitty critters eat the decaying organics of the black mayonnaise, and slightly less itty bitty critters eat handfuls of the little guys, and the larger critters eat hundreds of them – you get the idea.

You don’t want to eat fish or crabs that you catch in the Newtown Creek. Really.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To recap the last two posts, a humble narrator journeyed from Astoria to southeastern Brooklyn’s Plumb Beach to attend a lecture about Horseshoe Crabs offered by the NYCH2O outfit and which was led by my high school biology teacher – Alan Ascher. The first post covered the journey and setting, the second one discussed some of the characteristics of Plumb Beach, this one focuses right in on the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab itself – aka Limulus polyphemus. Scroll down to check them out.

That’s Mr. Ascher, and a horseshoe crab, above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Plumb Beach faces out into a section of Rockaway Inlet, nearby Sheepshead Bay, and part of the totality of Jamaica Bay. Once fairly close to environmental ruination due to the ocean dumping of garbage, open sewers, and the development of highways and airports, large chunks of Jamaica Bay are now a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and Wildlife Refuge – a Federally administered series of parks and conservation areas – and have therefore been recovering environmentally. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but compared to what this area looked like back in the 1980’s when I was in high school – it’s practically pristine in comparison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During May and June (particularly), but pretty much throughout the early summer, the so called “living fossils” which man calls the “Atlantic Horseshoe Crab” enact a mating dance. These critters first appeared in the fossil record about 450 million years ago, during the Ordovician Age. As a note, during the Ordovician, plants – let alone animals – hadn’t really begun to migrate out of the ocean onto the land yet. These creatures aren’t actually crabs (or crustaceans), and are instead part of a seperate subphylum called the Chelicerata. Their closest modern relatives are actually spiders and ticks.

from wikipedia

Horseshoe crabs have three main parts to the body: the head region, known as the “prosoma”, the abdominal region or “opisthosoma”, and the spine-like tail or “telson”. The smooth shell or carapace is shaped like a horseshoe, and is greenish grey to dark brown in colour. The sexes are similar in appearance, but females are typically 25 to 30% larger than the male and can grow up to 60 cm (24 in) in length (including tail).

Horseshoe crabs possess the rare ability to regrow lost limbs, in a manner similar to sea stars.

A wide range of marine species become attached to the carapace, including algae, flat worms, mollusks, barnacles, and bryozoans, and horseshoe crabs have been described as ‘walking museums’ due to the number of organisms they can support. In areas where Limulus is common, the shells, exoskeletons or exuviae (molted shells) of horseshoe crabs frequently wash up on beaches, either as whole shells, or as disarticulated pieces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher demonstrated the various anatomical features of the Horseshoe Crab, which despite its fearsome appearance is quite benign and harmless to humans. It has a set of “book gills” which are those flappy looking structures nearby its shell hinge, and possesses two sets of fairly primitive “eyes” which exhibit varying levels of sensitivity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The blood of a Horseshoe Crab is not hemoglobin (iron) based, as most living creatures upon the earth are, and is instead copper based. Within its circulatory system, the crab’s blood is greyish white to pale yellow in color, but it turns a bright blue when atmospherically oxygenated. This helps them survive the high pressure and low oxygen environment where they spend most of their time, and their blood is harvested by the pharmaceutical industrial complex in pursuance of the creation of  “limulus amebocyte lysate” or “LAL.” This material is used to detect the presence of bacterial endotoxins in pharmaceuticals and artificial joint replacements, and believe it or not – enzymes from their blood are used on the International Space Station to detect blooms of fungi and bacteria growing on common surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYC H2O tour ended, and on my way back to civilization, I spotted a dead ray just sitting there on the sand. Desiccated by the sun, I was reminded of an old European Sailor’s craft, common during the age of sail, which would see rays of this type turned into “Jenny Hanivers” by skillful knife and needlework. Jenny Hanivers were offered for sail by sailors during port visits as baby mermaids, basilisks, or any number of imaginary critters to the gullible landlubbers.

from wikipedia

Jenny Hanivers have been created to look like devils, angels and dragons. Some writers have suggested the sea monk may have been a Jenny Haniver.

The earliest known picture of Jenny Haniver appeared in Konrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Gesner warned that these were merely disfigured rays and should not be believed to be miniature dragons or monsters, which was a popular misconception at the time.

The most common misconception was that Jenny Hanivers were Basilisks. As Basilisks were creatures that killed with merely a glance, no one could claim to know what one looks like. For this reason it was easy to pass off Jenny Hanivers as these creatures which were still widely feared in the 16th century.

In Veracruz, Jenny Hanivers are considered to have magical powers and are employed by curanderos in their rituals. This tradition may have originated in Japan, where fake ningyo similar to the Fiji mermaid that were produced by using rogue taxidermy are kept in temples.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, that wraps up the story of going to Plumb Beach and checking out the Horseshoe Crab scene with my high school Marine Biology teacher. I did apologize to him for being thirty four years late to class, btw.

See you Monday, with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

corroborate virtually

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in some detail in yesterday’s post, a humble narrator travelled clear across the western face of Long Island from Astoria to Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood to attend a lecture by my high school biology teacher, an effort which was offered by the NYC H2O outfit. The lecture was occurring at Plumb Beach, which is a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, and a Federal Park. The layout of the place includes a highway facing parking lot, which leads to a sandy beach and sand dunes, behind which are found a muddy type tidal marshland. I rode the R from Astoria to the 57th street stop in Manhattan, where I transferred to a Q express which carried me to the Sheepshead Bay Road stop, whereupon I walked down Emmons Avenue to Plumb Beach.

Whew, that accounts for like an hour and a half of my day, can you imagine how horrible it is to be me all the time?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My high school marine biology teacher was (and is) named Alan Ascher, and I remember him fondly. He didn’t remember me, which is sort of what I expected as I was an unextraordinary sciences student. I have fun memories of Mr. Ascher’s class, which revolved around an end of semester field trip to Jamaica Bay, onboard a boat, and the usage of a NYC Department of Education oriented permit to do some limited dredging of the bottom of Jamaica Bay in pursuance of biological specimens for study (critters).

First time I saw a live spider crab, or tube worm, was because this guy pulled them up out of the deep.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One specifically remembers maybe three or four of my teachers from high school. Two of them are for malign reasons. One of the malign duo was especially hated for her complete dereliction of duty as a teacher, another was for pursuing a certain vendetta against me. The latter was dealt with, decisively, later in life when I was no longer a powerless child. Another, a chemistry teacher named Bob Nissin, is remembered because he made the case to me that since I was inherently lacking mathematically I would be unable to pursue a course in the higher sciences – advice which was immensely helpful to a confused about his path and quite adolescent narrator.

Mr. Ascher, pictured above, is the guy who made me wonder – and more than wonder – all there is that might be found beneath the surface of the waters of New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour Mr. Ascher conducted felt familiar, as I had been on a similar outing during high school with him. We started in the parking lot, and went down towards the beach. It was low tide, as a note.

Mr. Ascher, then as now, talked about the shoreline grasses and their role in holding together the dunes surrounding the sandy littoral zone sloping down into the water. He mentioned the creation of the park back in the 70’s and the fact that this used to be an island called Hogshead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few mortal remains of the animal we had come to observe were scattered here and there on Plumb Beach, the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab – Limulus polyphemus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher described the role played by the quite artificial jetties installed at intervals along the Plumb Beach, and how they aid in the constant battle against shoreline erosion which is fought by the engineers of the National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and other governmental entities who oversee such matters.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The group threaded its way over the dunes, with Mr. Ascher pointing out various vegetable species encountered, including the Beach Plumb (for which Plumb Beach is so named), Rosehips, and the substantial abundance of Poison Ivy. On the other side of the dunes, we encountered the previously mentioned tidal marsh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This sort of scene, depicting a tidal stream swirling around the muddy shoreline of Jamaica Bay, is so incredibly familiar to me that it looks like home. Not much has changed since high school back here, except that there’s a lot less garbage and specifically a lack of medical waste.

Plumb Beach was always a great place to find thousands of hypodermics and used bandages embedded in the tidal zone. Along with other goodies, medical waste in great abundance would wash up here, back in the 1980’s – I tell ya. Trash was everywhere on the waterfront in this section back then, so I guess some things do seem to have gotten better, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were multiple examples of this sort of collection on the flat, shellfish and mussels abandoned by the tide, waiting for the water to return and flood the spot. Mr. Ascher reminded everyone to not venture too far in the direction of the muddy section, which has the characteristic of quick sand.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An abandoned boat, deposited here by some storm, has been turned into a gallery for graffiti.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The salt marsh itself was covered in Spartina and other grasses, and perforated by crab holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher… I just can’t call him Alan… discussed the various things we were looking at and provided insights into the hidden world of aquatic creatures which were sequestering in the muddy flats during the intertidal.

There were also a bunch of weird looking Russian muscle guys running around in the bushes on the other side of the water from our group, characters whom I did not like the look of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the penultimate installment of “what I did last Friday,” presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – you’ll encounter Horseshoe Crab pornography.

That’s your trigger warning, right there, lords and ladies.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2017 at 11:15 am

contraband nature

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It’s National Jelly Donut Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a non stop run across the City of Greater New York for the last six weeks, and my dogs are barking. Haven’t been to Staten Island (except by water, twice) or the Bronx at all, but tomorrow I’m going to Plumb Beach nearby Sheepshead Bay to attend a lecture on Horseshoe Crabs which, as it turns out, is being led by my tenth grade biology teacher. Small world, big City, I guess. The shot above was captured at the Grand Avenue station in Elmhurst, where I’ve been three times in the last six weeks, but was just passing through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was gathered onboard the new Citywide Ferry Rockaway service, which left from Pier 11 in Manhattan and proceeded to Bay 108 in Rockaway in about fifty minutes with a stop in Sunset Park. I was puzzled as to the end goal destination, across the street from the DEP’s Rockaway waste water treatment plant. B 108 isn’t exactly “Main Street” if you know what I mean, but putting two and two together, I figure that the City probably owns the land there due to the Rockaway Plant’s long tenancy and it was likely the only affordable spot along the Rockaway waterfront where you could install the dock.

Pictured, of course, is a NY Water Taxi rather than a Citywide Ferry boat. The Water Taxi was exiting Erie Basin while performing part of its’ IKEA ferry route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering around Astoria one recent day, this coal chute cover was encountered and I decided to do a bit of detective work on the address embossed into its legend. The folks at Greater Astoria Historic Society host a page which describes the various name changes that the streets in Astoria have assumed over the years, which provided for some of the hard slog footwork in translating “329 9th Ave., Astoria, L.I.” into the modern day street grid.

What was once known as “Kowenhoven St.” in a city of Newtown called Astoria, which was later renamed as “9th avenue by the independent municipality of Long Island City, became 38th street in the Borough of Queens and a part of the Consolidated City of Greater New York in the early 20th century. The sections of Belcher Hyde Fire Insurance Maps included in today’s post date from 1919, and still carry the LIC era street names and addresses.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

Broadway is always so named, and Steinway Street was once an avenue but is still named after the local Piano Baron, and 31st avenue used to be called first Jamaica and then Patterson Avenue. 9th street is now 38th street, and if I’m reading the map correctly, the street address (329) of the Atlantic Iron Works would correspond with that of the no longer extant Public School no. 6 (which is a whole other story) and is coterminous with the modern day “Sean’s Place” playground.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

As a note, the track lines indicated are Trolley, or Streetcar tracks. The arrival of the IND subway line was still a few years away at the stage of the game, and the “cut and cover” work was likely underway but not indicated.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

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