Thanks to Dan Campo and Peter Spellane, I now know everything I need to know about Newtown Creek. In fact, I am an expert, having also sailed on down and back with a narrated tour under the sun, the cool breeze wafting all around me.
Yes, I am a liar. Dan Campo and Peter Spellane know lots about the creek. I took in whatever I could and then after about two hours under the boiling sun, switching sides on the top deck to find the not-very-refreshing breeze, I could remember even less of what I’d just learned. Still, I got in some great shots.
The use of the waterfront here has changed over time because of the laws of humans and the laws of nature. The lure of the waterfront is romanticized in American history, and develops a story of its own involving growth, decline, and revitalization. The waterfront sees a lot of industry because of its access for easy shipping, and it changes because of the currents, the tides, the natural ebb and flow of the water against its shore.
Those of us who live near the ocean or a large bay or sound often use the waterfront as a place for recreation. In Campo’s lecture, he reminded us that recreation is really re-creation. Yes, when each time we visit the water, we recreate space and ourselves. Some of the descriptors for this common activity and for the waterfront narrative itself: accidental, insurgent, subversive, and momentary. For a piece of time, we stumble to the shore, figure out what it is we want to do with ourselves, and then stumble home.
Industry creates and recreates as well. Spellane explained that simply, the desire for pretty clothing drove industry in Newtown Creek. The chemical based industries of the 19th century along the creek included fertilization, glass making, soap making, gun power, petroleum refining, and sugar making. These aren’t related to pretty clothing, but dye making is, as well as sulfuric acid (oil of vitriol!), which helps most other reactions happen. The Astral Oil Refinery used the sulfuric acid made by the Nichols chemical company across the creek.
Now for some really cool scientific words:
1. recrystallization: the process by which sugar is refined
2. oil of vitriol–as mentioned above, it’s sulfuric acid
3. The Whiskey Trust–okay, not scientific, more econmic, but very cool to say
4. cracking: breaking down big molecules into smaller molecules
In traveling along the waterway, the abundance of information about the inhabitants–human and industry–came to life. Whatever isn’t there, I reimagined, transporting myself across time.
And then I melted into the top deck of our New York Water Taxi until our final stop to disembark under the Brooklyn Bridge. That sight? Never. Gets. Old.