The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

The White Lady of Astoria, a ghost story

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

44th street between Broadway and 34th avenue exhibits a well planted block of row houses, most of which are nearing their centennials. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself, having been forced out of our Manhattan apartment by the rapacious real estate developments that had overtaken our former neighborhood, moved here around six years ago. We have since relocated, to a Matthews Model Flat a couple of blocks away, but maintain friendly relations with our former neighbors and are a constant presence on the block.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This section of Astoria, technically East Astoria, abuts Northern Blvd. and forms the border with both Woodside and Sunnyside. A bedroom community, an odd mix of “lifers” (neighborhood stalwarts who were born, and will die, in the same house they live in today) and “city people” (new residents, like myself). Croatians, Serbs, Italians, Bangla, and Brazilians form the largest ethnic groups today.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Charming, but in a state of deleterious repair, the house we rented our rooms from is owned by a disagreeable hibernian matron whose family took possession of the place in the mid 1960’s. It survives today as an “investment property”, whose street facing wall is unfortunately being undermined by a feral tree growing in the front yard. The roots of the autochthonous vegetation have actually forced open the cement foundations of the structure, and its pinioned trunk is jacking the wall up and away from the roof. Consequently, flooding in both second floor apartments and the basement are routine during weather events, and the weeping of the ceiling was what led us to find other accommodations.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the happy months and years that we lived here, many relationships were forged in the close quartered milieu that describes life in doe-eyed Astoria. Always a collector and connoisseur of intelligence on the unusual and occult, a question that I have put forward to many people is “Have you ever seen a Ghost?”. Oddly enough, the answers on my old block, particularly on the eastern side of the street, were “yes”.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Characteristic of older buildings built on marshy soils, typical of western Queens, audible manifestations attributed to “settling” are common on the block. Floor joists groan, walls bulge under decades of plastering, and a staccato of steel whistles accompanies the arrival of heating. Often awake at those times of night which might be described as an hour of the wolf, your humble narrator often sensed odd silences and formed unadmitted intuitions. Paranoid, promised and prone to wild fantasy and allegorical dissection, my perception of the world is askew- and I am prone to “fill in the blanks” in order to create a comforting mythological blanket to wrap myself in.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My former neighbor, a sensitive “lifer”, when confronted with “Have you ever seen a Ghost?” related that there was an apparition on the entire block. A lady in white who moved from house to house. He continued on, saying that his mother, himself- and his tenants- had experienced apparitions. Indeed, the subject was well known amongst the generations of children that had grown up here, and that the phantom was called “The White Lady”. The following text is used with permission, and comes from that stalwart friend…

My mother’s story is this:

When my brother and I were very small, around 2 and 5 or 3 and 6 respectively, we both had high fevers and were sleeping in my mother’s bed. My mother said she heard someone walk down our hallway, and she assumed it was my father, as he worked late into the night.  She then says she smelled very sweet perfume, and felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed (she was sitting with us, watching over us).

She never saw anybody, but rather felt a presence.  She said she knew it was the presence of a ‘lady’—with the resonance of the word being someone higher in society, graceful and composed. The presence let it be known to her–how I dont know– that she was there for a good reason; that she was there because she was worried about my brother and I, and would watch over us and protect us.  My mother added that she thought the ‘lady’ was the wife of the person who owned the land way before our house was built, but Im not sure if that was heresay she might have picked up on in future years.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My tenant’s  story:

My tenant stopped and asked me one day in front of the house. He asked me if we had a ghost  living there, and before I told him, I asked him what he meant.  He said he dreamt about a ‘lady’.  I asked him to describe her, and he said her hair was done up in an old fashioned bun, she was older, her hair was white, and she wore a dress that was cinched around the neck, the way they wore in earlier years.

He also said that he had once peered outside the backyard window, and saw someone looking up at him intently. He said that it was a spirit guide.

My tenant has told me he is sensitive to phenomenon.  He even described meeting a woman and immediately ‘knowing’ that the woman was pregnant.  He in fact asked her, and she said yes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The old building we lived in was in a constant state of flux, with tenants moving in and out on yearly leases. The apartment unit directly below us was vacant a few days when a former tenant and her boyfriend rented it. Bright and logical, the vivacious vicar’s daughter who leased the rooms had drawn her man away from his suburban homeland to the creole urbanity of Astoria. Affable, her intended was a man of science, and recently licensed to operate as a Doctor. Down to earth, head on his shoulders, likes to jog.

After a few days living in the apartment, he approached me, and confided an experience to me.

The following text is used with permission, and comes from him…

My ghostly experience, front bedroom 1st floor.

Well, it was the first night staying in that apartment. I spent the day helping my girlfriend move the rest of her stuff in. And put a large mirror up at the foot of the bed facing north (toward broadway).

So anyway, somehow I awoke between 2 and 3am (at least I feel like I was awake), and saw a kind of a dark shadowy figure move/walk from one side of the room toward the foot of the bed staring at me. Seemed like an older women or a deadly looking middle-aged women with long hair past shoulders staring me down as she crept toward the foot of the bed. She lowered down slowly as if she was going to go under the bed but went out of sight at my feet. Almost instantly I felt my feet tingle and begin to shake like I was shivering and then both legs entirely.

I tried to kick my legs to make it stop but it only made it worse as my legs were basically shaking out of control and woosh it went up my trunk to my neck and my whole body was shaking and my head flexed backward hard into the pillow. I called out for my girlfriend, but my face muscles were very tight – “help… help… me…” which felt like I was wide awake- I know I was.

I began to also feel a pull toward the bottom the bed and toward the wall that the mirror was on. And as soon as it felt like it was going to throw my body off the bed or across the room or through into the mirror, whoosh it left down through my body and out my feet and was standing at the foot of the bed staring at me smiling/kind of laughing at me, and turned toward the mirror and walked through.

That’s it, I was wide awake for 2 hours trying to contemplate if that really happened or what. Nothing like that has ever happend before or since.

The only other thing that happened was a couple of weeks later- a glass picure frame seemed to jump off the wall and shattered on the ground in the middle of the night at 3 or 4 am. The same day I put a 2nd mirror up in that bedroom.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Postscript- P.S.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

So, remember the roots of that tree, the one that’s busting up the cement floor in the basement? One day, while shining a light under the concrete slab it had lifted, I saw something weird reflecting in the light in the rotting cement. Using a branch, I worked the glinting object free of the concrete matrix which had hidden it for a century.

It was a piece of jewelry wrought from coarse, industrial metals, and it’s circumference and weight was approximately the size of a United States silver dollar. This is it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 31, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Posted in Astoria, Pickman

Tagged with ,

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  1. [...] Halloween posting, describing spectral phenomena experienced by residents on my old block – 44th street between [...]

  2. [...] or traditional holidays that transcend temporal distance and cultural extinctions, the remarkable October 31-Nov. 2 period, the end of december and first week of january, middle-late march, and the last week [...]


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