The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for November 23rd, 2009

Tales of Calvary 5- Shade and Stillness

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

In the past, the desolating loneliness and isolation which define my internal dialogue have been described to you simply – I’m all ‘effed up.

Shunned by those considered normal, my human- all too human- nature forces visceral desires for companionship. Lacking fellowship amongst the the living, one instinctively reaches out for those things which are no longer- or have never been- alive. That odd man in the filthy black raincoat that you might glimpse as you drive past the graveyard, scuttling along taking pictures of sewers and odd boxes in the Cemetery Belt- might very well be your humble narrator.

I was at Calvary Cemetery, intent on investigating the puzzling knots I had observed, beneath a hilltop tree- fed by some morbid nutrition, when I came across the Sweeney monument.

The Association for Gravestone Studies makes available this pdf file of a 19th century monumental bronze catalog, incidentally, as well as this discussion of “White Bronze“.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unlike the celebrated O’Brien clan, whose final destination is found closer to the apex of Calvary’s hills, the Sweeneys are shadowed by time. Social standing and class status drove the generations buried up here to seek a favorable and expensive bit of real estate, away from the common rabble and poor being laid into marshy trenches at the shallow of the hill in their thousands, and to lie for eternity with “their own kind”.

The princes of the City, and their courts, lie in Calvary Cemetery- not far from worm scarred timbers whose titan bulk restricts an elixir of extinction known as the fabled Newtown Creek from mingling with the blessed soils of Calvary. Unguessable springs of subterrene putrefaction percolating with horrors beyond the grave’s holding flow still beneath the streets of Newtown- vestigial streams and waterways that are imprisoned in masonry and brick tunnels. Directly mixing, in hideous congress, the liquefied effluvia of the long dead found in the hydrologic column of Calvary with the exotic chemistries of Newtown Creek? Who can guess would result?

Whoever the Sweeneys were, their family plot is located in a fairly exclusive area of the 19th century’s ex-population, and pretty close to the top of a hill. What’s odd here, and remarkable, is the enigmatic knots of this token affixed to the Sweeney monument- a trinket which had obviously weathered more than one change of season.

Unknowable implications are suggested by the urgency of this arcane reference found in the New York State Cemetery Law.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Symbolic gifts to the dead and the placement of totemic representations at graves are expected behaviors, when confronted with the brutal truth of mortality, from individuals who experience the death of a family or peer group member. Every cemetery in the area, the sheer acreage of which -in this case- can be observed from space, has posted regulations on appropriate and allowed markers and monuments. Certain obtuse expressions of grief are disallowed due to the necessary maintenance and  landscaping of the grounds, and good taste is enforced.

Another odd set of provisions is found in the Penal Law section of the aforementioned codification of New York’s cemeteries.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Noticing that that the oddly complex knotting of the cord implied commonality with the nearby red and blue knotted cords, I decided to have a closer look. There was a second color of cordage in the knots, a dirty and weathered yellow which was only present in one spot. The pendulum which the arrangement supported was either cheap electroplated metal or some sort of ruggose plastic. It was a sort of cartouche, an amulet shaped in a manner commonly recognized as a heart, suspended by a twisted tendon of oddly knotted string.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Suspicious that this might be something other than innocent, and knowing the predilection of certain groups for the usage of bodily liquids in their rites, your humble narrator used a trusty all in one Leatherman brand tool to examine it further. It is important, when walking in the hallowed grounds of Calvary, to try not to touch anything lest something touch you back. Things found there, if they can catch the smell of you, might follow you home and demand to be fed.

Of course, I mean the hundreds of feral cats which stalk Calvary’s hills, and it is best that they stay here where it is always safe for them. Neighborhood gossips- their odd comment phrased with a raised eyebrow and knowing squint- hoarsely whisper the opine: In Calvary Cemetery, no man may kill a cat…

Also from New York State, a manual for the new treasurer, a business plan and model to follow for the mortuary industry’s promise of “Perpetual Care”.

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