The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

New Calvary

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

While scuttling away from that ribbon of malefic neglect called the Newtown Creek one fine day, on my way home to the yellow brick splendors of far off Astoria, your humble narrator suddenly had the sensation of being observed and followed by malign forces. Such paranoia is a failing of mine, of course (I’m all ‘effed up), as I’m given to wild flights of imagination and illogical conjecture about everyday and ordinary experiences which are mundane occurrences for everyone else. The impression that I think I’m somehow special would be erroneous however, as this is more curse than blessing.

Simply put, your humble narrator lives very much in his own self defined world- which in this case, framed by the steel overpass of the Long Island Expressway and the cyclopean walls of New Calvary Cemetery. A narrow and neglected sidewalk carried me toward an aperture in its high iron gates.

from rootsweb.ancestry.com

Calvary Cemetery is owned and managed by the Archdiocese of New York.  It consists of four cemeteries and has about 3 million interred:

First Calvary Cemetery: full by 1867, located betw the Long Island Expressway & Review Ave.

Second Calvary Cemetery:  located on the west side of 58th St betw Queens Blvd & the Brooklyn-Queens Espressway, land acquisition ended in 1888

Third Calvary Cemetery: est. 1879, located on the west side of 58th St, between the LIE & the BQE

Fourth Calvary Cemetery: est. 1900, located on the west side of 58th St, betw the LIE & 55th Ave

Mailing address: Calvary Cemetery, 49-02 Laurel Hill Blvd., Flushing NY  11377-7396

- photo by Mitch Waxman

New Calvary Cemetery isn’t “special” in the way that nearby Mount Zion and FIrst Calvary are- in terms of historic significance or psychic impression. The latter locations impart a sense of devastating loneliness upon their visitors, evoking a sensation of walking sanctified ground- while New Calvary is actually a very nice and quite pleasant place.

Far larger than the other “suburban cemeteries” New Calvary stretches out in a vast trapezoid of manicured grounds that extend from Queens Blvd. to 55th avenue (north to south) and 49th-58th streets (west to east), is trisected by both the BQE and LIE, and there are far worse places to visit on a sunny afternoon. It abuts Mount Zion Cemetery on 58th street.

from wikipedia

The Rural Cemetery Act was a law passed by the New York Legislature on April 27, 1847, that authorized commercial burial grounds in rural New York state. The law led to burial of human remains becoming a commercial business for the first time, replacing the traditional practice of burying the dead in churchyards and on private farmland. One effect of the law was the development of a large concentration of cemeteries along the border between the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

note:

There are many new interments, every day, at New Calvary (roughly 60,000 people die in New York City during an average year) – the recently dead and their families are everywhere. Newtown Pentacle “policy” on such matters is still in a state of evolutionary flux, but for the present, focusing in -with or without significant obfuscation of identifying information on the grave marker – on the monuments of the recently deceased is something I’m a little “squirrely” about. Feedback is appreciated, by the way, on this subject and its ethical implications. On the one hand- there it is, out in the open in public. On the other, no one wants to see their dad’s name on some blog. What do you think? Leave a comment, if you dare…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

First Calvary, whose altitude is at a remarkably lower declination than New Calvary, drapes nearby Laurel Hill, but is isolated by the vast complexes of highway bridges which span and overpass the area from its younger sibling.

A visit to New Calvary is actually a very pleasant experience, although the vast majority of the markers here are mundane and mass produced owing to their production during the middle and late 20th century. Such generic markers are utilitarian and seem to be weathering well, but discovery of iconic and unique statuary in the tradition of the O’Brien or Doherty monuments at First Calvary eludes me in here.

If you decide to enter this place, there’s a “no trespassing” rule- which is seldom enforced unless you’re acting like a jerk. You may get told to leave, I once had a groundskeeper keep a very close eye on me but wasn’t confronted. Reason being is that there are active funeral rites being performed. Be cognizant of the feelings of others if you bring your camera with you… another reason I prefer First Calvary is that its mostly full and nearly empty of the living.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Do not mistake my deep affections for the venerable Calvary as an attempt to make its younger offshoot seem facile or cheap. This is a very impressive place, with subtle landscaping and gentle hills. Surreal, one has the impression of perambulating a technicolor movie set, dressed with grass that is “too green” and statuary strategically painted with moss and nitre. The bronze door above is actually from a mold, as I’ve seen other examples of it all over the cemetery belt.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Lucky for me, this notion of paranoid pursuit that had caused me to enter Third Calvary brought me there at the apex of the autumnal sun, the so called “golden hour”. When lighting conditions are such, one tends to just shoot and shoot, as they will pass quickly. The sunlight become orange gold and the shadows assume a blueish hue. Such complimentary reactions of color are pleasing to the human eye, evoking the wild theories of the radical painter and art theorist Josef Albers.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The grave markers in New Calvary point to lessons learned in the older cemetery, with long concrete foundations providing stable ground for the stones to rest upon. The disturbing subsidence common at the older facility is not seen as often here, probably due to the differing hydrological qualities of the substrate soil.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve learned that many of the Mausoleums found in the Newtown Pentacle are designed with a window of stained glass and a small altar within. The deceased are held in the crypts which lie on either side of this space. The site orientation of most of these mausoleums is east/west and the stained glass was calculated to be illuminated by either sunrise or sunset. The ornate designs revealed during such intervals is remarkable, and if you happen across Calvary at this time of day, look for such ephemera.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a curious optical artifact I’ve been referring to as “me and Jesus”. The reflection on the right side is me. You can just make out my hand holding the camera, the collar of my filthy black raincoat, a specular highlight on my sunglasses, and the outline of my black fedora. On the left is the shadow pattern of a bearded man with long hair. The obvious explanation is that the backlit stained glass is projecting an image on the tomb glass I’m focusing past… but the image in the artwork is not wearing a crown of thorns, and the image on the left is.

Weird.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Hey, you never know what you’re going to find at Calvary.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 15, 2010 at 5:11 am

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