The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 2010

The Man Who Could Dodge Bullets

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the great traditions in the history of fraternal ethnic organizations is the art of storytelling, and a tale often told by those who “belong” is about the Castellamarese War.

It’s an old New York story, full of gun play, revenge, and intrigue. Powerful black sedans with a cadre of Tommy Gun toting racketeers speeding around the streets, innocents getting mowed down, and a cast of legendary characters like Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, and Salvatore Maranzano exacting vengeance on their enemies. From the bloody heap, the “commission” was born, a board of directors which governed the various crime families. Nothing new here, you know this story- it was sort of fictionalized in the Godfather movies, and there are any number of books, TV Shows, and movies which describe it in some detail.

At least, they claim to- I don’t believe everything I’m told, and just ask anyone- there’s no such thing as the Mafia.

Anyway, this is First Calvary Cemetery, and pictured above is the grave of Joe Masseria.

from wikipedia

The Five Families are the five major Italian-American Mafia crime families which have dominated organized crime in New York City since the 1930s. Prior to this was the Maranzano Family and the Masseria Family which ended up fighting each other during a period known as the Castellammarese War. The Five Families, under the suggestion of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, were responsible for the establishment of The Commission, a council which demarcated territory between the previously warring factions and governs American Mafia activities in the United States. The Five Families in New York remain as the powerhouse of the Italian Mafia in the US.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What I can affirm is that there were fresh flowers inside the Masseria tomb, on an October morning in 2010.

from wikipedia

On April 15, 1931, Joe Masseria was assassinated at one of his favorite restaurants, Nuova Villa Tammaro in Coney Island, Gangland legend has it that Masseria dined with Charles “Lucky” Luciano before his death. While they played cards, Luciano excused himself to the bathroom, when Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis rushed in and shot Masseria to death, his four bodyguards having mysteriously disappeared. The New York Daily News reported that the boss died “with the ace of spades, the death card, clutched in a bejeweled paw.”

However, both the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune paint a different picture. Neither newspaper mentions Luciano being present, although Luciano was brought in for questioning by the police. The Herald Tribune reported that Masseria arrived at the restaurant in his armored steel car in the company of three other men shortly before 3pm. Scarpato’s mother-in-law, Anna Tammaro, waited while they played cards. According to two eyewitnesses, two well-dressed young men drove up and parked their car at the curb. They strolled leisurely into the place, and the shooting began immediately. Some 20 shots were fired. Then the two gunmen came out without any visible signs of haste, entered their automobile and drove away. Masseria was hit with four bullets in the back and one in the back of the head, identified as .32 and .38 caliber, and in an alley next to the restaurant, police recovered two revolvers.

Joe Masseria, photo courtesy Wikipedia

a world yet inchoate

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Unutterable, the name which must not be mentioned torments a humble narrator. Sure knowledge that the mortal remains of its bearer lie amongst the emerald devastations of First Calvary Cemetery renders a psychological state in my feeble mind which can only be compared to the plight of Tantalus.

from wikipedia

In mythology, Tantalus became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld, reserved for the punishment of evildoers; there Odysseus saw him. The association of Tantalus with the underworld is underscored by the names of his mother Plouto (“riches”, as in gold and other mineral wealth), and grandmother, Chthonia (“earth”).

Tantalus was initially known for having been welcomed to Zeus’ table in Olympus, like Ixion. There he is said to have misbehaved and stolen ambrosia and nectar to bring it back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods.

Most famously, Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as sacrifice. He cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up in a banquet for the gods. The gods became aware of the gruesome nature of the menu, so they didn’t touch the offering; only Demeter, distraught by the loss of her daughter, Persephone, absentmindedly ate part of the boy’s shoulder. Clotho, one of the three Fates, ordered by Zeus, brought the boy to life again (she collected the parts of the body and boiled them in a sacred cauldron), rebuilding his shoulder with one wrought of ivory made by Hephaestus and presented by Demeter. The revived Pelops grew to be an extraordinarily handsome youth, so much so that the god Poseidon fell in love with him and abducted him to Mount Olympus. Later, Zeus threw Pelops out of Olympus due to his anger at Tantalus. The Greeks of classical times claimed to be horrified by Tantalus’s doings; cannibalism, human sacrifice and infanticide were atrocities and taboo.

Tantalus’s punishment for his act, now a proverbial term for temptation without satisfaction (the source of the word “tantalise”), was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. Over his head towers a threatening stone, like that of Sisyphus.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Reduced to performing a visual inventory of the multitudes here, I have been walking a search pattern composed of interlocking octagons, trampling across the loam of grief and loss. Several times, disturbing subsidence and vegetation choked ruts have nearly caused severe injury, as I’m not watching out for where I am but rather for where I’m going.

This is a video game technique (shoot where they’re going to be, not where they are), one which can be hazardous to follow in the existential realities which surround that extinction of joy known as the Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, though neither used the term “existentialism” and it is unclear whether they would have supported the existentialism of the 20th century. They focused on subjective human experience rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science, which they believed were too detached or observational to truly get at the human experience. Like Pascal, they were interested in people’s quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom. Unlike Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche also considered the role of making free choices, particularly regarding fundamental values and beliefs, and how such choices change the nature and identity of the chooser. Kierkegaard’s knight of faith and Nietzsche’s Übermensch are exemplars who define the nature of their own existence. These idealized individuals invent their own values and create the very terms under which they excel. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were also precursors to other intellectual movements, including postmodernism, nihilism, and various strands of psychology.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Several of the less moribund residents of Calvary were observed, feeding upon the grassy hillside. When queried as to the location of my well hidden foil, they answered with aloof indifference, and the seeming leader of their flock began to extrude bodily waste. They were not startled by my presence, here in this lonely place, but most animals know that I mean them no harm and hardly react to me.

They did seem to be a bit startled when I said the name which is not to be uttered out loud.

from wikipedia

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to animals or non-living things, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), “human” and μορφή (morphē), “shape” or “form”.It is strongly associated with art and storytelling where it has ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behavior.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Enigma, my search for the elusive final resting place of the Massachusetts based dealer in far eastern art has taken me to distant and forgotten sections of the City of Greater New York. I have consulted with asiatic mystics in Manhattan’s Chinatown, visited a heretical Kabbalist in Brooklyn, and have drawn the ire of certain extant allies of the dead man whose influence and reach extend into the federal government and modernity itself who wish me to remain silent on the subject.

from wikipedia

Willy Gilligan is a fictional character played by Bob Denver on the 1960s TV show Gilligan’s Island and its many sequels.

Gilligan wears a trademark red shirt, pale trousers and white navy cap. He was the first mate on the S. S. Minnow when, during a storm, he threw an anchor overboard without the line attached, which left the boat shipwrecked on an “uncharted” desert island with all aboard. Gilligan is considered a cultural icon and is frequently seen as the show’s breakout character.

In the U.S. Navy, Gilligan served with The Skipper, and saved the Skipper from being struck and killed by a runaway depth charge. After retirement, The Skipper used his savings to buy the Minnow, and hired his “little buddy” Gilligan as first mate.

Gilligan’s past and family were not mentioned during the series, except for his older brother, from whom he swiped his ever-present red shirt, a sister whose best friend was broken up by her boyfriend, and an uncle who was apparently illiterate. He once mentioned he was born in Pennsylvania, but no city was specified. He would sometimes mention his childhood friends, Skinny Mulligan and Fatso Flannigan, possibly implying that he came from a predominately Irish-American neighborhood.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This place is called Calvary. The word is derived from several imperial dialects, which translate the aramaic Gûlgaltâ into Greek as Golgotha or alternately as “place of [the] skull” – Κρανίου Τόπος (Kraniou Topos) and then into Latin as Calvariae Locus. However you say it, it indicates the site of the crucifixion of the Christ outside of Jerusalem, and the anticlimax of the New Testament.

Modernity translates the term as Calvary. First Calvary, of course, is the St. Calixtus section of the great necropolis.

from wikipedia

Pope Saint Callixtus I or Callistus I was pope from about 217 to about 222, during the reigns of the Roman Emperors Elagabalus and Alexander Severus. He was martyred for his Christian faith and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.His contemporary and enemy, the author of Philosophumena (probably Hippolytus of Rome), relates that Callixtus, as a young slave, was put in charge of collected funds by his master Carpophorus, funds which were given as alms by other Christians for the care of widows and orphans; Callixtus lost the funds and fled from Rome, but was caught near Portus. According to the tale, Callixtus jumped overboard to avoid capture but was rescued and taken back to his master. He was released at the request of the creditors, who hoped he might be able to recover some of the money, but was rearrested for fighting in a synagogue when he tried to borrow money or collect debts from some Jews. Philosophumena claims that, denounced as a Christian, Callixtus was sentenced to work in the mines of Sardinia. He was released with other Christians at the request of Hyacinthus, a eunuch presbyter, who represented Marcia, the favourite mistress of Emperor Commodus. At this time his health was so weakened that his fellow Christians sent him to Antium to recuperate and he was given a pension by Pope Victor I. Callixtus was the deacon to whom Pope Zephyrinus entrusted the burial chambers along the Appian Way. In the third century, nine Bishops of Rome were interred in the Catacomb of Callixtus, now also called the Capella dei Papi. These catacombs were rediscovered by the archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi in 1849.

keenest eagerness

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh yes, lords and ladies of Newtown, we have arrived once more at the apex of the autumnal season of spooky here in the Newtown Pentacle. Consequently, attention must once more turn to the cemetery belt, and the fossilized heart of our community known as Calvary Cemetery.

Cherubim, which are actually the most terrifying and thickly fundamentalist of all the angelic race, were representationally presented to your humble narrator at Calvary Cemetery (First Calvary of course) recently. Adorning a recent interment’s monument, this enigmatic statuary wore curious adornment.

from wikipedia

The term cherubim is cognate with the Assyrian term karabu, Akkadian term kuribu, and Babylonian term karabu; the Assyrian term means ‘great, mighty’, but the Akkadian and Babylonian cognates mean ‘propitious, blessed’. In some regions the Assyro-Babylonian term came to refer in particular to spirits which served the gods, in particular to the shedu (human-headed winged bulls); the Assyrians sometimes referred to these as kirubu, a term grammatically related to karabu. They were originally a version of the shedu, protective deities sometimes found as pairs of colossal statues either side of objects to be protected, such as doorways. However, although the shedu were popular in Mesopotamia, archaeological remains from the Levant suggest that they were quite rare in the immediate vicinity of the Israelites. The related Lammasu (human-headed winged lions — to which the sphinx is similar in appearance), on the other hand, were the most popular winged-creature in Phoenician art, and so most scholars suspect that Cherubim were originally a form of Lammasu. In particular, in a scene reminiscent of Ezekiel’s dream, the Megiddo Ivories — ivory carvings found at Megiddo (which became a major Israelite city) — depict an unknown king being carried on his throne by hybrid winged-creatures.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Spending as much time in graveyards as I do, puzzles often present themselves to me in the shape of ordinary things, but I’ve learned to be cautious as well as curious. “Too smart for my own good” a humble narrator must often remind himself that “a cigar is sometimes just a cigar” and not read significances into odd costume trinkets which fetter the necks of plastic angels.

Note: Brrr… Angels have always scared the shit out of me. Like Demons, they are automatons enforcing a status quo, unreasonable soldiers in a war which has nothing to do with me. They’re also not “cute”. What we refer to as Cherubs are actually “Putto“.

from wikipedia

Angels of the First Sphere work as heavenly guardians of God’s throne.

Seraphim

  • Seraphim (singular “Seraph”), mentioned in Isaiah 6:1-7 [6], serve as the caretakers of God’s throne and continuously shout praises: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. All the earth is filled with His Glory.” The name Seraphim means “the burning ones.
  • “The Seraphim have six wings; two covering their faces, two covering their bodies (“feet”), and two with which they fly.
  • Two of which are named Seraphiel and Metatron, according to some books. Seraphiel is said to have the head of an eagle. It is said that such a bright light emanates from them that nothing, not even other angelic beings, can look upon them. It is also said that there are four of them surrounding God’s throne, where they burn eternally from love and zeal for God.

Cherubim

  • They have four faces: one of each a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. The ox-face is considered the “true face”, as later on in Ezekiel the ox’s face is called a cherub’s face (Chapter 10). They have four conjoined wings covered with eyes, and they have ox’s feet.
  • Cherubim are considered the elect beings for the purpose of protection. Cherubim guard the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24) and the throne of God (Ezekiel 28:14-16).
  • Modern English usage has blurred the distinction between Cherubim and Putti. Putto (pl. Putti) refers to the winged human baby/toddler-like beings traditionally used in figurative art.
  • The Cherubim are mentioned in Genesis 3:24 [7]; Exodus 25:17-22; 2 Chronicles 3:7-14; Ezekiel 10:12–14 [9], 28:14-16[8]; 1 Kings 6:23–28 [10]; and Revelation 4:6-8.

Thrones or Ophanim

  • The Thrones (Gr. thronos) or Elders, also known as the Erelim or Ophanim, are a class of celestial beings mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in Colossians 1:16 (New Testament). They are living symbols of God’s justice and authority, and have as one of their symbols the throne. These high celestial beings appear to be mentioned again in Revelation 11:16.
  • The Ophanim (Heb. ofanim: Wheels, also known as Thrones, from the vision of Daniel 7:9) are unusual looking even compared to the other celestial beings; They appear as a beryl-coloured wheel-within-a-wheel, their rims covered with hundreds of eyes.
  • They are closely connected with the Cherubim: “When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures [Cherubim] was in the wheels.” Ezekiel 10:17 NRSV.

No Necronomicon, but…

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Here’s why so many posts in the last few weeks have been late, Lords and Ladies.

“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” is a fully annotated 68 page, full-color journey from the mouth of Newtown Creek at the East River all the way back to the heart of darkness at English Kills.

Check out the preview of the book at lulu.com, which is handling printing and order fulfillment, by clicking here.

Every book sold contributes directly to the material support and continuance of this, your Newtown Pentacle.

“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” by Mitch Waxman- $25 plus shipping and handling.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 24, 2010 at 12:49 am

Last Chance

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scenes familiar, and loved

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Exhausted, determined to return to my lonely paths and isolated experiences, the only solace possible for an Outsider such as myself is amongst the tomb legions. Exertion and social obligation has brought me, repeatedly within the last few months, amongst the vivacious and brightly lit corridors of the human infestation and forced me into uncomfortable and uncontrolled interaction with those who thrive in such circumstance. Gaunt yet flabby, the squamous shadow of your humble narrator is cast comfortably in only one place- the fossilized heart of this Newtown Pentacle.

Welcome back, to Calvary.

from wikipedia

Calvary Cemetery is located at 49-02 Laurel Hill Blvd. in Woodside in the New York City borough of Queens, New York. The cemetery is managed by the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. It is one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in the United States. In 1847, faced with cholera epidemics and a shortage of burial grounds in Manhattan, the New York State Legislature passed the Rural Cemetery Act authorizing nonprofit corporations to operate commercial cemeteries. Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral trustees had purchased land in Maspeth in 1846, and the first burial in Calvary Cemetery there was in 1848. By 1852 there were 50 burials a day, half of them the Irish poor under seven years of age

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At the center of Calvary Cemetery, First Calvary that is, is a concrete temple which functions as a mortuary chapel in addition to maintaining an abbreviated schedule of Mass. The noted Catholic architect Raymond F. Almirall, responding to the request of Archbishop Farley in 1903, designed this beaux arts masterpiece to be constructed for the then princely sum of $200,000. Farley conceived of this place, and the subterranean structure beneath it, after a trip to the Holy See in Rome.

for more on Archbishop Farley, from google books

In 1884 Pope Leo XIII made him private chamberlain with the title monsignor, and Cardinal McCloskey appointed him permanent rector of the church of Saint Gabriel, New York, where he remained until he was made archbishop. In 1891 he was madevicar-general of the archdiocese of New York. In 1892 he was made domestic prelate to Leo XIII, and in 1895 prothonotary apostolic, all of which positions gave him special privileges. In December 1895 he was consecrated titular bishop of Zeugma, and became assistant to the archbishop of New York. When the see of New York became vacant by the death of Archbishop Corrigan (1902), the lists of names sent to Rome by the suffragan bishops and permanent rectors each had at the head the name of Bishop Farley as first choice for archbishop. He received his appointment from Leo XIII, but the pallium was conferred under Pius X, on 15 Sept. 1902. He was the fourth archbishop of New York and governed one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the world. He was the metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of New York, which is composed of eight dioceses outside the archdiocese which includes also the Bahama Islands; six in the State of New York and two in New Jersey. The author of the ‘Life of Cardinal McCloskey,’ Archbishop Farley was also a contributor to various magazines, and took great interest in movements for the social welfare of the city. He was created cardinal by Pope Pius X, 27 Nov. 1911. At the time of his death (1918) the archdiocese of New York comprised a Catholic population estimated at 1,350,000; 1,117 priests; 388 churches; parochial schools attended by 91,140 children; 25 orphanages; 27 hospitals, and other institutions, benevolent and educational.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Beneath the chapel, as it was designed, there is meant to be a two square acre catacomb whose only connection to the surface world is a shaft which rises some fifty feet to the surface. The Chapel itself utilizes the normal cruciform plan favored by the Roman Catholics since antiquity, and is some 60×120 feet, and a cupola rises some 90 feet above level ground and is crowned by a statue of the “Risen Christ”.

The cavern beneath the chapel is similarly in a the shape of a cross and designed as a mausoleum for the fallen priests of the city.

from google books, a popular mechanics article about the place

From the architect’s point of view, the most unusual feature is the method of construction of the dome and the groined vault on which it rests, both of which are regarded by experts as feats in reinforced concrete construction. The dome is 40 ft. across and the height from the floor to the lantern is 38 ft. It rises 50 ft. higher from that point and its total weight is 360 tons. The vault has eight penetrations, four large and four small, and both the lining of golden yellow brick and the pink Minnesota sandstone trimmings are held in place simply by adhesion to the concrete. In order to build this dome, it was necessary to build a falsework with all the accuracy of a mould, so that the brick could be laid against the forms, and the concrete with its steel reinforcement placed in the moulds. When the concrete had set, the falsework was removed, and the great dome stood as an imposing architectural crown to the structure, as well as a feat in construction.

The crypts or catacombs are for the burial of the priests of the diocese of New York, under the charge of which the cemetery is maintained. At present, but one section of the catacombs has been completed with accommodations for twenty-four bodies in the concrete niches. But the section can be extended underground in four directions, and at any time an addition for seventy-two more bodies can be made. For a cryptal burial there is a lift set into the floor of the chapel to lower the body to the level of the crypts.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite my mongrel familiarity with this place, your humble narrator has always avoided entering the chapel due mainly to a combination of cowardice and empathy.

Imagine the reaction of some wholesome priest or grieving parishioner when seeing this scuttling alien shamble into their sanctum sanctorum. They might look up and see an odd creature in a dirty black raincoat, with its widely separated glassy eyes and tightly stretched fish belly white skin betraying the presence of yellowing bone and rotting organ beneath, and question the faith that keeps them here. How could a merciful god allow an abomination such as myself to exist- a furtive fuligin clad  thing stinking of the Newtown Creek’s corruptions- let alone enter the most hallowed ground in the Archdiocese while the thermonuclear eye of god still shines down from on high? Certainly at night such manifestations of the macabre can be expected, but during the day?

It’s usually best for all that I remain at the side of the room, the rear of the bus, and near the end of the line- lest lightning strike another in error.

from wikipedia

The Rural Cemetery Act led to Queens being a borough of cemeteries. Queens is home to 29 cemeteries holding more than five million graves and entombments, so that the “dead population” of the borough is more than twice the size of its live population. The large concentration of cemeteries on the border of Brooklyn and Queens is another effect of the law. Under the Act, each individual cemetery organization was limited to no more than 250 acres (1 km²) in one county, but some organizations circumvented that limit by purchasing larger parcels straddling the boundaries of two counties. As result, 17 cemeteries straddle the border between Queens and Brooklyn. As with Queens, the “dead population” of Brooklyn is estimated to exceed its living population. In 1917 a state legislator from Queens complained that the law and the concentration of cemeteries that it had produced resulted in more than one-fifth of Queens’ land being exempt from property tax. As of 1918 more than 22,000 acres (89 km2) of land in Queens were owned by private tax-exempt cemeteries. Under current New York law, all cemetery property is exempt from property taxation, but current law allows the governments of Brooklyn, Queens, and certain other New York counties to limit the establishment of new cemeteries within their boundaries.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Nevertheless, this day, I mustered the tiny sparks of manhood within me and drawing a sharp breath- entered the chapel. Which was… disappointing. “Rather mundane, and shabbily maintained given the pristine groundskeeping and manicured care given the monuments outside” was my initial reaction. Also, it was rather dark within, and I was forced to use the camera flash in addition to setting my camera to a high ISO setting. Notice, if you would, the lack of dust in the air of the place- which would be catching and reflecting the flash back at the lens- backscatter as its called.

This is a rather important point, as we’ll discuss later on in the post.

from wikipedia

The term backscatter in photography refers to light from a flash or strobe reflecting back from particles in the lens’s field of view causing specks of light to appear in the photo. This gives rise to what are sometimes referred to as orb artifacts. Photographic backscatter can result from snowflakes, rain or mist, or airborne dust. Due to the size limitations of the modern compact and ultra-compact cameras, especially digital cameras, the distance between the lens and the built-in flash has decreased, thereby decreasing the angle of light reflection to the lens and increasing the likelihood of light reflection off normally sub-visible particles. Hence, the orb artifact is commonplace with small digital or film camera photographs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

My main concern was finding the possible location of the fifty foot shaft mentioned in the paragraph above, which is meant to be at the center of the building. The mosaic floor has obviously suffered the effects of use and a century of weathering, but there was this metal edged structure in it that was roughly the size and shape of a standard coffin. Unless I’m missing my guess, this is the hatch to that shaft.

I have been wrong before, so don’t take my word for it, but according to my researches, this is where it SHOULD be- and it fits the description as put forward in the Popular Mechanics article linked to above.

from wikipedia

The first place to be referred to as catacombs were the underground tombs between the 2nd and 3rd milestones of the Appian Way in Rome, where the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul, among others, were said to have been buried. The name of that place in late Latin was catacumbae, a word of obscure origin, possibly deriving from a proper name, or else a corruption of the Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs”. The word referred originally only to the Roman catacombs, but was extended by 1836 to refer to any subterranean receptacle of the dead, as in the 18th-century Paris catacombs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The cavern below is meant to house individually cemented cells for the dead clerics, and these individual resting places- as well as the ossuary that eventually houses their more enduring remains in the Italian and French manner- is lined with stone quarried from the domed hills of Vermont- a nearby northern state of sylvan wildernesses which produce and maintains a vast mythology even in this age of reason and ration.

One wonders why the alluvial deposits of the Green Mountain state were called upon to line and ornament this unseen chamber, and if it might have relation to the odd occurrences in and around Townshend Vermont in 1927 and 1928.

from wikisource.org

The whole matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927. I was then, as now, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, and an enthusiastic amateur student of New England folklore. Shortly after the flood, amidst the varied reports of hardship, suffering, and organized relief which filled the press, there appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers; so that many of my friends embarked on curious discussions and appealed to me to shed what light I could on the subject. I felt flattered at having my folklore study taken so seriously, and did what I could to belittle the wild, vague tales which seemed so clearly an outgrowth of old rustic superstitions. It amused me to find several persons of education who insisted that some stratum of obscure, distorted fact might underlie the rumors.

The tales thus brought to my notice came mostly through newspaper cuttings; though one yarn had an oral source and was repeated to a friend of mine in a letter from his mother in Hardwick, Vermont. The type of thing described was essentially the same in all cases, though there seemed to be three separate instances involved – one connected with the Winooski River near Montpelier, another attached to the West River in Windham County beyond Newfane, and a third centering in the Passumpsic in Caledonia County above Lyndonville. Of course many of the stray items mentioned other instances, but on analysis they all seemed to boil down to these three. In each case country folk reported seeing one or more very bizarre and disturbing objects in the surging waters that poured down from the unfrequented hills, and there was a widespread tendency to connect these sights with a primitive, half-forgotten cycle of whispered legend which old people resurrected for the occasion.

What people thought they saw were organic shapes not quite like any they had ever seen before. Naturally, there were many human bodies washed along by the streams in that tragic period; but those who described these strange shapes felt quite sure that they were not human, despite some superficial resemblances in size and general outline. Nor, said the witnesses, could they have been any kind of animal known to Vermont. They were pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be. It was really remarkable how closely the reports from different sources tended to coincide; though the wonder was lessened by the fact that the old legends, shared at one time throughout the hill country, furnished a morbidly vivid picture which might well have coloured the imaginations of all the witnesses concerned. It was my conclusion that such witnesses – in every case naive and simple backwoods folk – had glimpsed the battered and bloated bodies of human beings or farm animals in the whirling currents; and had allowed the half-remembered folklore to invest these pitiful objects with fantastic attributes.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Mission accomplished, and thankful that I happened into the place when it was deserted, your humble narrator decided to crack out a few more shots. Again, I messed around a little with exposure settings, hoping to combat the limited amount of available light within the structure. I emphatically state that beyond brightness and contrast, basic sharpening and color temperature adjustments- these shots are unaltered. The camera raw files are available for examination, and upon request, will be made downloadable.

from wikipedia

A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Normally, the image is processed by a raw converter in a wide-gamut internal colorspace where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a “positive” file format such as TIFF or JPEG for storage, printing, or further manipulation, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent colorspace. These images are often described as “RAW image files”, although there is not actually one single raw file format. In fact there are dozens if not hundreds of such formats in use by different models of digital equipment (like cameras or film scanners).

Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. Likewise, the process of converting a raw image file into a viewable format is sometimes called developing a raw image, by analogy with the film development process used to convert photographic film into viewable prints. The selection of the final choice of image rendering is part of the process of white balancing and color grading.

Like a photographic negative, a raw digital image may have a wider dynamic range or color gamut than the eventual final image format, and it preserves most of the information of the captured image. The purpose of raw image formats is to save, with minimum loss of information, data obtained from the sensor, and the conditions surrounding the capturing of the image (the metadata).

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Palpable and real, visits to First Calvary are draining experiences, from a psychic point of view. You are surrounded by rich imagery and the text screeds that adorn the monuments, which means that whether you want to or not, the names of those who are interred here are being read subconsciously and forcing themselves into your mind. The territory surrounding the place is the tautologically fabulous properties which comprise the Queens bank of that maligned font of inspiration which is the Newtown Creek (The Creeklands, as I call them),  and the intricate steel lacing of bridge and rail that confines and contains whatever might be lurking beneath it. The experience is overwhelming, from a sensory point of view, and drains the experiencer of both cognitive alertness and physical energy. In short, after a 75-90 minute interval spent here, you want nothing more than to just lie down on the soft grass and sleep.

from wikipedia

Orb artifacts are captured during low-light instances where the camera’s flash is implemented, such as at night or underwater. The artifacts are especially common with compact or ultra-compact cameras, where the short distance between the lens and the built-in flash decreases the angle of light reflection to the lens, directly illuminating the aspect of the particles facing the lens and increasing the camera’s ability to capture the light reflected off normally sub-visible particles. The orb artifact can result from retroreflection of light off solid particles (e.g., dust, pollen), liquid particles (water droplets, especially rain) or other foreign material within the camera lens. The image artifacts usually appear as either white or semi-transparent circles, though may also occur with whole or partial color spectrums, purple fringing or other chromatic aberration. With rain droplets, an image may capture light passing through the droplet creating a small rainbow effect.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

So, here you are.

By the standards set by pop culture, the little white shape you see in the above shot at the “11 o’clock” position is a ghost orb, in a photograph shot at the Calvary Cemetery Chapel at 11:03 am on October 8th, 2010. Or dust.

What do you think? Click through to the larger size of the shot above at flickr and check it out at higher resolution.

Sewer Berries

with 5 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another of the vast inadequacies that Our Lady of the Pentacle must endure is the vast ignorance of vegetable taxonomy exhibited by your humble narrator. Seldom can I distinguish common supermarket species from each other, bay from basil leaves for instance, let alone the multitude of indigenous and untamed forms which are routinely observed as they erupt from the cemented loam of this- your Newtown Pentacle.

One day, recently, my path brought me to Provost Street, a two lane artery which adjoins the Temple of Cloacina in storied Greenpoint.

from nyc-architecture.com

The Praa’s and Volchertsen’s, together, with the Mesorole’s, Calyer’s, Provoost’s, and Bennet’s formed the core of settler farmer families that lived and flourished on the land consisting of Green Point. They and their ancestors would do so for almost 200 years. The fertile land provided enough to supply the needs of the families that toiled on the land, and an abundant excess to trade at nearby markets. Each family kept a large row boat on the river to transport their harvest to the markets downstream in the emerging cities of Williamsburg and Brooklyn, and across the river in New York. Thus, Green Point became a major agricultural center and breadbasket for the area. It’s grains, cereals, fruits, vegetables and livestock made it possible for others to take up other trades in the New World, and contributed to the overall success of the pioneer efforts of that era.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Fiercely industrial, the Whale Creek side of Greenpoint is remarkable for many things, but mention of the place often omits the tenacity of lifeforms which colonize and find an anchor here in the tiny ribbons of soil that form around depressions and cracks in the otherwise concrete veneer.

Ever wonder why this tributary of the Newtown Creek is known as “Whale Creek”?

Think Kingsland Avenue, from wikipedia

Ambrose Cornelius Kingsland (May 24, 1804 – October 13, 1878)[1] was a wealthy sperm oil merchant who served as mayor of New York from 1851 to 1853. In 1851 he initiated the legislation that eventually led to the building of Central Park.Kingsland’s home was at 114 Fifth Avenue (southwest corner at 17th Street), now the site of a Banana Republic store.In 1864, Kingsland purchased Hunter Island, now in Pelham Bay Park, Bronx for $127,501.00. He later purchased a sizeable country home north of the city along the Hudson River, in present day Sleepy Hollow, New York. His sale of this land to the early steam-engine automotive company, Stanley Steamer, helped pave the way for Sleepy Hollow’s awakening as a major automotive production hub for much of the 20th century. A waterfront park in the Westchester County suburb still bears Kingsland’s name, as does Kingsland Avenue in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, which he helped survey.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

These berries, growing around a utility pole, were unfamiliar to me. Perhaps they are a speciation of grape, thought your humble narrator, although they really resembled a blueberry more than anything else. The curious side of my nature was impressed by their implacable attempt at germination, however, and an attempt was made at photographing them despite a condition of high wind which caused them to whip about in the manner of some tentacled beast.

from wikipedia

Spermaceti (from Greek sperma, seed, and Latin cetus, whale) sometimes erroneously called parmaceti is a wax present in the head cavities of the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Spermaceti is extracted from sperm oil by crystallisation at 6 °C, when treated by pressure and a chemical solution of caustic alkali. Spermaceti forms brilliant white crystals that are hard but oily to the touch, and are devoid of taste or smell, making it very useful as an ingredient in cosmetics, leatherworking, and lubricants. The substance was also used in making candles of a standard photometric value, in the dressing of fabrics, and as a pharmaceutical excipient, especially in cerates and ointments. Originally mistaken for the whales’ sperm (hence the name), spermaceti is created in the spermaceti organ inside the whale’s head and connected to its nasal passage, among other functions.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

They certainly clung to their stems in the manner of a grape, although color and hue suggested otherwise. Having a near total ignorance of wild plants however, I decided not to hazard a taste- which was probably wise given that the water table in this area is defined and nourished by that nearby extinction of hope known as the Newtown Creek.

from wilderness-survival.net

To avoid potentially poisonous plants, stay away from any wild or unknown plants that have–

  • Milky or discolored sap.
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
  • Bitter or soapy taste.
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
  • Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsleylike foliage.
  • “Almond” scent in woody parts and leaves.
  • Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs.
  • Three-leaved growth pattern.

Using the above criteria as eliminators when choosing plants for the Universal Edibility Test will cause you to avoid some edible plants. More important, these criteria will often help you avoid plants that are potentially toxic to eat or touch.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The small ring of dendritic structures on the underside of the fruit would most likely assist a botanist with identification, and some effort was made to achieve a clear shot of them.

Incidentally, this image actually contains a hint of that otherworldly “colour” which is oft mentioned in postings here, an otherworldly iridescence that seems like something “from out of space”.

from dec.ny.gov

The northeast area of Greenpoint, between North Henry Street, Norman Avenue, and Newtown Creek, has been heavily industrialized and the site of various petroleum industries for over 140 years. Oil refining operations date back to 1834 with the refining of whale oil. Petroleum refining operations began in approximately 1860, with kerosene the major product of interest, as naptha and gasoline were considered by-products of the refining process. By 1870 over 50 refineries were located along the banks of Newtown Creek and by 1892, the majority of the area refineries were purchased and consolidated into the Standard Oil Trust.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Can any of you, Lords and Ladies, identify these enigmatic Sewer Berries? If so, please contact a humble narrator here. I’m leaning toward Pokeweed.

from wikipedia

Since pioneer times, pokeweed has been used as a folk remedy to treat many ailments. It can be applied topically or taken internally. Topical treatments have been used for acne and other ailments. Internal treatments include tonsillitis, swollen glands and weight loss. Grated pokeroot was used by Native Americans as a poultice to treat inflammations and rashes of the breast. Independent researchers are investigating phytolacca’s use in treating AIDS and cancer patients. Especially to those who have not been properly trained in its use, pokeweed should be considered dangerous and possibly deadly.

Ingestion of poisonous parts of the plant may cause severe stomach cramping, nausea with persistent diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes bloody, slow and difficult breathing, weakness, spasms, hypertension, severe convulsions, and death. However, consuming fewer than 10 uncooked berries is generally harmless to adults. Several investigators have reported deaths in children following the ingestion of uncooked berries or pokeberry juice. Severe poisonings have been reported in adults who ingested mature pokeweed leaves and following the ingestion of tea brewed from one-half teaspoonful of powdered pokeroot.

Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye, which was once used by aboriginal Americans to decorate their horses. Many letters written home during the American Civil War were written in pokeberry ink; the writing in these surviving letters appears brown. The red juice has also been used to symbolize blood, as in the anti-slavery protest of Benjamin Lay. A rich brown dye can be made by soaking fabrics in fermenting berries in a hollowed-out pumpkin.

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2010 at 1:17 am

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