The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

of straw and willow

with 3 comments

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I left Calvary- that day when I finally located the grave of it’s first interment (Esther Ennis, 1848), stepped in a dead rabbit, and picked up a paranormal companion on my long walk- two things came to my notice.

The first was what I’ve been referring to for awhile as “disturbing subsidences”, which in the case of this posting, seem to have been a result of the series of those winter storm events which bedeviled New York City in January and February of 2011. On my few attempts to enter the place during this period, an untrammeled yard deep layering of snow and ice covered the ground.

The second… we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

from wikipedia

Snow remains on the ground until it melts or sublimates. Sublimation of snow directly into water vapor is most likely to occur on a dry and windy day such as when a strong downslope wind, such as a Chinook wind, exists. The water equivalent of a given amount of snow is the depth of a layer of water having the same mass and upper area. For example, if the snow covering a given area has a water equivalent of 50 centimeters (20 in), then it will melt into a pool of water 50 centimeters (20 in) deep covering the same area. This is a much more useful measurement to hydrologists than snow depth, as the density of cool freshly fallen snow widely varies. New snow commonly has a density of around 8% of water. This means that 33 centimeters (13 in) of snow melts down to 2.5 centimeters (1 in) of water. Cloud temperatures and physical processes in the cloud affect the shape of individual snow crystals. Highly branched or dendritic crystals tend to have more space between the arms of ice that form the snowflake and this snow will therefore have a lower density, often referred to as “dry” snow. Conditions that create columnar or plate-like crystals will have much less air space within the crystal and will therefore be denser and feel “wetter”.

Once the snow is on the ground, it will settle under its own weight (largely due to differential evaporation) until its density is approximately 30% of water. Increases in density above this initial compression occur primarily by melting and refreezing, caused by temperatures above freezing or by direct solar radiation. In colder climates, snow lies on the ground all winter. By late spring, snow densities typically reach a maximum of 50% of water. When the snow does not all melt in the summer it evolves into firn, where individual granules become more spherical in nature, evolving into a glacier as the ice flows downhill.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Take into account the size of this place, with vast acreages unshielded by geological feature or manmade structure (unless one considers that the entire place is a sort of construct). Next, imagine snow… a lot of snow.

With a square foot of snow estimated to weigh some 12.5 to 20 pounds (depending on density, i.e. fluffy versus wet), and calculate not just the crushing weight of this frosty load upon the ground and the graves themselves- but the actions of the tens of millions of gallons of water released into the soil during the melting process.

from wikipedia

In hydrology, snowmelt is surface runoff produced from melting snow. It can also be used to describe the period or season during which such runoff is produced. Water produced by snowmelt is an important part of the annual water cycle in many parts of the world, in some cases contributing high fractions of the annual runoff in a watershed. Predicting snowmelt runoff from a drainage basin may be a part of designing water control projects. Rapid snowmelt can cause flooding. If the snowmelt is then frozen, very dangerous conditions and accidents can occur, introducing the need for salt to melt the ice.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Understand what I’m attempting to show in these shots, which are not presented for prurient reasons.

The headstones in a cemetery almost always stand on a concrete base which acts a foundation against the shifting of soil and alleviates fears of the heavy monument falling over and shattering- perhaps even wounding a passerby like myself. In some cemeteries, where marshy conditions exist, the graves aren’t truly in the soil but are rather inside of a sort of cement or concrete vault which holds the interment in place (it also aids in not contaminating ground water) that is itself filled in with dirt. A coffin for a coffin, as it were.

The “b” sections of Calvary which are lower in elevation than the rest and lie along the Review Avenue and Laurel Hill Blvd. sides, I am told, use this sort of approach.

from wikipedia

Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock become completely saturated with water is called the water table. Groundwater is recharged from, and eventually flows to, the surface naturally; natural discharge often occurs at springs and seeps, and can form oases or wetlands. Groundwater is also often withdrawn for agricultural, municipal and industrial use by constructing and operating extraction wells. The study of the distribution and movement of groundwater is hydrogeology, also called groundwater hydrology.

Typically, groundwater is thought of as liquid water flowing through shallow aquifers, but technically it can also include soil moisture, permafrost (frozen soil), immobile water in very low permeability bedrock, and deep geothermal or oil formation water. Groundwater is hypothesized to provide lubrication that can possibly influence the movement of faults. It is likely that much of the Earth’s subsurface contains some water, which may be mixed with other fluids in some instances. Groundwater may not be confined only to the Earth. The formation of some of the landforms observed on Mars may have been influenced by groundwater. There is also evidence that liquid water may also exist in the subsurface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s interesting about these 2 images is not that the snow melt washed out a section of soil as it sought low ground. It’s that little peak of red brick and masonry in the extreme corner. It’s the first time that we’ve witnessed a part of (what I believe to be) the 1848 structural elements built into the ground poking out. Confidentiality restrains me from discussing certain reminiscences about these red bricks, and their meaning in Calvary’s original section at this point in time, but these are a very important feature. Possibly very important.

More on that in later postings, as researches into the place are going well beyond the normal scope of inquiry practiced by this, your Newtown Pentacle.

from wikipedia

Some couples or groups of people (such as a married couple or other family members) may wish to be buried in the same plot. In some cases, the coffins (or urns) may simply be buried side by side. In others, one casket may be interred above another. If this is planned for in advance, the first casket may be buried more deeply than is the usual practice so that the second casket may be placed over it without disturbing the first. In many states in Australia all graves are designated two or three depth (depending of the water table) for multiple burials, at the discretion of the burial rights holder, with each new interment atop the previous coffin separated by a thin layer of earth. As such all graves are dug to greater depth for the initial burial than the traditional six feet to facilitate this practice.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

At higher elevations in the ancient cemetery, the evidences of the “business” of the place intrude on the dispassionate and detached observer. This grave’s last interment was a mere 30 years ago, but the characteristic and familiar shape of its subsidence make it pretty clear what the rushing torrents of melting snow have caused as they filtered down through the soil. The grounds keepers of the place will add it to their labors, I’m sure, and cosmetically adjust the spot to an even grade.

Oddly, Calvary had it’s own odor this day, one which actually overwhelmed the perfumes emitted by that nearby assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

The habitation of lowlands, such as coastal or delta plains, requires drainage. The resulting aeration of the soil leads to the oxidation of its organic components, such as peat, and this decomposition process may cause significant land subsidence. This applies especially when ground water levels are periodically adapted to subsidence, in order to maintain desired unsaturated zone depths, exposing more and more peat to oxygen. In addition to this, drained soils consolidate as a result of increased effective stress. In this way, land subsidence has the potential of becoming self-perpetuating, having rates up to 5 cm/yr. Water management used to be tuned primarily to factors such as crop optimisation but, to varying extents, avoiding subsidence has come to be taken into account as well.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It wasn’t coming from this recent burial, nor from the one shown in the shots above. It was in Section 9, on top of the hill and behind the Johnston Mausoleum that it was emanated from. No photos were gathered, as it was a VERY recent burial, and it would violate Newtown Pentacle policy on this subject. Like this shot, the washout had carved a hydrologic pathway down and into the earth, cutting into the loam and descending into the vast unknown that underlies a world known only to these tomb legions. Unlike this shot, the melting water had eroded the soils covering the grave to the point… the outline of a coffin could just be traced out in the clay and sand, and… other… sensory information was also made available. The olfactory, unfortunately, was amongst them.

As the wind turned, your humble narrator shrieked in the manner of a small girl, and as I turned- the shadow which had been following me since I entered the place ducked behind the nearby Lynch Monument.

from wikipedia

Soil mechanics is a branch of engineering mechanics that describes the behavior of soils. It differs from fluid mechanics and solid mechanics in the sense that soils consist of a heterogeneous mixture of fluids (usually air and water) and particles (usually clay, silt, sand, and gravel) but soil may also contain organic solids, liquids, and gasses and other matter. Along with rock mechanics, soil mechanics provides the theoretical basis for analysis in geotechnical engineering, a subdiscipline of Civil engineering. Soil mechanics is used to analyze the deformations of and flow of fluids within natural and man-made structures that are supported on or made of soil, or structures that are buried in soils.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

I always attempt to avoid using cemetery roads, partially because the fear of automotive encounter and disastrous consequences bedevil the frequent pedestrian, but mainly because of some instinctual desire to avoid crossroads in places like this…

But I really needed to get out of here…

from wikipedia

In the folk magic of many cultures, the crossroads is a location “between the worlds” and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally “neither here nor there”, “betwixt and between”.

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3 Responses

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  1. Doodeley-do,

    This is getting exciting. Pass the popcorn.
    What’s next?


    March 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

  2. [...] prevalent at Calvary Cemetery after a severe winter, is found in the posting “of straw and willow“. This is the second, and this time the rabbit isn’t dead- just [...]

  3. [...] obstructions of Long Island City lay between myself and the East River- after having had several surprising experiences at First Calvary Cemetery. Greenpoint Avenue at Borden is where the titan architecture of the [...]

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