The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Blissville’ Category

sepulchral adorations

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Tour announcements, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On August 22nd, your humble narrator will be offering a walking tour of First Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. First Calvary was founded in 1848 by the Roman Catholic Church and is one of the most amazing spots to experience in the Borough of Queens. It sits alongside the Newtown Creek, and is hemmed in by automotive expressways.

The walking tour will meet up at the corners of Greenpoint and Review Avenues at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 22nd and will be two hours long (give or take).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The narrated walk will play out over several shallow grassy hills. If mobility is a issue for you, this might not be the tour for you, accordingly. We will enter the cemetery on the Newtown Creek side, and exit on Greenpoint Avenue nearby the Bantry Bay Public House and the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the path through First Calvary Cemetery, several noteworthy New Yorkers who are interred there will be discussed, and amongst other attractions we will visit a theoretically unique place on the Earth – the colonial era Alsop Cemetery, which is a Protestant burying ground entirely enclosed within a Roman Catholic cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary hosts multiple valleys of mausolea which are amongst the finest examples of Victorian era funerary architecture found in NYC, and certainly so in Queens. Closed toe shoes are highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol to shield you from the late August sun. Dressing appropriately for late summer weather goes without saying. Bring your camera, as this landscape is spectacular, and a visual feast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding views of the NYS DOT’s Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction project will also be experienced.

Additionally, my pal from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – and I, will be narrating on two Newtown Creek Boat tours on September 3rd for the Open House NY organization. Ticketing links for both excursions are found below.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 22nd, 2015
First Calvary Cemetery – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
click here for details and tickets.

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

ordinary interpretation

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First Calvary Cemetery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a while since a post about my favorite place in Queens has been offered at this, your Newtown Pentacle. For those of you who have recently arrived, Calvary was the official burying ground of the Roman Catholic Church  for about a century. There are four sections, which contain more than six million interments, and the oldest section (First Calvary) was consecrated in 1848 by the Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes. It adjoins the lugubrious Newtown Creek, a century of its expansion has largely consumed a 19th century community called Blissville, and it is the final resting place for mobsters, governors, and the rightful king of Ireland.

Calvary Cemetery is a movie star, having provided Hollywood with the setting for funereal scenes in multiple films. Fictional characters buried here in the movies range from Don Corleone in the Godfather to both Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey in Sony’s Spider Man franchise. Bruce Wayne’s parents are buried here as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary Cemetery is a built environment, the crown of what was once known as Laurel Hill. A broad slope rises from the former swamps found along Northern Blvd., gaining altitude and moving through what is now called Sunnyside, and cresting at the former family farm of the colonial era Alsop family. Laurel Hill’s altitude then drops precipitously to the flood plains of Newtown Creek. In the 1850’s and 60’s, Church laborers extensively remodeled Laurel Hill to fit its mission, creating a private drainage system and removing millions of tons of top soil. By the late 19th century, Calvary had become a major destination for mourners from the largely catholic population of lower Manhattan and it was served by both ferry and trolley lines. Along its borders – road houses, saloons, and hotels were found.

That is, until the age of industry really kicked into gear along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of Calvary’s neighbors was a company originally called General Chemical, but which is better known today as Phelps Dodge. General Chemical manufactured sulphuric acid (amongst other things) and Phelps Dodge, which was engaged in the copper business, acquired General Chemical at the start of the 20th century. They would use the acid produced here to free valuable metals from the ore it was laced into. General Chemical was not popular with its neighbors, due to the effluent which would drift out of its smoke stacks.

According to anecdotes from the time, coming from both Blissville and the town directly east of it – Berlin (now known as West Maspeth) – this effluent would wither gardens, ruin laundry hung out to dry, and in the case of Calvary Cemetery right next door – dissolve the tombstones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marble is particularly vulnerable to acidification, and visibly rots away when exposed to ph’s high enough to be classified thusly. Pictured today is an 1866 monument dedicated to a person named “Mary Kiernan.” This monument bears the classic “rot” and weathering exhibited by acid damaged marble. Touching the stone, you’d pull your hand away and discover a sandy grit sticking to your fingers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

General Chemical found itself in a real pickle on this issue, as “public relations” hadn’t been invented yet, and the Church was pressuring the largely Irish political establishment of Tammany Hall to do something to help them. The company’s response was to build the tallest smoke stack to be found anywhere in the United States (at the time), with the goal of keeping the noxious emanations of the plant as far away from the ground as possible. They also planted a series of vegetable gardens in Blissville and Berlin, and began inviting reporters to witness the thriving patches of cabbage growing within throwing distance of their acid factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the inscription on the Kiernan monument, and as you’ll observe, most of the fine detail in the carving has the appearance of melted ice cream. Like General Chemical, and so many other of the great corporations which once distinguished Newtown Creek – Phelps Dodge has come and gone.

Of all that was here along the Creek in the decade leading up to the Civil War, only the genuine antiquity that is  Calvary Cemetry remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the cemetery, you’ll notice statuary bearing similar damage. The main source of acidification today comes from the exhaust of automobile traffic, as it mixes with atmospheric humidity, which eats away at the stone. Calvary Cemetery is bounded by the Long Island Expressway on its northern side, and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is found less than a half mile to the east. Greenpoint Avenue, and Review Avenue are local truck routes which host extremely heavy traffic.

All told, nearly a half million vehicles a day pass by the cemetery every single day of the year, here in the Netwon Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

valiantly and victoriously

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From Blissville.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few years back, while heading towards Greenpoint from Astoria via Greenpoint Avenue, a religious parade was encountered heading for Saint Raphael’s RC Church. I couldn’t believe how amazing the Bolivian costuming was, and this was just the head of a very long and colorful snake composed of hundreds of dancing people.

As mentioned last week, I’m taking a bit of a break and there will be single shots from my archives offered all week at this, your Newtown Pentacle. 

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 30, 2015 –
The Skillman Corridor with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –  SOLD OUT
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

June 11th, 2015
MADE IN BROOKLYN Hidden Harbor Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee, click here for details and tickets.

June 20th, 2015
Kill Van Kull Walking Tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

offhand solution

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Easter, a great weekend for probable trespassing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ask any of the Urban Explorer types who have encountered your humble narrator over the years, and they’ll recount my lecture about doing things nice and legal. I still adhere to this philosophy, in general, but when I specifically request access to photograph a site – through proper channels – and my request is ignored… over and over and over… well…

What’s a boy to do? You come to Newtown Creek, and you don’t even invite me over for a coffee? Ok, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, your Union employees left the gates wide open on Easter weekend. This is kind of disturbing, but not unusual. One Christmas, some dummy left the gates to the Sunnyside Yard open and unguarded. This is the sort of thing that I know, and y’all don’t, because you live in an office and I live in the street. That’s the BQE back there, and I could have had unchallenged access to its foundations. I’m a good guy, but… what if I wasn’t?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Second, the contractor who’s doing the demo work for y’all really needs to train on addressing dust remediation, which is defined as setting up a hose and a lawn sprinkler in this sort of situation. They never do this at Brownfield sites around Newtown Creek, because they think nobody is watching, but one just needs to smell the “Breeze” to know who the demo contractor at work is.

I’ve been watching them for years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Third, It might be smart to secure spots like this one, wherein the structural integrity of a building has been compromised. Don’t worry, I didn’t enter the site, but there was no reason for me not to other than common sense. There were no safety cones, no signs proscribing proper “PPE,” and certainly no security around. I even yelled out “security” at the top of my lungs. Did y’all capture that on camera?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At your front door, I could have easily slipped inside the job site on a sunny Saturday afternoon – unchallenged. The only thing holding me back from doing so was… well… respect. I never cross a fence line, as I’m like a Vampire, and need to be invited in before I can do my work.

So, the question is this… Are you going to allow me and the readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – a chance to peer in periodically, or are we just going to play cat and mouse for the next decade? Either way, I’ll get my shots. Up to y’all.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

typical denizen

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Beneath the sodium light of a salty moon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, in 1881, the bleeding heart Russian author Dostoyevsky died from a triad of pulmonary hemorrhages. In 1913, a mysterious series of fireballs streaked across a 7,000 mile long patch of the night sky, which scientific opinion described as the break up of a previously unobserved natural Earth satellite – a tiny moon. It’s also Ash Monday, aka “Clean Monday,” which kicks off the liturgical calendar for Easter in certain variants of Christianity. Queensicans rejoice on February 9th, for on this day in 1956 – Mookie Wilson entered this world.

For me, it’s just Monday. I hate Mondays.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever it has been possible, as the weather has been decidedly antibiotic, one has engaged in the usual pursuit of hidden knowledge around the dustier sections of North Brooklyn and Western Queens. Most of the aforementioned objects of my interest have been a bit better hidden than usual, given the blanket of snow and ice which occludes the pavement. Luckily, the Real Estate Industrial Complex is at work in Greenpoint converting the toxic East River shoreline of that ancient village into a residential zone. A protective wall of condominiums will rise, ones so stout that they can protect neighborhood streets from fire and flood alike.

A few of them will be residential transformers, I imagine, able to turn into giant robots who will defend Greenpoint and Stuyvesant town against an attack. They will be known as CondoBots. That earth mover you see in the shot above? Yep, that’s a small one, and it calls itself Payloader.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The latest bit of hidden knowledge I’m working on, incidentally, is figuring out where all the hidden or filled in tributaries of Newtown Creek are or were. One branch of Maspeth Creek used to terminate at the locus of 58’s – avenue, street, road – nearby the Clinton or Goodfellas Diner. Under the Kosciuszko Bridge, on the Queens side, there was a largish tributary that flowed south out of the heights of Sunnyside, and ran between Laurel and Berlin Hills on its path to Newtown Creek. It’s “map work” and since I have zero budget for acquiring facsimiles of historical plottings, quite difficult and slow going. Headway has been made, however, and all will be revealed soon enough.

It’s all so depressing, really. Look at what happened to Dostoyevsky, who died of a bleeding heart.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

horrible swaying

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In the cold waste.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is preoccupied, driven to distraction actually, by the Big Little Mayor’s announcement yesterday that he will be using the full power of City Hall to drive the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards and the subsequent installation of a housing complex in that space which would eventually be home to some 30,000 people. It reminded me that I like “gridlock” and “divided government” as it keeps epically bad ideas like this from coming to fruition. The price of decking the yards, alone, runs into the hundreds of billions, for instance. The term “affordable” is determined using a federal formula called the “average median income” or “AMI” which will average together the income and tax data gathered within a set area and calculate what “affordable” means. This area will include the Upper East Side in Manhattan, where the Wall Street people live, which means “affordable” will translate into $50,000 or more in rent a year. The term “affordable housing” is a shell game, and the money would be better spent repairing the decaying NYCHA system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses threw his hands in the air at the idea of decking the Sunnyside Yards, saying that it was just too complicated. So did Nelson Rockefeller. A cultic group of urban planners, however, refuses to give up on the idea. Currently led by Dan Doctoroff, the right hand man of the Big Little Mayor’s analogue for Satan – Michael Bloomberg – these planners salivate at the idea of setting up an ideal community. Towers in the park, as the crypto fascist LeCorbusier would have described it. They use Starrett City as an example? Have you ever been to Starrett City? I have, and I don’t plan on going back to that impersonal collection of Soviet style apartment blocks ever again. Density is a good thing? How about we dense up the sections of Manhattan rife with four story town houses like the Upper East Side?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been wondering what my 2015 was going to hold. Now I know. For those of you reading this at your office desks on Beekman or Chambers streets, start planning on this project not being as much of a slam dunk as you thought it would be. Your worst nightmare, pissing off someone who understands the “system” but isn’t beholden to it, has happened. The Sunnyside Yards project proposal is going to be opposed, vociferously. You can’t fight City Hall? Not on City Hall’s terms you can’t, but this is going to be a street fight, and your expensive suit is going to get very dirty before I’m through. I may call Queens home, but I’m from Brooklyn, and street fights are what we know how to do.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm

heavy and reeling

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It’s all so depressing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Leaden footsteps carried me across the ice choked devastations of the Newtown Pentacle over the weekend. One desired to see his beloved Creek, after all. My destination and goal was the East River and getting the shots displayed in yesterday’s post, depicting the FDNY’s Firefighter 2 battling a blaze along the coastline of North Brooklyn, so a laconic scuttle was enacted through the cold waste. It was soon decided that the indolent life style of a home bound winter hermit has damaged my muscle tone and badly affected overall stamina. I’m all ‘effed up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It took everything I had to endure the cold, which easily penetrated through the twenty nine pounds of thermal underwears, sweaters, boots, and street cassock (a pet name for the filthy black raincoat) hanging in a sickening fashion about me, as if they weren’t present. One could barely stand at certain points, and the only thing keeping my feet moving past the once upon a time location of the venerable Penny Bridge was the fear of becoming frozen to the sidewalk were I to collapse. Sometimes, one must lean into it, embracing physiological entropy. My beloved Creek sensed my weakness and fatigue, and allowed me to enjoy the ecstasies of her gestalt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If I have a place anywhere upon the earth where a wellspring of energy might be tapped into, where the lines of lei are arranged in my favor, it’s here at Penny Bridge. Calvary, First Calvary, is across the street and my beloved Creek splashes her gelatinous analog for water upon the oil stained bulkheads about a thousand feet away. Here, in the cold waste, was nepenthe experienced. Officially, one is “back on the beat” and this – your Newtown Pentacle – is back in session. Enough of this wintry sloth, a humble narrator is tired of the boredom, and the Newtown Creek offers thrills both salacious and sublime.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 3, 2015 at 12:15 pm

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