The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Calvary Cemetery’ Category

obvious empiricism

leave a comment »

Tomorrow – Calvary Cemetery awaits.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, I’ll be narrating (humbly) a walking tour of First Calvary Cemetery here in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. I will be at the northeast corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenues at 10:30 a.m. As long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, will tell you – I have a special love for Calvary.

It’s the largest chunk of “green infrastructure” found along the Newtown Creek as well as serving as the final resting place of literally millions of Roman Catholic New Yorkers. It’s part of the firmament of LIC, and a significant touchstone for the history of 19th century NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Expect to encounter unexpected life forms in Calvary. The cemetery lies along the migration routes of several bird species, and I’ve spotted everything from Canada Geese to Great Blue Herons and Red Tail Hawks there. On, and in, the ground there’s a plethora of critters – such as the small rabbits which the Irish of the 19th century would have referred to as “Coney’s.” No guarantee on what we will spot, but there’ll be something interesting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sculptural monuments are found everywhere in First Calvary, from thirty foot high obelisks to enormous mausolea. We will be visiting the final resting place of Governors, Senators, even the tomb of the original gangster himself – Joseph Masseria. The rightful King of Ireland is buried in Calvary, along with members of Corcoran’s Legion – the Fighting 69th. For NYC history fans, and tapophiles – this place is a smorgasbord of interest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walking tour will be roughly two hours long, and will range over several shallow hills which host a natural grass surface. A hat or parasol is highly recommended to shield yourself from the sun. The walk is not difficult, but if you suffer from mobility issues – this likely is not the tour for you. Surrounding Calvary Cemetery are the concrete devastations of Western Queens – and the heavy industrial zone which forms the northern shoreline of the Newtown Creek. We will have a unrivalled view of the ongoing Kosciuszko Bridge construction project, btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bring your camera along, as Calvary Cemetery is a jewel. The Manhattan skyline is omnipresent, providing for impossibly candid views of an area stretching from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Queensboro. During the era of the so called “Gangs of New York” there was a saying which went “All roads lead to Calvary” and the cemetery was once a major destination for the Catholic masses of tenement Manhattan. Surrounding the great burying ground were saloons and road houses that serviced mourners. After the tour concludes, we will be visiting the last of these road houses (bar and food not included in ticket price, btw, just a post tour hang out). 

One other thing to mention, obviously, is that if there’s a funeral underway we are going to steer clear of it out of respect and deference for the mourners.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walk ups are always welcome, for those of you uncomfortable with online ticketing, and the cost of the tour is $25 per head. For those of you who are comfortable with such online things, the link found below will take you to a credit card processing page. As a note, I couldn’t make the “ships within two weeks” line go away on the cc processing page, which a couple of people mentioned as being confusing. Nothing will be shipped to you, but you will receive an email receipt and your name will appear on the check in list I’ll be using “day of.”

Hope to see you tomorrow morning, at the corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenue, at 11 a.m.

“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.

sepulchral adorations

with 9 comments

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

with 5 comments

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

formulated conceptions

leave a comment »

Odds and ends, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Northern Blvd., at the border of Sunnyside and Astoria, this tome was observed the other day. Apparently, one of our homeless brethren was reading up on the organizational structure of government during the English colonial period. I approve of such studious activity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shortly after Easter, one was wandering the fence lines of area cemeteries searching for occult artifacts. Finding myself in Woodside, the gates of 2nd Calvary beckoned, but I was there too late and the polyandrion had already closed for the day. The structure at the top of the shot is the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last weekend, on Northern Blvd. at the border of Woodside, more evidence of the single shoe phenomena. The Queens Cobbler strikes again? Remember, when transversing the Borough of Queens – look up, down, and all around. You never can tell what Queens will be trying to show you.

Also, today is the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – by an actor – although the President actually died on the 15th. Lincoln had premonitions about his death, having dreamt about it.

“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 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

horrible swaying

with 8 comments

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

with 2 comments

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

wondered whether

leave a comment »

My Bubbe would have described the first shot as “Yoyzel on de cross.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a Jewish family, “Bubbe” is Grandma, and let me tell you this – Sarah would not have liked me even taking pictures of a crucifix, let alone hearing about me wandering through First Calvary cemetery on a regular basis. She was not a big fan of Halloween either, preferring to see the masks and costumes come out for Purim instead. Hailing from the Pale, and having lived through late 19th and early 20th century Pogroms (and other indignities) inflicted upon her rural community by the Cossacks, my Grandmother was particularly suspicious of the Goyem. She instructed that one should dwell with their own kind, because at least then “you’d see it coming when somebody had it in for you.” You have to cut the old lady some slack though, she saw her younger brother’s head chopped off by the Cossacks, who played a drunken match of polo with it afterwards. For Bubbe Sarah, the word “Russian” was a synonym for “rapist.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While reminiscing about transmitted generational prejudices and familial lore, one happened to notice this odd scene at the monument to Sarah Bell and the Kelly family. A doll lay upon the loam, in a position which would be familiar to crime scene investigators. No investigation of the Bells or Kelly’s has been undertaken, but one suspects that their sentiments about the English were probably quite similar to my Bubbe’s feelings about the Russians. It amazes me to this day how much effort, finance, and political capital these two empires expended in the name of oppressing and exploiting rural peoples – the Irish and the Jews of the Pale – over the centuries. The same goes for the United States, incidentally. How much has our government spent over the centuries suppressing – not just the aspirations of negroes and native Americans – but a vast rainbow of minority opinions?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’m in the “if it doesn’t affect me, why should I care what you do” camp, and that’s the end of my progressive neo prudentialist liberal politics for the day. Bubbe would have been beside herself at the idea that some child had lost her dolly, however. She would have used the astoundingly forceful personality for which she was famed, during her “shtetl” and Lower East Side garment worker days, to compel me to stand out in the middle of Greenpoint Avenue and ask every passing motorist if their child had lost their toy until it got dark. The old lady was tougher than leather, but had a big heart, which bled for everybody that told her a sad story. She also made one hell of a pot of chicken soup, which is dearly missed by one such as myself in the autumn.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, November 8th, Poison Cauldron
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Note: This is the last Newtown Creek walking tour of 2014, and probably the last time this tour will be presented in its current form due to the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project. 

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,122 other followers

%d bloggers like this: