The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Calvary Cemetery

obvious empiricism

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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

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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

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

wondered whether

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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

atavistical menace

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Welcome to the darker side of the year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call it what you will. There’s Samhain, and Calan Gaeaf, and we’ve also got All Hallows’ Eve – but it’s just Halloween here at Newtown Pentacle HQ. 2013 has been a slow one for the occult and magick beat, I’m afraid. Haven’t been able to bring you much more than a few headless chickens found on the rail tracks in Maspeth, actually. It’s not that I haven’t been looking, mind you, but I just keep on finding singular shoes divorced from their mated pair. Try and convince me that there isn’t some serial killer at work behind this phenomena, I dare you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A lurking fear of mine is the sure knowledge that there are rats in the walls. Just beyond the reach of station lights, they squirm and breed and hunger. Remember last year- directly following the storm- when concerns about this rodent army leaving the flooded tunnel system to try their luck above ground, in the darkened streets of lower Manhattan, were openly debated? Who can guess all there is, that might be down there?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan terrifies. Its teeming masses yearn to breathe free, but are forced to congregate in the great human hive in the name of industry. The atmosphere hosts a thriving variety of bacterial and viral specie, which float along on gusts of contaminant laden air from host to host. Pandemic is inevitable, and it would not be the first time either. First Cholera, then Typhus, Tuberculosis, and Influenza have historically cut great swaths of the population down on this crowded island. Always there are those who cannot afford to be sick, and are forced to go about their business with the affect and manner of the walking dead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Halloween though, isn’t about some mad serial killer operating in Queens, or an army of starving rats emerging from the Subways to feast, nor some plague that renders its victims with a virulent visage reminiscent of the living dead. Instead, it’s about spectral menaces rising from graveyards to wander the land in search of living souls to take back to hell with them, silly. The Danse Macabre is underway, so watch out Newtownicans, for evil of the most vile sort is afoot.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

distant hills

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So, what were you up to a year ago?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As has been and will be repeated to you all day by everyone, today is the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy blowing in and kicking New York City’s ass, and the start of an era in which discussion of the environment became a politically expedient and quite mainstream issue. A twelve to fourteen foot high wall of water suddenly surging through the neighborhood can do that. A lot of swell planning, plotting, and intentions “to armor up” has been going on in the intervening year. Stout terms like “resiliency” and “soft edges” have been wielded by pundit and potential contractor alike, and offered to a shaken public. Whether this plan is palliative or prophylactic, only time will tell.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dozens of people have volunteered the stories of their trials that night to me over the last year, and others proudly talk about their time with Occupy Sandy and other relief efforts. The storm kicked New York City’s ass- that’s for sure- but New Yorkers are quite used to a swift kick in the butt, periodically. Personally speaking, your humble narrator counts his lucky stars that HQ was largely untouched by the storm’s deleterious effects (although, to be fair, HQ was hit by lightning the previous spring which destroyed a small fortune in electronics). We suffered no ill effect other than the difficulties encountered by Our Lady of the Pentacle in her quest to return from the west coast. Astoria, at least my part of it, was unscathed and largely open for business by the next morning.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My thoughts, however, remain centered on the sorrow of it all. Images abound- loss, and death, and fire, and storm tossed terror. Scared kids and barking dogs, firemen in boats, all that stuff. That’s the public side of it. Anecdotes and off the record statements offered to me by those who serve the public in a variety of official roles describe a city laid low and nearly sunk. For those who died during or because of this storm, and the multitudes whose lives were inextricably altered by it, condolences are offered. It is hoped that the images of Sandy, and those of Katrina, will similarly not be forgotten.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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