The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘cemetery

idle curiosity

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In today’s post- The New York Marble Cemetery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

If your view of second avenue in Manhattan’s East Village looks like what you see in the shot above, there’s only one place you can possibly be.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

You would be standing on the other side of these gates, found at the end of an alley, and within a walled off corridor which was established in 1831- the same year that the French Foreign Legion first deployed and Charles Darwin left England for the Galapagos onboard the Beagle.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the perks of working with Atlas Obscura is that I can sometimes insert myself into somebody else’s adventure, and in this case, it was Allison Meier’s walking tour excursion to the New York Marble Cemetery at 41 1/2 Second Avenue. She graciously allowed me to attend her sold out tour.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out this page, which I think Allison wrote- at the Atlas Obscura- for the full history of the place (there’s no point in me paraphrasing it). The tombs are all underground, with the grave markers arranged on the walls in the form of stone plaques. The surrounding neighborhood has literally risen around the place, with every building style from 19th century tenement to ultra modern luxury hotel represented around it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The president of the cemetery association was there to talk to the attendees, and she described the walls as being quite fragile and in bad condition. Nearly two hundred years of New York air, and vibration, have taken their toll on mortar laid down just ten years before Mary Rogers “the beautiful cigar girl” was found in a trunk floating along on the Hudson- sparking the interest of none other than Edgar Allen Poe.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the plaque denoting the tomb of Uriah Scribner, father of the eponymous founder of the publishing house “Charles Scribner’s Sons.” Uriah died in 1853.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

1830’s New York City is literally the stuff of legend.

It’s Poe’s town, as well as the NYC that Herman Melville and Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant knew, a city which had less than a quarter million inhabitants. What we call the lower east side was farmland back then, and the center of town was down near the Battery.

The river fronts were described as a “forest of masts” for all the merchant trading vessels found docked there.

Check out the New York Marble Cemetery here.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron- Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull- Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley- Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

shocking raptures

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As longtime readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, realize- your humble narrator spends a lot of time wandering around cemeteries. Seldom am I in such a place to attend a service, but in the case of today’s posting, one found himself deep in Nassau County for a family funeral. While waiting for the services to start, however, my interest was taken by an assortment of bird houses installed upon a tree.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Cemeteries, especially the large estates like Calvary or in this case – New Montefiore in Farmingdale- perform the unintended task of serving as bird sanctuaries. To avian eyes, the grassy plain of sorrow is a welcome meadow. These bird houses, however, filled me with some nameless dread.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Strictly utilitarian, these tiny structures were obvious downtime projects of some idle groundskeeper. Simple in design and rustic in execution, there was nevertheless something “creepy” about them that caused me to reach for my camera and record their presence.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it was a desire to separate myself from grieving relatives, or some notion that I should make productive use of the day. Can’t say, as I’m all ‘effed up, and the motivations which drive me are quite byzantine. It was an uncle who died, btw, who lived a long and healthy life and passed at an astounding 97 years of age. He was quite mobile up until the end, independent of nurses and aides and in full possession of his faculties.

As my relatives would say: “We should all be so lucky.”

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 18, 2013 at 12:15 am

sepulchral resonances

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned earlier this week, a recent rip to St. Michael’s cemetery was accomplished on a lovely autumnal afternoon. Affinity for morbid settings notwithstanding, area cemeteries provide one with a peaceful and introspective interlude, free of the nonstop noise which typifies an existence in western Queens. Back home in Astoria, a never ending series of auditory distractions roll past beneath my windows and often elucidated is a desire for a few minutes of quiet. The well tailored grounds and open sight lines of the graveyard serve this purpose, and I was quite alone on this particular day, except for a rough looking trio who were celebrating a cannabis charged tribute to some departed compatriot.

from stmichaelscemetery.com

The original property for St. Michael’s Cemetery was purchased in 1852 by the Rev. Thomas McClure Peters and occupied seven acres. Over the years St. Michael’s gradually acquired additional land to its present size of approximately eighty-eight acres. Because it was Dr. Peters’ intention to provide a final dignified resting place for the poor who could not otherwise afford it, areas within the cemetery were assigned to other free churches and institutions of New York City. These areas are still held for the institutions they were assigned.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

While wandering about, I noticed this magnificent sepulchral portrait attached to a small monument. A once common practice, attaching a photographic portrait of the departed to their monument was accomplished by transferring the image to a ceramic matrix. Modern day mourners seem to be reviving the practice, although modern digital printing techniques involving the four color printing process and laser etching of the monument itself seem to be the preferred fashions. It offends some, referring to such practice as fashion- but if you spend as much time in cemeteries as I do- you discern certain typographic, linguistic, and symbolic patterns which seem to go in and out of vogue. For example- Obelisks, mausolea, usage of footstones or curbs, foliated columns, portraits etc.

The particular sepulchral portrait depicted in these shots is of Maria Concetta Niosi in life. 27 years old, she died on the 1st of April in 1919.

from thehistorychannelclub.com

In 1854 two French inventors patented a method for fixing a photographic image on enamel or porcelain by firing it in a kiln. These “enamels” were used for home viewing well into the 20th century, when the more convenient paper photos replaced them. The custom of attaching ceramic photos to tombstones spread throughout Southern and Eastern Europe and Latin America. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian and Jewish immigrants brought this practice to the United States. “Ceramic photo portraits . . . represent the first period in the history of gravestone manufacture in the United States when intense personalization became available—and affordable—on a large-scale basis,” says Richard E. Meyer, a professor at Western Oregon State College who has studied American cemeteries for more than 25 years. During the first decade of the 1900s, Sears-Roebuck advertised: “Imperishable Limoges porcelain portraits preserve the features of the deceased . . .” At “$11.20 for a photograph set in marble, $15.75 for one set in granite,” these portraits “competed with the cost of many burial plots.”

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Evidence of her life in the United States is scant, and although I have managed to find two people with similar names who appeared at the Ellis Island immigration facility- neither seems to fit the bill as being this individual. Perhaps Niosi was a married or assumed name she gained after immigration, or perhaps she came to the United States via Baltimore or Boston (with NY, all three were common ports of entry for the Italians).What struck me, other than the haunting image of a clearly formidable woman, was the pure physical size of this portrait. Normally, a sepulchral portrait is of a small oval or round shape and seldom larger than a modern 4×6 inch photographic print. The Niosi plaque was large, the size of a sheet of common day letter sized paper. This would have cost a small fortune in 1919, several times the price of the actual grave, and yet it was attached to this meager and barely noticeable stone marker.

Who was this woman?

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2012 at 12:15 am

embowered banks

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Walking through Calvary Cemetery recently, directly following the so called Hunters Moon recently enjoyed by all, your humble narrator decided to check in on “The Tree fed by a Morbid Nutrition” which has been observed as the site of occult activity in the recent past. The postings “Triskadekaphobic Paranoia” and “Update on the Calvary Knots” discussed the tree and its locale in some detail. It’s a lonely spot at a high elevation, a lost corner in the emerald devastations of Calvary.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The four paper bags were artfully concealed, and neatly arranged. It was only while walking a widdershin circumnavigation of the loathsome arbor that they were noticed. The path taken by most is alien to one such as myself, and long experience suggests that it is often profitable to investigate the hidden. Accordingly, a pocket tool was employed and one of the little sacks was inspected.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The jingle of coins was detected, although not visually observed. Magickal practice often involves direct involvement with bodily fluids and other esoteric compounds- some pharmacological in nature and possibly psychoactive- and it is best to not touch such artifacts with bare skin. Additionally, for those of you who subscribe to a supranormal world view which includes the presence of invisible intelligences and intangible entities possessed of power beyond human imagination, there are other possible exposures which might emanate from violating a ritual altar.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The package included some sort of vegetable or fruit, which had an incision midway through its ovum. Normally, it would be time for one to speculate on either the magickal or occult philosophy represented by this peasant altar, but frankly- leaving four sacks of incised vegetative matter and coinage in a deserted cemetery altar is one thing which I do not wish to speculate upon. A growing sense of dread and paranoid wonderings began to envelop me and I decided to just leave this thing to itself. In Calvary Cemetery, and all burial grounds, one hopes to leave naught but a single set of footprints behind, and carry nothing but photographs back out through the stout iron gates.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The (possible) Witch Knots were still in place on neighboring monuments, it should be mentioned.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 11, 2012 at 12:15 am

monotonous whine

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Polyandrion, Calvary Cemetery welcomes, and all roads lead here. After vainglorious attempts at normalcy, laced with some latent desire to fit into society at large, your humble narrator returns at last to a true place. There is no facade here, in this latent psychic cauldron of thwarted ambition and manifest hubris. There are only the tomb legions, and the groundling burrowers, and an odd man in a shabby black raincoat wandering a hill once called Laurel.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Neglectful, a joyless and pitiless avatar of failed ambition has been ignoring this place for too long, occupied as it were with politicking and social engagement. A long season which has exposed many to my vast inadequacy during multitudinous tours and meetings is nearly at an end. To be seen by so many diminishes me, and frequent company on my walks obfuscates recognition of those patterns and curious relics of earlier times hidden in plain by torch bearing Dutchmen and buckskin clad Aborigines alike.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last several months, Calvary has been a place passed by, often gazed upon with the sort of fondness reserved for a matron aunt or an overlooked friendship. No longer is this the case, recent sojourns have proven both productive and fascinating journeys- or perhaps it is merely the season of the year? Queens is speaking to me again, and for the first time in months, intelligibly.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Oddly, the ever present headphones worn while walking this path- literally as these shots were being captured- began playing Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries”. As this is a random classical piece, lost amongst the hundreds of hardcore punk and death metal songs contained in the same playlist. One considers this to be significant somehow, but often, small things seem important while wandering through the marble heart of the Newtown Pentacle.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

something alarming

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Another one of the little mottoes which one such as myself offers “it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is”. Time spent wandering around the vast human hive, with it’s teeming multitudes and aspirants, has taught me that it makes little sense to adjudicate the values of others. That being said, whilst on a pastoral stroll across the rolling landscape of Calvary Cemetery, your humble narrator found himself in Section Five.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the shot I was seeking, the ennobled Kosciuszko Bridge, as seen from the vantage of Review Avenue and Laurel Hill Blvd. and from atop the high walls of Calvary. Coming to this spot, one noticed something odd- out of place- nearby.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon the ground was some sort of fruiting vine, set behind a small line of high grass and small shrubs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Struck by the ideation that some accidental seeding might have taken place, unnoticed by the grounds crew, I looked around a bit.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s when I discovered that somebody had planted a little garden, here in an ancient cemetery.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Nearby, there were grapes growing as well.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It’s also the sort of thing which really makes one question his own sanity, and thank all that’s holy that I’m able to photograph this as it is exactly the sort of story no one would believe. Tangential thoughts occur- speculations on the morbid nutrition enjoyed by these plants, suppositions about the water table they drink from (which is VERY much Newtown Creek), and other pleasant notions torment and tantalize. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is…

of straw and willow

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- 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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