The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘cemetery

intoning endless

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A dream to some, a nightmare to others.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered at an Atlas Obscura event in Green Wood Cemetery last weekend, which was a soirée of sorts. Cocktails in the Catacombs is how it was described, and an eager band of explorers responded. Your humble narrator wormed his way into the event, but did not partake or partay, I was too busy working. “How often do you get to photograph a cemetery in total darkness?”, after all. You’ll notice a crude bit of lighting in the shots above and below, which was barely visible during the image capture. A battery operated LED flashlight, if you must know.

It was late evening when I was shooting, the event started at ten and I left the cemetery for Astoria about one in the morning. These photos are long exposure, and tripod shots. To the human eye, there was naught but darkness framed against a brooding sky. Leaving the shutter open for 20-30 seconds at a pop, one can gather a range of color and tone which would otherwise be imperceptible. The small LED flashlight becomes a flood light in such circumstance.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing was that although you know that you’re “safe as houses,” the fact remains that you are standing in near total darkness in a cemetery and the slightest sound – a tree branch falling, for instance- is enough to trigger an irrational flight or fight response. Fear is so much fun, isn’t it?

The imagined stuff, I mean, not the sort that accompanies bad news from doctors or accountants, or lawyers, or the kind of existential angst that arises when you encounter drunk cops or pistol wielding teenagers.

Personally, my days are usually filled with horror of one stripe or another – although more often than not it’s of the “kafkaesque” type – and the wild hallucinations experienced during those daily intervals of fevered unconsciousness – that some may call “sleep” – consume a third of my life and they both terrify and inform.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A recently recurring hallucination of the nocturne has been a scenario in which your humble narrator is sitting at his desk and working, with Zuzu the dog lying at my feet. There’s a white flash, and suddenly everything is darkness and pain. Limbs are pinned by some unknowable weight, and there is a smell of copper as something begins dripping onto my face, and a certainty that one is completely helpless is realized. There is also pain, unknowable pain. Unable to wipe this unknown drip away from my eyes, immobilized in total darkness, a bit of light becomes visible and seems to be some distance away but it illuminates my situation. Surrounded by bloody concrete and rebar, the light grows brighter and begins to assume a hue as it intensifies. Orange yellow and growing brighter, the light illuminates clouds of dust which are picking up on an air current beginning to sweep through mounds of broken masonry and shattered bricks, as the ambient temperature begins to rise. The smell of cooking meat greets. My eyes begin to blister, and all vision perishes in fire just as the…

That’s when I wake up. At least this has replaced an older nightmare – one where I fall into an industrial carpet loom and am torn apart by clock works and bobbins of spinning yarn.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s also a series of “consigned to suffer” and “torn apart by sharks” ones, and a fantastic internal narrative that involves a rapid onset of Leprosy that completely disincorporates a humble narrator in the interval which it takes the R train to reach Manhattan’s 59th and Lex from the Steinway Street stop in Queens has emerged recently. When the Subway doors open in the city, my mortal remains gush out onto the tracks unnoticed. The last thing witnessed before waking, in this fantastic example of Freudian angst about Ebola, is a herd of rats licking up the crimson juice which once called itself a humble narrator.

“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 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm

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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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…

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