The Newtown Pentacle

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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”.

settled shape

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

As stated in yesterday’s posting, a certain “sense of pursuit” possessed me after having visited Calvary Cemetery the other day.

A panicked perambulation, flight more than evasion, came upon me and carried your humble narrator bodily across most of western Queens for the rest of the day as attempts were made to return the rolling hillocks of Astoria. The spectral shadow which dogged my steps, whose identity is suspected, appeared shortly after one particularly gruesome moment.

I stepped in a dead rabbit.

The population of “groundling burrowers” at Calvary Cemetery has been discussed before, in this February 2010 Newtown Pentacle posting “Shoosh… Be Very Quiet… I’m hunting rabbits…

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The hydrological after effects of the recent snow cover, and its concurrent melt waters, are evidenced across the great cemetery by disturbing subsidence and in some places- wash outs. The ground itself is not altogether stable, given its level of saturation, and caution was exercised in not getting too close to older monuments and headstones for fear of toppling them from an undermined foundation.

A moment of indiscretion resulted in me planting a step right into the carcass of a groundling, however.

(these hydrological events will be discussed in a later posting)

from eho.syr.edu

Dead Animals are associated with the spread of human disease and may present a potential hazard for employees, students and visitors.

The greatest hazard related to dead animals is the potential for the indirect spread of human disease by live animal parasites (fleas and ticks). Fleas and ticks are parasites that feed, breed and live on most wild animals. Both fleas and ticks have irritating bites and can transmit disease. Risk of exposure to fleas and ticks increases when handling dead animals, because these parasites are actively seeking a live host and may be very abundant on the animal or in the immediate area. Dead animals should only be handled by appropriate Physical Plant and Housing employees.

Animal Carcass Disposal Procedures. The following procedures must be used when removing and disposing of an animal carcass:

  • At a minimum, workers must wear thick rubber gloves, a long sleeve shirt and pants, and closed toed shoes when handling dead animals.
  • Transfer small animal carcasses to doubled plastic bags using shovel or gloved hand.
  • Double bagged carcasses must be placed in an outdoor garbage dumpster.
  • Large animal carcasses, such as a deer, must be transported to a remote wood area on University property and buried three feet below ground. Only University owned pick-up trucks may be used to transport large animal carcasses.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What was odd, given the predators which overfly or cross Calvary in a quadripedal manner- and an abundant soil ecosystem whose foodstuffs are better left undescribed- was that the rabbit itself seemed to have just died on the spot and was left to decay. It “came apart” due to my accidental contact, seemed to be quite dehydrated, and was just laying out in the open.

One would expect to witness a cloud of flies, or other forms of insectivorous life at work, but it was curiously intact. Maybe the Chinese New Year figures into it somehow.

from wikipedia

The Chinese Year of the Rabbit ( 兔 ) is actually the Chinese Year of the Hare, as China has seven native species of hares and no native species of rabbits. The Chinese applied their word for hare to the first rabbits to be taken to China, and the word is now erroneously back-translated into English as rabbit. The hare is the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The Year of the Hare is associated with the earthly branch symbol 卯.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

An exquisite irony, of course, is that Calvary Cemetery is the final resting place for many Irish immigrants of the 19th century- including a large number who were members of the legendary street gang “the De’d Ráibéads” or “Dead Rabbits”. When escape from my ghostly pursuer was finally attained, and this tale was breathlessly related back at Newtown Pentacle HQ, my patient listeners thought that I had actually fallen into the grave of some 19th century Lower East Sider like Kit Burns.

from wikipedia

The Dead Rabbits were a gang in New York City in the 1850s, and originally were a part of the Roach Guards. The name has a second meaning rooted in Irish American vernacular of NYC in 1857. The word “Rabbit” is the phonetic corruption of the Irish word ráibéad, meaning “man to be feared”. “Dead” was a slang intensifier meaning “very”. Thus, a “Dead Ráibéad” means a man to be greatly feared. The gang was sometimes also known as the Black Birds.

The gang was led by Priest Valon and achieved great renown for their organization and prowess as thieves and thugs. The fighting uniform of the Roach Guards was a blue stripe on their pantaloons, while the Dead Rabbits adopted a red stripe. In riots their emblem was a dead rabbit impaled on a spike. The Rabbits and the Guards swore undying enmity and constantly fought each other at the Five Points, but in the rows with the water-front and Bowery Boys they made common cause against the enemy, as did other Five Points gangs including the Shirt Tails and Chichesters. The gang was later led by Irishman Aidan Bourke also known as “Black Dog” possibly because a ruthless nature similar to that of the ghost dog in the folklores of the Celtic and British Isles.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This rabbit’s foot seems to have brought little or no luck to it’s original owner, and little sense has ever accompanied that particular superstition as far as I’m concerned. It was while taking this shot that I suddenly became aware of a “feeling of being watched”, a well honed sense impression for those of us who wander the streets with our cameras, one which normally presages the familiar “bleep bleep” of an NYPD radio patrol car or some Private Security guard about to query “what are you doing?”. Looking around, solitude remained untrammeled, but a weird reflection behind me was observed on the corner of the lens to my glasses.

Upon spinning around, expecting to see a groundskeeper or some other visitor to the place, there was nothing and no one.

from wikipedia

A mild form of hallucination is known as a disturbance, and can occur in any of the senses above. These may be things like seeing movement in peripheral vision, or hearing faint noises and/or voices. Auditory hallucinations are very common in paranoid schizophrenia. They may be benevolent (telling the patient good things about themselves) or malicious, cursing the patient etc. Auditory hallucinations of the malicious type are frequently heard like people talking about the patient behind their back. Like auditory hallucinations, the source of their visual counterpart can also be behind the patient’s back. Their visual counterpart is the feeling of being looked-stared at, usually with malicious intent. Frequently, auditory hallucinations and their visual counterpart are experienced by the patient together.

Hypnagogic hallucinations and hypnopompic hallucinations are considered normal phenomena. Hypnagogic hallucinations can occur as one is falling asleep and hypnopompic hallucinations occur when one is waking up.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Disturbed at this point by my perception, and by the curious feeling of being watched, I nevertheless continued my “business” at Calvary. Antiquarian pursuits and historical inquiries aside, it was quite a lovely day- and the first hint of spring was in the air.

What better way to spend it than in a lovely garden cemetery?

from wikipedia

The rural cemetery or garden cemetery is a style of burial ground that uses landscaping in a park-like setting.

Landscaping and tree planting at Green-Wood Cemetery in BrooklynAs early as 1711 the architect Sir Christopher Wren had advocated the creation of burial grounds on the outskirts of town, “inclosed with a strong Brick Wall, and having a walk round, and two cross walks, decently planted with Yew-trees”[1]. By the early 19th century, with urban populations expanding, the existing churchyards were growing unhealthily overcrowded with graves stacked upon each other, or emptied and reused for newer burials. As a reaction to this, the first landscaped cemetery was opened in 1804, as the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

The garden cemetery in the USA was a development of this style. Prior to this, urban burial grounds were generally sectarian located on small plots within cities. The new design took the cemetery out of the control of the church, using an attractive park built on a grander scale, using architectural design and careful planting, inspired by the English garden movement.

first, Calvary

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

Woe to that New Yorker who achieves our common societal goal, which is being always at the head of a long queue- first in line.

There isn’t much I can tell you about Esther Ennis, an Irish immigrant, other than she was the very first person buried in Calvary Cemetery in 1848. Intonations and rumors of a broken heart followed her to the grave, which seem to allude to a love affair gone wrong and conjure lurid fantasies of the port city of New York in the 1840′s. Unfortunately, no primary sources have emerged that discuss the young (for our modern era) woman.

from bklyn-genealogy-info.com

On August 4, 1848, the new cemetery called Calvary Cemetery received its first interment, one Esther ENNIS. The purchase of this parcel of land and the acquisition over the years of over two hundred additional acres, enabled Calvary Cemetery to support the needs of most Catholics in the Archdiocese, especially in the New York City area.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Quite obviously, this isn’t the original grave marker, its style and typography betray a 20th century vintage, and your humble narrator would wager that it was carved sometime in the 1920-1970 time period based on style and material. A half remembered and impossible to locate report from some forgotten publication once revealed that an Irish organization like the Hibernians (or was it a Catholic Charity of some stripe?) made it their business to place this marker on the presumed gravesite in Section 1 in First Calvary, but it doesn’t seem to have made it online so I may not supply a link to you- lords and ladies.

Regardless, this is one of Calvary Cemetery’s proverbial “needles in a haystack locations“, and is one easily bypassed by casual visitors to the great polyandrion.

from nytimes.com, an article from 1884 about Calvary’s first grave digger, John McCann

“Thirty-six years ago yesterday the first body was interred in Calvary Cemetery,” said John McCann, gatekeeper at the main entrance to the cemetery yesterday afternoon. “Yes, Sir, I remember it well. It was the body of Esther Ennis, a handsome looking Irish girl, who …

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The Manhattan address demarcated on the stone is 139 Clinton Street, which, presuming that the addresses on Clinton Street conform to the same logic as they did in 1848, should be here.

The following is one of the stitched panorama images which always present themselves awkwardly due to their odd shape. It’s an attempt to display the absolute magnitude of this spot, and the explosive growth of Calvary Cemetery from this exact location.

a ghastly plot

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“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” is a fully annotated 68 page, full-color journey from the mouth of Newtown Creek at the East River all the way back to the heart of darkness at English Kills, with photos and text by Mitch Waxman.

Check out the preview of the book at lulu.com, which is handling printing and order fulfillment, by clicking here.

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“Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious” by Mitch Waxman- $25 plus shipping and handling, or download the ebook version for $5.99.

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