The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Up and Through Calvary

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We’ve circled and stalked the place from the street, when we “Walked Widdershins to Calvary“. In the first full posting on Calvary, we walked from Laurel Hill Blvd. into the Necropolis of New York City and up Laurel Hill to its apex, overlooking the despoiled splendors of the Newtown Creek.

Today, we’re going to just wander around for a while and explore, and I finally unshackle a few observations about one of the three subjects you shouldn’t talk about in a NYC bar.

Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Addled as we are by the manipulations of the political class during the 20th century, with its “ism’s” and “movements“, Newtownicans have lost sight of the fact that the Newtown Creek was the center of the world for those who dwelt here in the 19th century. Before the American Civil War, the banks of the Newtown Creek were lined with homes built to the highest aesthetic standard, and peppered with grand hotels which catered to the sportsman and recreational fisherman. It was into this pastoral wildrness that the Calvary Cemetery was embedded in 1848, and which it sought to blend into with its fine arboreal stock and tasteful mastery of the art of landscaping.

It seems odd to us- sitting in our comfortable climate controlled and fully electrified homes and offices, to put a cemetery like this- with its ornate stonework and elaborate masonry, so close to the polluted industrial zones of the nearby Newtown Creek. Calvary spreads atavistically across a deserted and blasted landscape in our 21st century, surrounded by the trampled nest and discarded remnants of the industrial revolution.

Old Calvary, memorial day 2009 by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My long walks around the Newtown Pentacle have often carried me through this curious place. A saturnine break from the monotony of gated industrial sites and their rusted wonders, the art of Calvary’s groundskeepers and architects is sublime to behold.

Fashionable to their particular time period and era, the wholesome multitudes of gravestones congregated here represent a century of New York’s aspirations. The early stones are humble in aspect, their faces displaying eroded and flaking cursive typography, and use a variegated stock of geologic sources for their composition- some are simple concrete. Their legends mention familial relations, and often the name of the bereaved or society which erected the monument to the fallen is included as a postscript.

from a graveyard by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the years progress, marble standardizes and Calvary’s hillocks gain an elaborate posture. The sculptural shaping and calligraphic quality of these stones is remarkable. Designed in a manner reminiscent of the early days of newspaper advertising, the creeds these reconstruction era markers bear boast of affiliations with immigrant societies– often mentioning their old address in Europe (County Cork, Sicily, etc.). The glittering polish of the approaching 20th century is accompanied by the appearance of a sort of resume on the stones, discussing achievements of the deceased in the newly quantized “professions” of law, or business, or medicine. 20th century mass production dominates near the edges of the property, and the familiar block printing and glittering finishes of a modern graveyard appear on the tomb markers.

Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As had been the case with the dynamic weather of the summer of 2009, in which New York was under the daily threat of violent thunderstorms, the sky was growing dark. In the distance, thunder rumbled loudly enough that I heard it through my ever present headphones and managed to somehow overpower the driving beat of the Mountain Goats song I was playing at the time. While taking this photo, I almost stumbled into a sinkhole- undoubtedly produced by the recent wet weather, nearly twenty inches across. Looking into the hole (sorry, my flash just couldn’t do the job) I could not see its bottom. Molehills, I thought.

Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I am, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, an inferior specimen and great physical coward- prone to metabolic manifestations of my inner timidity. Shaken by the ramifications of what would have happened if I’d stepped directly into that chasm, I instinctively started moving toward the safety of pavement. In this moment of self loathing and personal recrimination, I wandered past the Soldiers memorial, where the 21 noble dead have rested in centuried oblivion since 1866. 

from nycgovparks.org

This park, in a triangle formed by First Calvary, Green Avenue, and Gale Street within Calvary Cemetery, has roots in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan. In 1817, the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (now called Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral) on Mott Street realized that their original cemetery on Mulberry Street was almost full. They drew up a charter for a burial ground in Queens, and on October 29, 1845, the Trustees bought 71 acres of land from John McMenoy and John McNolte. They named the cemetery after Mount Calvary, where Jesus Christ was crucified according to the New Testament. The first burial in Calvary Cemetery took place on July 31, 1848. Since then, the Roman Catholic cemetery, which now comprises Old Calvary Cemetery and New Calvary Cemetery, has expanded to 365 acres, and is the largest cemetery in the United States.

On April 28, 1863, the City of New York purchased the land for this park from the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and granted Parks jurisdiction over it. The land transaction charter stated that Parks would use the land as a burial ground for soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War (1861-65) and died in New York hospitals. Parks is responsible for the maintenance of the Civil War monument, the statuary, and the surrounding vegetation. Twenty-one Roman Catholic Civil War Union soldiers are buried here. The last burial took place in 1909.

This park is one of many public parks that serve as burial grounds. There are burial sites in Fort Greene Park (the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument) and Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, and in Drake Park, Pelham Bay Park, and Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx. Other parks throughout the city were once potter’s fields which had no grave markers. Washington Square, Union Square, Madison Square, and James J. Walker Parks in Manhattan and Wayanda Park in Queens were all cemeteries for paupers and drifters.

The monument features bronze sculptures by Daniel Draddy, fabricated by Maurice J. Power, and was dedicated in 1866. Mayor John T. Hoffman (1866-68) and the Board of Aldermen donated it to the City of New York. The 50-foot granite obelisk, which stands on a 40 x 40 foot plot, originally had a cannon at each corner, and a bronze eagle once perched on a granite pedestal at each corner of the plot. The column is surmounted by a bronze figure representing peace. Four life-size figures of Civil War soldiers stand on the pedestals. In 1929, for $13,950, the monument was given a new fence, and its bronze and granite details replaced or restored. The granite column is decorated with bronze garlands and ornamental flags.

Cavalry Cemetery, civil war monument by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Daniel Draddy was an irish speaker from County Cork, and the son of John Draddy- a stonecarver and prolific author in the Irish language who hailed from a family on Quaker Road. In context, they came from what modernity would describe as “an oppressed religious underclass involved in an ethnic and cultural war with an aggressive and powerful neighbor willing and and able to actively engage in state sponsored genocide and ethnic cleansing but which they would have called the Irish Potato Famine.

Daniel maintained his marble studios on 23rd street in Manhattan, near the east river. Known as a cultured and gracious host, he was beloved by the Tammany men. Contemporaries describe him as a first class carver, mechanic, historian, and he had the ability to write in the Irish language “druidically”.

Resemblance of the monuments to the tombs of ancient Egypt is no accident. The men who built this were Free and Accepted Masons.

This is masonic iconography, with its obelisk splitting the solar wisdom into the four cardinal directions and the four deities of the spaces found between standing watch at intersecting 45 degree vectors. Such falderol was quite in vogue after the Civil War, look at the Capitol Dome or Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. for similar thematic elements.

Don’t forget- Draddy was a stonecutter, from a family of stonecutters. That made him a Free and Accepted Mason, who’s existential threat was the subject of much Catholic liturgy. The Masons, especially after their successes in the Lowlands and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, were considered a dangerous fifth column in the power structure of Europe. In the United States, the origins of the mythology surrounding them was beginning to form. In the 19th century men like Draddy would have been considered as subscribing to an “ism”, and its odd to find such iconography in a Catholic cemetery. The Church bore a special antipathy toward the Masons in this period of time, and even today they officially shun members.

Cavalry Cemetery, civil war monument by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As with all designs that use esoteric 19th century schoolboy philosophies as their jumping off point, one must consider the numerical and iconic minutiae of the structure. The 40×40 yard plot- the 50 foot obelisk- these numbers and their factored multiplexes represent a hidden numerical code that initiates would find significant. Often, these numbers will refer back to a holy book or a date assigned to the matyrdom of a saint. Have no doubt that this was thought out and discussed by the designers and builders.

This is another difference between the generations that lie embraced in the earth here- and ourselves- what they built was often shaped by symbolism, we build for utilitarian usage.

They had magick as a part of their lives, whether it took the form of spiritualism, adherence to superstitious custom, or the mad passion of 19th century mass religion. In the 21st century- all we’re meant to have is a sense of hard reality, and our sacred sphere is a profanity, an understudy wearing the costume of a Maestro.

Old Calvary, Memorial Day 2009 longshot by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The power of religion in the 19th century (and to a certain extent 20th, but not after the great depression) foment of immigrant New York City is impossible for us to conceive of today. The churches were part of “the system”. When you got off the boat and arrived in Manhattan, the first place you headed to was the congregation established by people from your region of origin. There, you would be inculcated into surviving the stinging whips of unregulated predatory capitalism which America (Chicago, and especially Manhattan) had so recently innovated. Many of these people had been recruited by agents of factory owners who traveled the back roads of Europe, whose pitch was the original  “streets are paved with gold” story. Trapped by circumstance and poverty, the only break allowed by the bosses from the satanic schedules of mill work common to this period- called the industrial revolution- was obeyance to god. And the only place for “the deserving poor” to be buried for free- when this world eventually killed them, was in Calvary at the discretion of their local priest. 

The priests of the time were not the isolated and dry cleaned empty cassocks seen scurrying around modern temples, shuttling into late model cars and thinking of their devotions as a career choice. These were brawlers from the working class, iron men (and women, of course) who had experienced the worst that this hostile environment could offer. When they talked, gangsters and cops listened. The churches one can find here in the Newtown Pentacle (Greenpoint especially) speak of the size and devotion of their congregations to the cause. Population numbers from the time are inaccurate at best, but there were a lot more people living in the very same rooms that we moderns now occupy. It was common to have 8-10 people living together in a what was called 1 bedroom tenement flat back then, but which is now a condo.

These were priests who could inspire men to build a Calvary Cemetery.

Cavalry Cemetery, Johnston Mausoleum by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These priests, the sort who produced Babe Ruth and Al Capone, could inspire men like the Johnston Brothers of Manhattan to build this mausoleum. In its decrepid state, colored by automobile exhaust and its delicate stained glass twisted and torn, only hints at its former glories can be discerned. 

The Johnston Brothers were the proprietors of the J. & C. Johnston company, located ultimately at the corner of Broadway and 22nd street in Manhattan. They sold lady’s novelties, ribbons, parasols and other fripperies from their prestigious “ladies mile” location. Lady’s Mile was anchored on the busy industrial side by Union Square and Tammany Hall, and on the swank side by 23rd street with its new “department stores”. Theodore Roosevelt was born in the family home a few blocks away, and the prestigious townhouses that still line the surrounding area speak to the former exclusivity of the neighborhood.

There were three brothers- John, Robert, and Charles. Charles died in 1864, John in 1887 (possibly of a suicide). Robert, reknowned as an unlettered yet expert scholar in the fields of literature, mathematics and history, was so consumed by grief and longing for his siblings that he lost the family business in 1888, and then retired to a country house at Mount St. Vincent on the Hudson (near a convent). During a later foreclosure on his property- which he had financially mismanaged due to his grief, a fire broke out and nearly claimed Roberts life. In the end, he was found dying of pnemonia and suffering from madness by groundskeepers in a barn on the property.

Once more, a member of our Flickr group, sorabji, is the acknowledged Pentacle authority on this place. Check it out.

Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like other industrialists, the Johnstons often reached out to their contacts in their country of origin to recruit trustworthy laborers. Robert’s name appears as principal donor to the The Fermangh Relief society, offering to aid those deserving persons in destitute circumstance with the costs of emigration and freedom from the terror of landlords. The Johnstons were also Tammany men

Like a stalking horse, magickal themes and ideas which were common notions at the time- like our “keeping it real” or “karma” memes are today- emerge. This kind of wholescale rending of the substance of your life was considered an appropriate response to death by the culture back then. When my grandfather died, my dad ripped his shirt in half- symbolically. When my dad died, I kissed him on the head. Think of all those old ladies in Brooklyn who have been wearing black for 40 years- they’re the last vestige of this supernatural cultural worldview that was so brutally crushed by “the -ism’s” in the 20th century. What would be considered a psychotic breakdown by our empiricist eyes- a medical event which could be managed and nursed delicately back to health- the Newtownicans of the late 19th and early 20th century saw as a metaphysical consequence of guilt and punishment. But- life in their time was not as it is now, despite superficial commonalities and vestigial building stock- these people were ruled by deep passions and motivations that modern cultures negate and control with psychoanalytic insight.

I won’t dare to question grave rituals, which I define as “deep down monkey stuff”. Like Patti Smith, I believe everything and everyplace is holy, especially the place between my ears- but that’s me- I’m all effed up- I hang around in graveyards, after all. I think elaborate sites like Calvary are very good news for 22nd century archaeologists, though.

Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First, there was no electricity. Water came into the house in buckets carried up dark stairwells into smoky crowded rooms lit by candle. A single stove cooked whatever poor food was available, and provided meager heating. You defecated in a bucket and left the nightsoil in the alley for collection, or you just poured it out a window. Coal was expensive, its price controlled by mobsters and railroad chiefs, so you wore multiple layers of clothing all the time. Children slept in doorways and under wagons, their parents unknown. Work was hard to get, controlled by the Tammany men. Fraternal societies and lodges offered political affiliations and entry to the workforce.

The collected night soil was shipped to Newtown Creek’s offal docks. One of our first posts was on this topic, click here for “the Night soil and offal docks, and Jell-O“.

Ethnicity was what mattered to the politicians, who would lure their kin into great concentrations in certain districts to solidify their power. Other Tammany men would open factories and mills in these wards, employing the entire community as in the manner of a sharecropper and his serfs. These were the early stages of the process that gave New York’s neighborhoods their ethnic character, and which has evolved considerably since. Men didn’t drink back then, they just got drunk.

The most conspicuous modern examples of this “ethnic character” (which are stereotypes, I know, but are commonly referred to and repeated by area residents) would be Greek Astoria, Irish Woodside, Mexican Corona, Desi Jackson Heights, Russian Brighton Beach, and East Asian Flushing- but the circumstance and stories of these communities are considerably less brutal than the experiences of Irish, Italian, Pole, German, Negro, and Jewish Newtownicans in the 19th century. 

g10_img_5304_lic_oldcav.jpg by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first of the “ism’s” was progressivism, which believed that “the system” was broken as it was, but could be fine tuned via a more equanimously slanted division of the profits derived by labor. By enacting standards for industry to follow, and rules for worker safety and compensation, as well as the right to bargain collectively with the industrialists as part of a trade union, this fine balance could be found.

The progressives won many victories which are part of the american worker’s birthright today – adoption of the English or 8 hour day, meal breaks, coffee and bathroom breaks, medical insurance for injuries on the job, unemployment insurance, and they put child labor to an end. The people buried here are the battle hardened combatants, both bosses and workers, of a dynamic period in American politics that set the stage for a military and political collossus to emerge in the mid 20th century.

Simplistic modern jargon for this sort of political philosophy is “socialism”, which is a term which would have a great future in the 20th century. 

from a graveyard 2 by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Still shaken by my near misstep into the sinkhole, I took to the paved road and was gratified to see St. Rafael’s loom large in an innocuously clear blue sky. However, the sounds of thunder, and an ever present and growing breeze were coming from the northwest. My attentions were drawn to  the direction of the open ocean, where the storm was approaching from. I wondered, had I looked too closely at this place and stayed too long?

I headed for the Greenpoint avenue gates with all haste, knowing that I had a maximum of 30 minutes before I would be forced to find shelter in this verdant graveyard against the approaching storm. As I was the only person visible at the time in all of Calvary, and possessed of unnaturally bad luck- I figured lightning would hit me- so I quickened my pace to a dog trot and headed for the streets of Queens.

Cemetery Statuary 02, Mt Cavalry by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I hurried along my way through the enormity of Calvary, my mind was racing with endless speculations about the place, and all the crazy yarns and apocryphal stories I’ve been told about it.

Just so there’s no mistake- these are STORIES I’VE BEEN TOLD AND THINGS I’VE OBSERVED, NOT FACTS.

What happened here in the early 70’s, when cults and secret magickal societies conducted hippie rituals here? What about that grave robbing story dating from the crack years I heard from a drunken ex cop? How many low level mobsters have mentioned this place as being a convenient hiding place for contraband? What about the demon haunted catacombs below, where the church buries its priests?? What are those weird metal hinged hatches with the steel staircases leading down from ground level on the BQE side? Where do they go? Where is the sewer outfall from the extensive drainage system installed on these tumulous hills? Who lives downstream from the largest graveyard in the United States? Does Calvary pay taxes? What about the “shape” my neighbor described as “moving amongst the trees in a way that just wasn’t right” while riding his bicycle home from a job along Review Avenue one January night?

Rain over Cavalry Cemetery by you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the distance, the storm had reached Manhattan, by all appearances. Luckily, a short walk returned me to the streets of 21st century Queens, where I hailed a livery cab and returned to my rooms in Astoria. In accordance with the traditions of my fathers- I washed my hands and took my shoes off before I entered the house. A little sympathetic magick never hurt anyone, I always say… and besides- this place is a block from the apocalyptic landscape of the Newtown Creek. God only knows what I walked through.

Anything you may experience, in situ, by following these walking directions is at your OWN RISK, and is offered by the Newtown Pentacle for documentary and entertainment purposes only. Remember- the rule we follow at the Newtown Pentacle is to NEVER trespass. Like Vampires, Newtownicans should wait to be invited into a house before they can do their work.  Also, Please note — if something you read here is inaccurate, DO NOT BE SHY- contact me– additions and corrections are always welcome at the Newtown Pentacle.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2009 at 12:59 pm

7 Responses

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  1. I heard rumors of a burial site in Pelham Bay Park, the city’s largest but, exactly where??. The only site that i heard was what is now the police mounted horse area.
    Curious, since I have to through the park to get to my City island home. Peter Q.

    Peter Quinones

    August 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

  2. “You fool, Warren is DEAD!”

    http://www.forgotten-ny.com

    Kevin Walsh

    August 9, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  3. […] from a newtown pentacle post, from july 31 of 2009, titled “Up and through Calvary“ […]

  4. […] Up and Through Calvary […]

  5. […] Up and Through Calvary […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. […] the core information offered above was originally presented in the August 2009 posting “Up and Through Calvary” at this- your Newtown Pentacle) who lie in the grandest of all the mausoleums in the Calvary […]


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