The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for November 25th, 2009

Things you learn from being a ghoul

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St. Michael’s Cemetery- photo by Mitch Waxman

As has been mentioned in the past, your humble narrator suffers from a serious health condition, which necessitates regular physical exercise be performed as a curative. These long walks around the Newtown Pentacle, prescriptive in their origins, have made me curious about the things I encounter. Notwithstanding the industrial wonders of Newtown Creek or that clockwork malevolence of marching progress evidenced in Long Island City, desire arises in my heart for quiet… peace… and the company of some semblance of nature.

Here in northwestern Queens, the closest thing to a sylvan glade available to the public for peaceful perambulation are graveyards.

St. Michael’s Cemetery- photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite my great affection for the viridian devastation of Calvary Cemetery, it is quite a long walk from ruby lipped Astoria to the blighted hillocks of Blissville, and in these days of approaching winter- the sun’s journey ends in late afternoon. Calvary will consume you, if you stray too far from the light, and the wise visit it early in the day.

A mere half mile from Newtown Pentacle HQ, however, can be found St. Michael’s. 88 acres of manicured grounds, St. Michael’s is an island of calm in the middle of Astoria. Unlike Calvary, St. Michael’s is a nonsectarian burial ground, and exhibits the legendary diversity of populations for which Queens is renowned worldwide within its loamy depths.

(we’ll be exploring St. Michael’s more thoroughly in future posts, but for now…)

Recently, on one of my ghoulish walks around the place, I encountered strange fruit.

from St. Michael’s

St. Michael’s Cemetery is situated in the borough of Queens in New York City. Established in 1852, St. Michael’s is one of the oldest religious, nonprofit cemeteries in the New York City metropolitan area which is open to people of all faiths. It is owned and operated by St. Michael’s Church, an Episcopal congregation located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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. As a service to its diverse constituency, St. Michael’s continues to this day provide burial space for individuals and families from all classes, religions and ethnicities. St. Michael’s reflects the demographic and historical trends of New York City. Walking through the older sections of the cemetery, you will find burials representing the 19th and early 20th century immigrants.

In the late 1980’s St. Michael’s began building community mausoleums in order to more efficiently utilize the remaining unoccupied space and offer attractive, affordable final resting places. Currently, we are planning a new mausoleum complex at 49th Street and Grand Central Parkway Service Road.

St. Michael’s Cemetery- photo by Mitch Waxman

About the size of an orange, or large apple, the ruggose skin of the fruit had a sickly yellow-green coloration. Abundant, the fallen spores were obviously in season. Ignorant of the specificities of arborial lore, nocturnal researches of North American cultivars suggested that this sort of ovum was typical of an Osage Orange- Maclura pomifera to those in the know.

from wikipedia

Osage-orange, Horse-apple, Bois D’Arc, or Bodark (Maclura pomifera) is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to 8–15 metres (26–49 ft) tall. It is dioeceous, with male and female flowers on different plants. The fruit, a multiple fruit, is roughly spherical, but bumpy, and 7–15 cm in diameter, and it is filled with a sticky white latex sap. In fall, its color turns a bright yellow-green and it has a faint odor similar to that of oranges.

Maclura is closely related to the genus Cudrania, and hybrids between the two genera have been produced. In fact, some botanists recognize a more broadly defined Maclura that includes species previously included in Cudrania and other genera of Moraceae.

Osajin and Pomiferin are flavonoid pigments present in the wood and fruit, comprising about 10% of the fruit’s dry weight. The plant also contains the flavonol morin.

Recent research suggests that elemol, another component extractable from the fruit, shows promise as a mosquito repellent with similar activity to DEET in contact and residual repellency.

St. Michael’s Cemetery, Maclura pomifera, or Osage Orange  fruit – photo by Mitch Waxman

An important plant to the native american cultures, the Osage Orange tree produces wood which is dense and fibrous, ideal for the body of a Bow and it is one of the highest rated “fuel woods“. Resistant to insect and fungus, Osage wood is also prized for use in fenceposts. It grows in the form of a dense thorned thicket surrounding the central trunk, and produces the “orange” which is largely passed over by mammalian scavengers like Squirrels and Raccoons. Prized by Horses and Mules (horse apples), the original range of the tree was confined to the southwest, but its value as a hedge plant and naturally replenishing cattle fence was instrumental in it being planted all over North America.

from horticulture and home pest news

The Osage-orange is native to a small area in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and southwestern Arkansas. This region was also the home of the Osage Indians, hence the common name of Osage-orange. White settlers moving into the region found that the Osage-orange possessed several admirable qualities. It is a tough and durable tree, transplants easily, and tolerates poor soils, extreme heat, and strong winds. It also has no serious insect or disease problems. During the mid-nineteenth century, it was widely planted by midwest farmers, including those in southern Iowa, as a living fence. When pruned into a hedge, it provided an impenetrable barrier to livestock. The widespread planting of Osage-orange stopped with the introduction of barbed wire. Many of the original hedges have since been destroyed or died. However, some of the original trees can still be found in fence rows in southern Iowa. Trees have also become naturalized in pastures and ravines in southern areas of the state.

St. Michael’s Cemetery, Maclura pomifera, or Osage Orange  fruit – photo by Mitch Waxman

Like all fruiting plants, an animal conspirator is required to complete the life cycle of the Osage Orange, expanding its range via the digestive processes of a ranging forager. Ever efficient, nature would not waste its time producing an energy rich fruit that attracts no living animal to it. Theories abound as to the identity of this partner organism, and an extinct equine is one of the evolutionary vectors theorized to have played this role for the Osage (thought likely due to the browsing preferences of modern Horse and Mule), but an intriguing notion is put forth by Connie Barlow of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum who offers the theory that the anachronistic fruit of the Osage Orange’s partner animal was in fact a long extinct North American Elephant- the Mammoth.

Practicers of the left handed path of forbidden knowledge prize Osage wood for usage in wands, believing it to be useful when invoking mysterious spirits emanating from the bowels of the earth- those never human elemental intelligences, and the spirit animal guides associated with Native American Shamanic beliefs.


Osage-Orange is a native tree coming from a relatively small area in eastern Oklahoma, portions of Missouri, Texas and Arkansas. While used for centuries by native Americans in its original area for war clubs and bows, it was the first tree Lewis and Clark sent back east from St. Louis in 1804. Yet, with that modest beginning, the Osage-Orange probably has been planted in greater numbers throughout the United States in the 19th and early 20th century than almost any other tree species in North America. Because of its value as a natural hedgerow fence, it made agricultural settlement of the prairies possible, it then led directly to the invention of barbed wire in 1874, and then provided most of the posts for the wire that fenced the West. It is still considered the best wood for making archer’s bows. The Osage-Orange is one of America’s more interesting natives. It has at least two Internet web sites dedicated to keeping Osage-Orange enthusiasts informed (see and

Happy Thanksgiving.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 25, 2009 at 5:03 pm

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