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Astoria is bizarre

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As I stared into the vast abyssal plain of my soul last night, contemplating exactly what’s wrong with me- and what motivation I might have for spending all my time hanging out in and photographing cemeteries lately- a sudden peal of cheerful music rose from the hidden backyards of these Matthews Model Flats here in moon kissed Astoria.

It drew me out, onto the fire escape. Then I came back in for my camera. Sorry for the shaky video, but this was so weird.

The whirring and buzzing sound in the second video is a guy on the next block working on his house.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 29, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Astoria

Tagged with , ,

Tales of Calvary 6

with 8 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looming, in this place, is the megapolis. Here lies Tammany, gazing eternally upon their work. The city. The great city.

The greatest and last of their projects is promontory above the shield wall of Manhattan, a familiar vista of Calvary Cemetery offered as an iconic representation by most.

The tower called the Empire State building was built, almost as an act of pure will, by a former newsboy from South Street.

from wikipedia

The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark Art Deco skyscraper in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. Its name is derived from the nickname for the state of New York. It stood as the world’s tallest building for more than forty years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in New York City and New York State.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The people buried here arrived in and encountered a very different city- a divergent concept of a city- than the one we imagine. They were fleeing religious war and famine, and even the hazardous journey to an unknown country was better than staying where they were. The first surge of them was Catholic, they came from Poland, Germany, Italy, and like that newsboy from South Street – Ireland.

Especially Ireland.

(the Jews were present as well, but were subsumed by larger descriptions of nationality, and they would describe themselves as Germans or Poles before bringing up religion)

Before the Civil War, New York was ruled by the “knickerbockracy“, a social elite who were labeled “the 400” by Samuel Ward MacAllister. Greedy poor and useless, immigrant mouths to feed were dumped by the courts of Europe on New York’s docks, where they instantly took to crime and profligacy. The dregs arrived like ocean waves, and the disgusted Anglophile and Dutch elites saw to it that these wretched masses would be excluded from power and opportunity in the protestant republic.

also from wikipedia

The Empire State Building was designed by William F. Lamb from the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, which produced the building drawings in just two weeks, using its earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio (designed by the architectural firm W.W. Ahlschlager & Associates) as a basis. Every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem to pay homage to its role as predecessor to the Empire State Building. The building was designed from the top down. The general contractors were The Starrett Brothers and Eken, and the project was financed primarily by John J. Raskob and Pierre S. du Pont.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ethnic associations formed amongst the new immigrants, who were victimized by discriminatory policies of government and racial prejudice. One of these ethnic clubs began political organization amongst the immigrant grass roots, and registered voters began to appear in the river front slums, and especially in the Five Points in Manhattan.

from wikipedia

Tammany Hall (Founded May 12, 1789 as the Tammany Society, and also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order), was the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in controlling New York City politics and helping immigrants (most notably the Irish) rise up in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. It usually controlled Democratic Party nominations and patronage in Manhattan from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 through the election of John P. O’Brien in 1932. Tammany Hall was permanently weakened by the election of Fiorello La Guardia on a “fusion” ticket of Republicans, reform-minded Democrats, and independents in 1934, and despite a brief resurgence in the 1950s, it ceased to exist in the 1960s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Impeachable offense was just part of doing business back then, and the ethnic associations could muster significant and reliable turnouts on election day for whoever was willing to pay. Soon, the associations began to congeal into ethnic blocks. The largest one of them all was called Tammany Hall, and it began to pick its own people to run for office instead of supporting the landed gentry or the degenerate Dutch.

also from wikipedia

Despite occasional defeats, Tammany was consistently able to survive and, indeed, prosper; it continued to dominate city and even state politics. Under leaders like John Kelly and Richard Croker, Charles Francis Murphy and Timothy Sullivan, it controlled Democratic politics in the city. Tammany opposed William Jennings Bryan in 1896.

In 1901, anti-Tammany forces elected a reformer, Republican Seth Low, to become mayor. From 1902 until his death in 1924, Charles Francis Murphy was Tammany’s boss. In 1927 the building on 14th Street was sold. The new building on East 17th Street and Union Square East was finished and occupied by 1929.[6] In 1932, the machine suffered a dual setback when Mayor James Walker was forced from office and reform-minded Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president of the United States. Roosevelt stripped Tammany of federal patronage, which had been expanded under the New Deal—and passed it instead to Ed Flynn, boss of the Bronx. Roosevelt helped Republican Fiorello La Guardia become mayor on a Fusion ticket, thus removing even more patronage from Tammany’s control. La Guardia was elected in 1933 and re-elected in 1937 and 1941. He was the first anti-Tammany Mayor to be re-elected and his extended tenure weakened Tammany in a way that previous “reform” Mayors had not.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That boy from the South Street water front, who watched as the East River Bridge being built, lost his father at age 13. He left school and went to work, first at an oil company and later at the Fulton Fish Market- which netted him the astounding salary of $15 per week. He developed a certain celebrity in the 4th ward because of his good fortunes, and came to the attentions of the Tammany men, who discovered a certain “likeability” in him.


Built during the Depression between 1930 and 1931, the Empire State Building became the world’s tallest office building — surpassing the Chrysler Building by a whopping 204 feet. The design of the building changed 16 times during planning and construction, but 3,000 workers completed the building’s construction in record time: one year and 45 days, including Sundays and holidays. The Empire State Building is composed of 60,000 tons of steel, 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite, 10 million bricks, and 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

By 1895, the young man was appointed a clerk to the Commissioner of Jurors and was noticed by Thomas F. Foley- the boss of Tammany. Shortly, He was an assemblyman in Albany, and spent 12 years gathering patronage and clout in the capital of New York State. By 1913, he had become Speaker of the House and the most influential man in Albany. As a reward for his services, Tammany appointed him Sheriff of New York, a lucrative position in those days. By 1918, He was elected Governor of New York State and came to national prominence during his 4 terms in office.

In 1928 he ran for President of the United States, this Irish kid from South Street, and a young Franklin D. Roosevelt was honored with placing his name before the convention. He lost to Herbert Hoover, whose many supporters publicly voiced concern about the Tammany contagion spreading into Washington and across the nation. In 1932, he lost the nomination of his party to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

from wikipedia

Horses were used for transportation in 1900, as they had been throughout the history of the city. There were 200,000 of them in the city, producing nearly 2,500 short tons (2,300 t) of manure daily. It accumulated in the streets and was swept to the sides like snow. The smell was quite noticeable. Introduction of motor vehicles was a profound relief.

The municipal consolidation would also precipitate greater physical connections between the boroughs. The building of the New York City Subway, as the separate Interborough Rapid Transit Company and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation systems, and the later Independent Subway System, and the opening of the first IRT line in 1905 marked the beginning of what became a force for population spread and development. The Williamsburg Bridge 1903 and the Manhattan Bridge 1909 further connected Manhattan to the rapidly expanding bedroom community in Brooklyn. The world-famous Grand Central Terminal opened as the world’s largest train station on February 1, 1913, replacing an earlier terminal on the site. It was preceded by Pennsylvania Station, several blocks to the south.

These years also saw the peak of European immigration and the shifting of that immigration from Western Europe to Southern and Eastern Europe. On June 15, 1904 over 1,000 people, mostly German immigrants, were killed when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and burned in the East River, marking the beginning of the end of the community in Little Germany. The German community was replaced by growing numbers of poorer immigrants on the Lower East Side. On March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 145 mostly Italian and Jewish female garment workers, which would eventually lead to great advancements in the city’s fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Disgusted with politics and betrayed by the last of the Knickerbocker elite, the newsboy governor turned to private business. Amongst other ventures, he became president of that company which would construct the Empire State Building at the height of the Great Depression. One or two of his friends also came in on the venture.

That iconic structure is located, incidentally, on the former site of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel– a regular haunt and preferred meeting place for the elite “four hundred”.


The architectural, commercial, and popular success of the Empire State Building depended on a highly rationalized process, and equally efficient advertising and construction campaigns. Skillful designers of Manhattan office buildings, architects Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon were familiar with the imperatives of design and construction efficiency that maximized investors’ returns by filling the building with tenants as soon as possible. …

The Empire State Building, like most art deco skyscrapers, was modernistic, not modernist. It was deliberately less pure, more flamboyant and populist than European theory allowed. It appeared to be a sculpted or modeled mass, giving to business imagery a substantial character…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As Governor, this Tammany man  rewrote the labor laws after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and, oversaw the creation of much of modern New York. As a private citizen, he used his extensive patronage and political muscle to build the Empire State Building in an astounding 410 days. President Herbert Hoover cut the ribbon on opening day, however.

His name was Alfred E. Smith. Al the happy warrior to his constituents.

Governor Smith died October 4, 1944 at 6:28 AM.

Click here to listen to a audio file of Al Smith speaking “on New York”.

Click here to access a google map with the actual location of the monument, which doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else on the web.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

He lies in Calvary next to his wife, Catherine A. Dunn Smith.

Alongside them are those generations that came to a city -of wooden clapboard walls rising from unpaved roads – and died in a shining metropolis of glass and steel towers accomplished by their labors. The great city of the age was built by those that lie in Calvary Cemetery, here in the muladhara of the Newtown Pentacle.

note: the view of the Empire State Building, from the gravesite of Governor Smith, is obscured by more modern mausoleum monuments.


In 1918, to the surprise of many, he was elected Governor of the State of New York. Although he lost the 1920 election, he ran successfully again in 1922, 1924, and 1926 – making him one of three New York State Governors to be elected to four terms. While Governor, he achieved the passage of extensive reform legislation, including improved factory laws, better housing requirements, and expanded welfare services. Additionally, he reorganized the State government into a consolidated and business-like structure.

Governor Smith won the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States in 1928. During his campaign he continued to champion the cause of urban residents.

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 29, 2009 at 3:34 am

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