The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Mt Zion 5- Sunken Houses of Sleep

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Steeling myself for the inevitable humiliating encounter with those oddly menacing children who seemed to be waiting for my reemergence on Maurice Avenue, I moved down the hill from the 58th street side of the burial grounds.

Older than my years, vast psychological inadequacies and shameful physical “episodes” render your humble narrator a helpless emotional cripple. Even the thought of direct confrontation with that which may exist around the Newtown Creek- or because of it- is enough to make me lightheaded and coat my skin in cold sweat. Staying out of sight, I broke into a dogtrot instead of my usual scuttle, and continued along the central artery of Mount Zion Cemetery. On the hill is the DSNY’s gargantuan Queens West Garage complex and an accompanying garbage incinerator.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The counterpoint of a Jewish Cemetery next door to an industrial incinerator is obvious and exhibits poor municipal siting, conversely this is probably an ideal location for such industry. Western Queens is the backbone of New York City, from a metropolitan industrial complex’s point of view.

Airports, railroad yards, maritime facilities, petrochemical storage and processing, illegal and legal dumping, sewer plants, waste and recycling facilities, cemeteries. The borders of the Newtown Pentacle’s left ventricle are festooned with heavy industry and the toll taken on the health of both land and population is manifest. A vast national agglutination of technologies and a sprawl of transportation arteries stretching across the continent are all centered on Manhattan- which is powered, fed, and flushed by that which may be found around a shimmering ribbon of abnormality called the Newtown Creek.

from jhom.com

The lion motif was common in the ancient Middle Eastern civilizations as a battling, fighting and attacking force. In the Bible, the lion is portrayed as both capable of destroying and punishing, and of saving and protecting. In ancient Jewish art we find the lions in this protective role, guarding the Holy Ark or at the entrances to the chapel, as in the sculpture of the ancient synagogues at Sardis (in Asia Minor), Horazin and Bar’am (in Palestine), and in many mosaics dating from the early Byzantine period.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

But that’s the “why” of how these people came to be buried in America, of all places.

They weren’t coming to be free (that’s Roosevelt talking), most of them, except to be free of poverty and warfare.

In 1894, when Mrs. Chasnov, (pictured below) was born, the last Tsar of Russia took his throne succeeding his father Tsar Alexander 3. Anarchists were tossing bombs in European capitals, and in New York City- the “Robert Moses” of the 19th century, Andrew Haswell Green, formed the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society.

In 1894, the last known antichrist was only 5 years old, and lived near Linz.

from wikipedia

The stele, as they are called in an archaeological context, is one of the oldest forms of funerary art. Originally, a tombstone was the stone lid of a stone coffin, or the coffin itself, and a gravestone was the stone slab that was laid over a grave. Now all three terms are also used for markers placed at the head of the grave. Originally graves in the 1700s also contained footstones to demarcate the foot end of the grave. Footstones were rarely carved with more than the deceased’s initials and year of death, and many cemeteries and churchyards have removed them to make cutting the grass easier. Note however that in many UK cemeteries the principal, and indeed only, marker is placed at the foot of the grave.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the generation that it” happened to.

Not these people, of course, who were safe in America- but their cousins and parents and friends who had stayed back in ancient Europe. They saw the Great War play out, displacing millions, and thought that at last the eternal struggles between Hapsburgh and Austrian and Turk and Frenchman and Russian had sorted themselves out.

It wasn’t just Jews, or Irish, or Italians- even the Roma came to America to find work. And the skills possessed by the Cunning Folk were older than the narrow streets of Rome, or the impenetrable complexity of the New York of its time- London, or even the lost city of pillared Irem in the pathless deserts of Arabia.

from nytimes.com

Maspeth is named for the Mespat Indians, who originally settled near what is now Mount Zion Cemetery, on the neighborhood’s edge. In 1642, the first formal colony was established in the area, though conflicts with Indians caused settlers to flee east into what is now Elmhurst.

Mount Olivet Cemetery boasts a much-cherished Manhattan view, and Nathanael West, who wrote “Miss Lonelyhearts” and “The Day of the Locust,” is buried at Mount Zion.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In Europe, hatred of the Hebrew race has some understandable historical underpinnings. The Moorish and Turk governments employed Jews as officials and clerks, often assigning them as tax collectors to the serf and freeman villages of their conquests. After a period of time, when the islamic tide had been pushed back by Russian, German, Pole, and especially the Wallachian and Hungarian states, the Jews were left behind.

When Peter the Great settled Jews in the so-called “Pale”, it was meant to be a punishment for the Szhlactas and Boyars (Barons and Dukes) who had opposed him. Ultimately, anti-semitism is a political thema which took root and transformed into something cultural.

Hatred of the Roma, though, is something else entirely.

from junipercivic.com

In the vicinity of Mount Zion and lower Calvary cemeteries were swamps. Frogs, polywogs, goldfish were plentiful among the tall cattails and were sport for young boys. Punks were plentiful among the cattails, the plump brown ones were cut down, dried in the sun and when lit gave off an aromatic scent that was not only pleasing to the smell, but was said to keep away mosquitoes which were a nuisance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lingering at the suggestively open door of a tomb, trying to ignore the singsong chant of those menacing children, your humble narrator began to once again feel light headed.

also from junipercivic.com

A short distance away along Maurice Avenue, was a Gypsy Camp. A core group of gypsies lived there permanently and others came from far and wide to visit. Colorfully dressed in gypsy regalia, they danced, sang, and partied, cooking suckling pigs on spits over roaring fires and living in ramshackle huts and tents. For them a carefree existence, but I must admit, for the local lads and lassies a somewhat frightening scene and we watched from afar. When a member of the tribe died, the wake was most often held in Vogel’s Funeral Parlor which was located on Grand Avenue opposite the main entrance to Mount Olivet Cemetery. Gypsies from all around the country would come to pay their respects, especially if the deceased was a member of the Royal family.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metal working, particularly copper smithing, that’s what the Ludar- or as the modern Croats and Bosnians call them- the Rudari- were famed for and that’s most likely how they ended up in Maspeth. That and their skill in training animals.

Ever wonder why the annual tradition of the Circus trains coming to LIC and Maspeth, with its spectacle of Elephants marching through the Midtown Tunnel, started? The Rudari were animal trainers, as well as being copper workers. The metal shaping work was an inheritance- Rudar means miner- which is what this tribe of Roma was forced to do during their enslavement to the princes of Europe. After their suffrage, they became trainers of bears, monkeys, and horses for circuses.

All this continued in America.

Incidentally, in Romania, the Rudari were known as the Ursari. The royal potentate that ruled over them was the Voivode of the Wallachian Throne, seated high in the Carpathian Mountains, and in the 15th century- that throne was occupied by Vlad Tepes.

Dracula, as known in the west, and the gypsies mentioned in Stoker’s book were the Ursari, or Rudari.

from wikipedia

Following the immigration waves of the 19th century, Maspeth was home to a shanty town of Boyash (Ludar) Gypsies between 1925 and 1939, though this was eventually bulldozed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just what kind of place is this Newtown Pentacle, anyway?

That’s the last thing I thought, another “very bad idea”, before I passed out again in another dead faint.

from smithsonianeducation.org

The Ludar, or “Romanian Gypsies,” also immigrated to the United States during the great immigration from southern and eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914. Most of the Ludar came from northwestern Bosnia. Upon their arrival in the United States they specialized as animal trainers and showpeople, and indeed passenger manifests show bears and monkeys as a major part of their baggage. Most of de Wendler-Funaro’s photographs of this group were taken in Maspeth, a section of the borough of Queens in New York City, where the Ludar created a “village” of homemade shacks that existed from about 1925 to 1939, when it was razed. A similar settlement stood in the Chicago suburbs during the same period.


Written by Mitch Waxman

December 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I was surprised to find a picture of my grandmother on your blog. Why did you choose that gravestone to photograph?

    Jeffrey Chasnov

    December 8, 2009 at 7:08 am

  2. […] precipitous lanes“, “Mt Zion 4- A Lurid Shimmering of Pale Light“, “Mt Zion 5- Sunken Houses of Sleep“, and “Mt Zion 6- Crystal Oblivion” for nearly everything I’d been able to […]


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