The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for April 17th, 2010

Vanderbilt Mansion 5

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check out the prior Vanderbilt Mansion posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4

I’m in a bit of a conversational mood tonight, lords and ladies… forgive the indulgence of a personally opinionated voice in this posting-

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rest of the Eagle’s Nest Estate are landscaped grounds, whose manicuring has certainly seen better days. No sleight is meant toward the current custodians, of course, but one must assume that the status minded Vanderbilts undoubtedly spent a great deal more on gardening than a museum can. Observation revealed many places where the unlimited budgets of earlier times would be helpful in shoring up the estate.

note: I’ve been to the Hellenic Republic, commonly called Greece, a few times. Those people have the good taste to just accept ruination of aging structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Built fancifully, to satisfy the whimsy and taste of landed gentry, the buildings that dot the Eagle’s Nest are all in differing stages of dissolution. Researching the Vanderbilt Mansion, here at Northport, repeatedly turned up tales of financial strife. The property was willed, ultimately, to the State of New York which has inconsistently funded it. Forced to accede to popular culture by financial reality, the planetarium presents Laser Rock shows- a vestige of Long Island’s 1970’s and 80’s “head culture”.

note: despite the reputation of the five boroughs of New York City as the center of mortal sin and drug culture in the tri-state area held by suburban residents, the psychedelic culture calls Long Island, New Jersey, Upstate New York, and Connecticut home. How many Fish bumper stickers do you see in Brooklyn?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The actual mansion is a hodge podge of architectural themes and styles. Bas reliefs, which repeat and amplify the hideous battrachian implications found on the Hall of Fishes, seem to be randomly placed throughout the main building. On the lowest level of the place is a room of taxidermy, whose prize possession is a whale shark. An accidental byproduct of the stuffed skins is produced by the searching horror of their glass eyes. I chose not to showcase this section of the trip, as blood sport is not something which Newtown Pentacle editorial policy is very fond of, and because of some misguided sympathy for the long dead animals which line this rich man’s walls.

note: Your humble narrator is a carnivore, and is more aware than most of how an animal’s flesh hits his plate. The companionship of many a Vegan has been enjoyed at Newtown Pentacle HQ, and that group of folks aren’t exactly shy about sharing their viewpoints with me.  Hypocritical, I nevertheless don’t see the value of publishing a photo of a stuffed Tiger skin which is caked with dust.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case with many quasi public-private institutions, signs adjuring the practice of photography abound. I can understand a regulation saying “Not Tripod, No Lights”, but am flabbergasted by the notion that a public building or Non-Profit corporation which welcomes visitors forbids the collection of photons. As mentioned in the past, your humble narrator is employed sometimes as a photo retoucher and all around desktop publishing guy at major metropolitan advertising agencies, and has developed a rather sophisticated knowledge of intellectual property law and custom. Did you know that the Empire State building itself, I mean the actual building, is a zealously protected and trademarked intellectual property? If you want to use an image of New York and the Empire State appears in it as a main element (over 30% of the shot), you need to seek permission from some landlord.

note: Yes, I claim copyright on the photos and text that appear in this blog. Yes, I want to use a “creative commons” approach, but counsel has informed me that while it sounds great, there is no significant legal precedent or body of case law covering such status- especially in international agreements. Yes, the Empire State people need to protect their “brand” and try to make a few bucks at the same time. Should the Catholics claim copyright on the cross, by this logic?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remnants of the Eagle’s Nest’s role as a port can be observed just at the water’s edge, beyond fences of brush and bush. Shame, the beach was unreachable along any path I attempted. Signage forbade the use of stairs as unsafe, but I felt that the area was closed merely in the name of not having to maintain it in the expensive manner required for disabled access which would be demanded under state law. The entire estate, incidentally, was not geared well for wheelchairs or other ambulatory contrivances. It is constructed on a steep and sloping shoreline which is subsected by a series of smaller yet remarkable hills and the connective tissue of the place are stairs.

note: Northport hosts many impressive and attractive homes, and is obviously a moneyed community even today. My family has one of its branches here, in nearby Melville, which established itself in the 1960’s as part of the enormous eastward migration from Brooklyn and Queens of the same ethnic urban hordes which the Vanderbilts and other “bosses” had established these country home communities to escape from in the early 20th century. I would mention that my Uncle’s down payment for his house near “Old Country Road” was accomplished via the GI Bill and the sweat of his brow, not by inheritance. He’s a depression era Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s no possibility, you see, that I cannot react to this vulgar display of financial power without comment. Another one of the little things about history that emerged when researching this series of posts is this- the Vanderbilt family won the battle. So did Carnegie, and Rockefeller. Their wealth, won by the literal slaughter of their workers, built a series of these monumental structures across the Americas and endowed University, Library, and Charitable Organ. Within a mere three generations, who they were and what they did- these Robber Barons- is forgotten by the population at large. The names of these men and women are carved in modern stone as benificent, yet their business practices and corrupting influence over government and finance are overlooked. Philanthropy, as a strategic tool of historical reputation, works.

note: I ain’t no commie, don’t get a humble narrator wrong- however- the obscene splendor enjoyed by these few at the expense of the many resulted in a lot of death and trauma in the 19th century. Conveniently, the working class then as now were willing to focus in on comical personnages of the “dirty politician” like Boss Tweed- who had risen from their own social group- rather than focus on the real bosses in the overclass. The banks, the trusts, the corporations- Andrew Jackson and Dwight Eisenhower warned us a long time ago. Tea Party? I drink coffee. Black.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Eagle’s Nest was built in 1910, same year that Henri Rousseau died and the Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. In Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India, and Typhoid Mary won release from Blackwell’s Island, while over in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and Queens- the immigrant working class found themselves fighting over crusts of bread. There was real fear of a communist revolution in the United States in this period, and the Robber Barons built concentric rings of security into their houses. William K. Vanderbilt II felt the need for a porticullis, for instance.

note: Our society’s lack of what I’ve termed “institutional memory” is what is going to destroy us in the end.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your humble narrator started working at 7 years old, shining shoes in a mafioso barber shop in Canarsie. It’s been a series of humiliations since, once I enjoyed a job whose task list included- literally- shoveling shit. For a while, I was an Aquarium Service Technician and found myself in Gypsy Rose Lee’s former mansion, down the block from the Vanderbilt Library in midtown Manhattan (which was owned at the time by the painter Jasper Johns- nice guy). Another professional incarnation found me laboring as a Fine Art Mover, installing Giacometti sculptures in a private gallery in Croton on Hudson. Corporate jobs have included work at a midtown investment bank, on the night shift, which had the portrait of George Washington that is found on the Dollar Bill prominently displayed in its executive wing- literal corridors of power. I can tell you this- the bosses don’t care about you, and view everyone outside of their social class as either inferior and lacking in ambition or worthy of pity.

note: OK, that sounds pretty “commie”, but the inequitable split of capitalist reward is a trend which had abated somewhat between the Great Depression and the 1980’s and has been operating in a retrograde fashion since the Reagan years. The death of organized labor and collective bargaining, as well as the cult of Ayn Rand and the smaller government mantra is a disturbing trend and an example of “the rubber band stretching back to its original shape”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Inside the mansion, the offices and drawing room of William K. Vanderbilt the 2nd. From here, expeditions were launched across the seven seas which plumbed the benthic depths, searching for some elusive prize. Organic specimens and detailed charts were compiled, hidden knowledge organized, and ancient mariner’s secrets revealed in the pages of worm eaten books. What secrets were uncovered, and hidden from coarse eyes?

note: you don’t really believe that what the Vanderbilts made public was all they found, do you?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Go take a look for yourselves:


Vanderbilt Museum April Hours
March 27 – April 5, 2010 (Closed Easter)

Mansion, Marine Museum, Natural History Exhibits and Grounds Open Tuesdays and Fridays 12-5. Saturdays 11-5 and Sundays 12-5. Closed to general public Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays except by appointment. For more information please call 631.854-5579. Please check back for May and June Hours.

Observing Friday Nights (weather permitting)

[The closing times listed above is for the closing of the Buildings/Grounds and Exhibit Areas. The ticket booth will close one hour earlier. The last mansion tour is one hour before closing.]


Vanderbilt Museum
180 Little Neck Road
Centerport, New York 11721-0605

From the LIE Exit 51, The Northern State Parkway Exit 42N, and The Southern State Parkway Exit 39N:
Drive North on Deer Park Avenue, bear left at the fork (at traffic light), onto Park Avenue. At 3rd light, make a right turn onto Broadway, continue for 4-5 miles until you reach Route 25A. Cross 25A (to left of Centerport Automotive), and you are on Little Neck Road. The Vanderbilt Museum is 1.5 miles on the right.

From the South Shore:
Take the Sagtikos Pakway North to the Sunken Meadow Parkway north. Take the last exit, 25A West. Travel about 8 miles and make a right at the Centerport Automotive in Centerport, onto Little Neck Road. We are 1.5 miles on the right.

From Route 110 or 25A West:
Travel north on 110 to Huntington Village. Make a right turn onto 25A/Main Street. Travel about 4 miles to Centerport, at the flashing yellow light, bear left onto Park Circle, then turn left onto Little Neck Road. We are 1.5 miles on the right.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 17, 2010 at 3:39 pm

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