The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

restless lichens

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A sharp eyed reader and fellow haunter of the tombs tipped me on to this, something I never noticed on 58th street, a sidewalk deprived viaduct that runs between two cemeteries- New Calvary and Mt. Zion.


Mount Zion Cemetery encompasses an area of 78 acres. This cemetery is located in Maspeth, Queens near the Manhattan Border. When this cemetery was first established the surrounding area was considered to be rural. There was an ongoing need for burial spaces to accommodate the explosion of the immigrant population in not only Queens, but also the nearby neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Mount Zion Cemetery has more than 210,000 burials on its 78 acres making it one of the more interesting burial grounds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nitre dripping, the walls of Zion are composed of conventional mortar and stone for much of their length, protecting its centuries of interments with a stout but rusty fence.

from wikipedia

Masonry is the building of structures from individual units laid in and bound together by mortar; the term masonry can also refer to the units themselves. The common materials of masonry construction are brick, stone such as marble, granite, travertine, limestone; concrete block, glass block, and tile. Masonry is generally a highly durable form of construction. However, the materials used, the quality of the mortar and workmanship, and the pattern in which the units are assembled can strongly affect the durability of the overall masonry construction.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As one nears Laurel Hill Blvd. and the stature of the masonry wall shrinks back to a human scale, a curious heterogeneousness in its composition is noticed. Suddenly granite and “finishing marble” is noticed.

from wikipedia


White marble was prized for its use in sculptures since classical times. This preference has to do with the softness and relative isotropy and homogeneity, and a relative resistance to shattering. Also, the low index of refraction of calcite allows light to penetrate several millimeters into the stone before being scattered out, resulting in the characteristic “waxy” look which gives “life” to marble sculptures of the human body.

Construction marble

Construction marble is a stone which is composed of calcite, dolomite or serpentine which is capable of taking a polish. More generally in construction, specifically the dimension stone trade, the term “marble” is used for any crystalline calcitic rock (and some non-calcitic rocks) useful as building stone. For example, Tennessee marble is really a dense granular fossiliferous gray to pink to maroon Ordovician limestone that geologists call the Holston Formation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Proceeding up the block, certain familiar shapes become recognizable in the wall, and a cold dread is realized. Tombstones. They used tombstones to make this part of the wall.

from wikipedia

The stele (plural stelae), 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.

Graves and any related memorials are a focus for mourning and remembrance. The names of relatives are often added to a gravestone over the years, so that one marker may chronicle the passing of an entire family spread over decades. Since gravestones and a plot in a cemetery or churchyard cost money, they are also a symbol of wealth or prominence in a community. Some gravestones were even commissioned and erected to their own memory by people who were still living, as a testament to their wealth and status. In a Christian context, the very wealthy often erected elaborate memorials within churches rather than having simply external gravestones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Section markers and footpath monuments are used, as well as grave markers whose screed faces inward. Oh what treasures may be entrusted to the grave’s holding that only some future archaeologist will know?


“Until now we have relied on evidence from medieval rubbish – including food remains, pottery and other finds – to build up a picture of medieval life in the city. This group of burials represents the first opportunity to examine the medieval population itself, in terms of life expectancy, stature and health.

“Evidence of some communal burials and high infant mortality also indicate evidence of infection and disease.

“The skeletons are very well preserved – some were in coffins and others weren’t and were placed in shrouds. We were expecting there to be some 300 skeletons- but the scale of this discovery is stunning.”

The site dates from between the 12th century and the mid 1500s and is part of the medieval church of St Peter’s – one of two parish churches in the city which disappeared in the late medieval period.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

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