The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for October 19th, 2010

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As always, Lords and Ladies of Newtown, your humble narrator finds himself overwhelmed by obligation and social fealty. To be seen by so many diminishes me.

The recent uprooting of Newtown Pentacle HQ from its Matthews Model Flat environ and consequent move to new digs here in ruby lipped Astoria has been arduous, and has resulted in the quite uneven schedule of postings you’ve no doubt noticed. Unfortunately, such is life when well lived, but the apogee of exertion has been met and the routine returns to normal.

As normal as it gets, here in the Newtown Pentacle, that is.

from the New York Herald, Jan. 6, 1895

Fires in the home of Adam Colwell, 84 Guernsey Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn — that, in 20 hours, preceding noon, Jan. 5th, when Colwell’s frame house burned down, there had been many fires.(6) Policemen had been sent to investigate. They had seen furniture burst into flames. Policemen and firemen had reported that the fires were of unknown origin. The Fire Marshal said: “It might be thought that the child Rhoda started two of the fires, but she can not be considered guilty of the others, as she was being questioned, when some of them began. I do not want to be quoted as a believer in the supernatural, but I have no explanation to offer, as to the cause of the fires, or of the throwing around of the furniture.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the agonizing series of efforts and appointments which moving one’s domicile requires, and a concurrent and badly timed series of familial and fraternal obligations, once I heard about the pyrokinetic history of 84 Guernsey Street in Greenpoint- I made the time to go get some shots of the place. This era of rapid real estate development that we are experiencing has taught me to strike when the iron is hot- for the subject you desire to explore very well might be gone the next day.

also from the New York Herald, Jan. 6, 1895

Colwell’s story was that, upon the afternoon of Jan. 4th, in the presence of his wife and his step-daughter Rhoda, aged 16, a crash was heard. A large, empty, parlor stove had fallen to the floor. Four pictures fell from walls. Colwell had been out. Upon his return, while hearing an account of what had occurred, he smelled smoke. A bed was afire. He called a policeman, Roundsman Daly, who put out the fire, and then, because of unaccountable circumstances, remained in the house. It was said that the Roundsman saw wall paper, near the shoulder of Colwell’s son Willie start to burn. Detective Sergeant Dunn arrived. There was another fire, and a heavy lamp fell from a hook. The house burned down, and the Colwells, who were in poor circumstances, lost everything but their clothes. They were taken to the police station.

Captain Rhoades, of the Greenpoint Precinct, said: “The people we arrested had nothing to do with the strange fires. The more I look into it, the deeper the mystery. So far I can attribute it to no other cause than a supernatural agency. Why, the fires broke out under the very noses of the men I sent to investigate.”

Sergeant Dunn — “There were things that happened before my eyes that I did not believe were possible.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pyrokinesis is actually a term coined by the novelist Stephen king for his novel “Firestarter”, although tales of the psychic ability to ignite fires abound in popular mythology and historical records. One is reminded of Mr. A.W. Underwood- a fellow known as the “Human Blowtorch” who was a phenomenon in the 19th century.

from the New York Herald, Jan. 7, 1895

Policemen and firemen artfully tricked by a pretty, young girl.” Mr. J.L. Hope, of Flushing, L.I., had called upon Captain Rhoades, telling him that Rhoda had been a housemaid in his home, where, between Nov. 19 and Dec. 19, four mysterious fires had occurred. “Now the Captain was sure of Rhoda’s guilt, and he told her so.” “She was frightened, and was advised to tell the truth.”

And Rhoda told what she was “advised” to tell. She “sobbed” that she had started the fires, because she did not like the neighborhood in which she lived, and wanted to move away: that she had knocked pictures from the walls, while her mother was in another part of the house, and had dropped burning matches into beds, continuing her trickeries after policemen, detectives, and firemen had arrived.

The Colwells were poor people, and occupied only the top floor of the house that burned down. Colwell, a carpenter, had been out of work two years, and the family was living on the small wages of his son. Insurance was not mentioned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Greenpoint is a very, very strange place- apparently.

also from the New York Herald, Jan. 7, 1895

The police captain’s conclusion was that the fires that had seemed “supernatural” to him, were naturally accounted for, because, if when Rhoda was in Flushing, she set things afire, fires in her own home could be so explained. Rather than to start a long investigation into the origin of the fires in Flushing, the police captain gave the girl what was considered sound and wholesome advice.

And — though it seems quaint, today — the girl listened to advice. “Pretty young girls” have tricked more than policemen and firemen. Possibly a dozen male susceptibles could have looked right at this pretty, young girl, and not have seen her strike a match, and flip it into furniture; but no flip of a match could set wall paper afire.

The case is like the case of Emma Piggott. Only to one person’s motives could fires be attributed: but by no known means could she have started some of these fires.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 19, 2010 at 1:15 am

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