The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

tentacled starers

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The courthouse in Staten Island, found in St. George near the Borough Hall, has always filled me with some nameless dread- an unknowable and substantive certainty that behind it’s gabled window sashes, there exists a brain blasting horror and existential truth which would shatter my sanity were the curtains to shift and reveal what lurks within.

Since childhood, when school trips or camp outings would bring me to this jutting littoral outcrop from my homeland of infinite Brooklyn, I’ve always maintained that there is just something wrong about the place.

If you think about it, the decline of New York City as an industrial and cultural leader began when the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was completed.


Borough Hall was designed by Carrere & Hastings, one of the most influential firms in this country in the early twentieth century. John Carrere (1858-1911) and Thomas Hastings (1860-1929) both attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and worked at the firm of McKim, Mead & White. They started their firm in 1885. Carrere, a resident of Staten Island, helped select the dramatic hilltop site of Borough Hall, and was involved with the plan and development of the Civic Center. The firm designed the Richmond County Courthouse next door, the Ferry Terminal (burned) and the St. George Branch Library.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It must be admitted that …Staten Island… is actually quite lovely in spots and that the prejudice I bear the place is entirely between my own ears. Another perfectly lovely community in the United States- Boulder, Colorado- also receives an unreasoning enmity from your humble narrator. No reasonable explanation can be offered except that both make me itchy and uncomfortable, representative of a way of life unattractive to my personality and tastes. Funny thing is, half of my old neighborhood from Brooklyn moved out here, including my own parents.

If you’re from …Staten Island… and reading this, just chalk it up to inter borough antagonism, and allow me to just rattle on…

from wikipedia

McKim, Mead & White was a prominent American architectural firm at the turn of the twentieth century. The firm’s founding partners were Charles Follen McKim (1847–1909), William Rutherford Mead (1846–1928) and Stanford White (1853–1906). The firm was a major training ground for many other prominent architects -partners, associates, designers and draftsmen.

McKim and Mead joined forces in 1872 and were joined in 1879 by White who, like McKim, had worked for architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Their work applied the principles of Beaux-Arts architecture, the adoption of the classical Greek and Roman stylistic vocabulary as filtered through the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and the related City Beautiful movement after 1893 or so, which aimed to clean up the visual confusion of American cities and imbue them with a sense of order and noble formality.

Mead was the last of the firm’s founding partners to die in 1928, after McKim (1909), and White (1906). The firm retained its name after the death of Mead, until partner James Kellum Smith’s death in 1961. The firm – primarily Smith – designed the prominent National Museum of American History in Washington DC, one of the firm’s last works, opening in 1964. McKim, Mead & White was also involved with an urban renewal project at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in the 1950s and designed three buildings as part of the project: DeKalb Hall, ISC Building and North Hall.

In 1961, McKim, Mead & White was succeeded by the firm Steinman, Cain, and White, which by 1971 had become Walker O. Cain and Associates.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perhaps it’s just a psychic charge which the place has carried since the maritime days, when old sailors who had capsized into Snug Harbor would dialogue with the locals in area taverns, exchanging wild stories of the south seas for a shot of whiskey or a glass of beer. Squid like monstrosities worshipped like heathen gods, or a 50 foot shark which bit the prow from a boat, Fijian mermaids, and even stranger reports entered the folkloric gene pool here and mixed in with the hybrid pestilence of both English and Dutch superstitions. Isolation too, held special horrors for …Staten Island…

from wikipedia

Stanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He designed a long series of houses for the rich and the very rich, and various public, institutional, and religious buildings, some of which can be found to this day in places like Sea Gate, Brooklyn. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance”.

In 1906, White was murdered by millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw over White’s affair with Thaw’s wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit, leading to a trial which was dubbed at the time “The Trial of the Century”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rumors abound as to the mission of a certain Catholic Lay organization, based in a dormitory skyscraper on 34th street and Madison in Manhattan- and why certain members of that group (who believe even the Knights of Loyola to have lost their way) seem to spend quite so much of their time on …Staten Island…

One theory which has gained my attention suggests that the Masonic Treasures of Garibaldi still lie extant and occluded in the vast acreage of the place, and that the Holy See wishes to see these relics returned to Roman hands. However, one cannot trust in conspiracy, although… Garibaldi did conspire to overthrow the papal states here, and later succeeded in doing so… But that doesn’t prove anything!

from wikipedia

Thaw was born on February 12, 1871 to Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw. Violent and paranoid from a very young age (his mother claimed his problems had started in the womb), he spent his childhood bouncing from private school to private school in Pittsburgh, never doing well and described by teachers as unintelligent and a troublemaker. Still, as the son of William Thaw, he was granted admission to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was to study law, though he apparently did little studying. After a few years he used his name and social status to transfer to Harvard University.

Thaw later bragged that he had studied poker at Harvard. He also went on long drinking binges, attended cockfights, and spent much of his time romancing young women. He was expelled after being picked up for chasing a cab driver through the streets of Cambridge with a shotgun, though he claimed it was unloaded.

Thaw has been credited with the invention of the speedball, an injected combination of morphine and/or heroin along with cocaine sometime between 1896 and 1906. He was also reported by newspapers at the time of his trial to have once consumed an entire bottle of laudanum in a single sitting and carry a special silver case full of syringes and other parts of a large “outfit” of injecting equipment.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The woodlands of …Staten Island… betray it’s nature to visitors who observe the glacial erratics and kettle ponds which would be recognizable to the antediluvian dwellers of the place some 14,000 years ago. The predatory bipeds referred to as the “Clovis Culture” left behind evidence of their presence, and then dropped off the map entirely. The next direct evidence of occupancy, this time of recognizable humans, was some 5,000 years ago. What happened during the nine millennia between 3,000 and 12,000 B.C.? How does it relate to the stories told by the old mariners at Snug Harbor?

from wikipedia

The towns and villages of Staten Island were dissolved in 1898 with the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, with Richmond as one of its five boroughs.

The construction of the Verrazano Bridge, along with the other three major Staten Island bridges, created a new way for commuters and tourists to travel from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Manhattan, and areas farther east on Long Island. The network of highways running between the bridges has effectively carved up many of the borough’s old neighborhoods.

The Verrazano had another effect, opening up many areas of the borough to residential and commercial development, especially in the central and southern parts of the borough, which had previously been largely undeveloped. Staten Island’s population doubled between from about 221,000 in 1960 to about 443,000 in 2000.

Throughout the 1980s, a movement to secede from the city steadily grew in popularity, reaching its peak during the mayoral term of David Dinkins. In a 1993 referendum, 65% voted to secede, but implementation was blocked in the State Assembly.

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