The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for November 30th, 2011

frightful pull

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the hot part of the summer of 2011, Kevin Walsh was planning one of his Second Saturday tours, and as your humble narrator had agreed to assemble the tour booklet for the outing- I was along for the ride, which is how I ended up in in Brooklyn (the “lands of my boit”). My mom used to refer to this intersection of Flatbush and Church Avenues at “flatboosh and choich” when I was a kid, spoke in hushed tones about “the shawpping dat uzed to be dere”, and my dad avoided it like the plague because of the traffic.

The highlight of my trip to Brooklyn that day was that I was going to Lovecraft Country.

Here’s what Mr. Kevin Walsh of forgotten-ny said about the place

Flatbush Dutch Reformed has had three incarnations: a wood structure built on orders from Governor General Peter Stuyvesant in 1654, a stone building in 1699, and the current one built from Manhattan schist dating to 1798. The churchyard goes back to the church’s very beginnings and contains stones inscribed in both English and Dutch. Among the many stained glass windows are a few by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The tower contains a clock and bell that are dated 1796, plus a 10-bell chime that was cast by the Meneely Foundry of Troy, N.Y., and installed in 1913.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who are not enormous nerds, H.P. Lovecraft was a writer who lived in Brooklyn for awhile, but he always longed for his New England homeland. Weird Fiction was his bag, and his work survived him. H.P was a dedicated long distance walker, and an amateur historian who made the best of his time in New York visiting significant and historically interesting sites all over the City.

“Lovecraft Country” is a fan term for the fictional locations and mythic locales described so vividly by the author, and refers to coastal Massachusetts more often than not. In Brooklyn though, things are real, and so is “Lovecraft Country”.

from wikipedia

Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church Complex, also referred to more simply as the Flatbush Reformed Church, is a historic Dutch Reformed church (now a member of the Reformed Church in America) at 890 Flatbush Avenue and 2101-2103 Kenmore Terrace in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. The complex consists of the church, church house, parsonage, and cemetery. The congregation was founded in 1654. The 2 1⁄2-story stone church building was constructed in 1796 and features a stone tower with stone belfry. The stained glass windows are by Tiffany studios and commemorate the descendants of many early settlers of Flatbush. The church house is a 2 1⁄2-story red brick and limestone building. The parsonage is a 2 1⁄2-story wood-frame house moved to its present site in 1918. The cemetery is the last resting place of most of the members of the early Dutch families of Flatbush. The earliest legible grave marker dates to 1754.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While exploring the place for myself, as Kevin (and Newtown Pentacle’s Far Eastern Correspondent Armstrong) was dying from heat exhaustion and taking cover in the shade of a venerable oak, one thing that gained my attention were the names on the stones. Suydam, Martense… These are character names from some of Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft saw evil in New York City, and was terrified by the tight quarters and crowded streets which distinguished the immigrant era. (He was of course, kind of a racist, very much a product of his time- don’t forget how common such tribalism was, and how novel and new the non ethnocentric and very all inclusive “progressive politique and so called meritocracy” is).

Kevin and Armstrong both guzzled water, but I was not parched and required only further explorations.

H.P. Lovecraft said

My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the places which comes up again and again in his writings is this very churchyard, apparently it left quite the impression upon Lovecraft, and inspired his story “The Hound”. He confessed to desecrating this graveyard, incidentally, which is strictly against Newtown Pentacle policy.

This is also why I don’t guzzle water while in graveyards, as such quaffing will inevitably result in the need for urination, which might lead to desecration.

(First Calvary in Queens has two well maintained and world class public lavatories at the entrance gates, btw.)

H.P. Lovecraft was actually here in 1922

On September 16, 1922, Lovecraft toured the Flatbush Reformed Church in Brooklyn with his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, writing about the visit in a letter:

Around the old pile is a hoary churchyard, with internments dating from around 1730 to the middle of the nineteenth century…. From one of the crumbling gravestones–dated 1747–I chipped a small piece to carry away. It lies before me as I write–and ought to suggest some sort of horror-story. I must place it beneath my pillow as I sleep… who can say what thing might not come out of the centuried earth to exact vengeance for his desecrated tomb? And should it come, who can say what it might not resemble?[

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This particular parcel of “Lovecraft Country” has an awful lot of New York City history associated with it, Peter Stuyvesant and the “Degenerate Dutch” and all that. Road extensions of a toll road called Flatbush Avenue past a watch tower… Frankly, the sort of “historian history” which your humble narrator always bolloxes up. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Rob Schweiger, Brooklyn’s borough historian, and he can offer a far more cogent history of this place than I can. So can the oft mentioned Kevin Walsh.

I can tell you a lot about Newtown Creek and it’s locale, but this part of colonial Brooklyn ain’t my bag.

from “the Lurking Fear”, courtesy

No one outside the backwoods had believed these varying and conflicting stories, with their incoherent, extravagant descriptions of the half-glimpsed fiend; yet not a farmer or villager doubted that the Martense mansion was ghoulishly haunted. Local history forbade such a doubt, although no ghostly evidence was ever found by such investigators as had visited the building after some especially vivid tale of the squatters. Grandmothers told strange myths of the Martense spectre; myths concerning the Martense family itself, its queer hereditary dissimilarity of eyes, its long, unnatural annals, and the murder which had cursed it

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I don’t know why I’m always drawn to cemetery trees, a humble narrator will confess, but there’s always something about these vegetable growths fed by an obvious and morbid nutrition. An ominous portent, a spooky resonance, a dissonant note. For some reason, my perception leads me to see shapes in their whorls and crags, shapes which form into recognizable “things”- much like searching for the shape of a dragon in cloud formations.

The scientifically minded call it Pareidolia.

from “The Horror at Red Hook”, courtesy

Suydam was a lettered recluse of ancient Dutch family, possessed originally of barely independent means, and inhabiting the spacious but ill-preserved mansion which his grandfather had built in Flatbush when that village was little more than a pleasant group of colonial cottages surrounding the steepled and ivy-clad Reformed Church with its iron-railed yard of Netherlandish gravestones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I don’t think I get enough sleep, that’s what it is. It renders me highly suggestible, and perhaps I should drink some more water, and follow Mr. Walsh’s example when visiting “Lovecraft Country“.

from wikipedia

Oneirophrenia is a hallucinatory, dream-like state caused by several conditions such as prolonged sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, or drugs (such as ibogaine). From the Greek words “ὄνειρο” (oneiro, “dream”) and “φρενός” (phrenos, “mind”). It has some of the characteristics of simple schizophrenia, such as a confusional state and clouding of consciousness, but without presenting the dissociative symptoms which are typical of this disorder.
Persons affected by oneirophrenia have a feeling of dream-like unreality which, in its extreme form, may progress to delusions and hallucinations. Therefore, it is considered a schizophrenia-like acute form of psychosis which remits in about 60% of cases within a period of two years. It is estimated that 50% or more of schizophrenic patients present oneirophrenia at least once.

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