The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

potent interest

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A carven forest of infinite sorrow and cosmic loss, Calvary Cemetery here in Queens often brightens the mood of one such as myself.

Deeply jaundiced by the acts and betrayals of the living, a humble narrator has little choice but to reacquaint himself constantly with an era when honor and the keeping of ones word was the masculine ideal. Unfortunately we live in a debased age, wherein petty monsters are allowed to terrorize the townsfolk freely. Such creatures stalk every century of course, but in ours, the acts of vengeance one may enact against an opponent are considerably circumscribed by custom and law.

You just can’t punch a guy in the nose and be done with it anymore.

from wikipedia

The first burial in Calvary Cemetery took place on July 31, 1848. The name of the deceased was Esther Ennis, having reportedly “died of a broken heart.” By 1852, there were 50 burials a day, half of them were poor Irish under seven years of age.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moral conundrums such as the one described above were less important than finding a meal for most of the 19th century Catholics who were buried here. They mostly died young, they died poor, and they most often died from avoidable diseases brought on by bad water, poor sanitation, and chronic malnutrition. Most were illiterate, violent, and alcoholics (by modern standards), and the only people looking out for them were their priests.

That “50 burials a day” number in the wiki quotation above represents an interesting organizational question to me. Around the beginning of the Civil War, the technological resources that the Roman Catholic Church would have had access to in performing these interments is easily explained as the sort of gear you’d see in a Cowboy movie- horses and wagon, pick ax, shovels and spades.

That’s a lot of digging, better than eighteen thousand graves a year, which would require a lot of cheap labor.

18,000 funerals a year also indicates a lot of clerical work, performing ceremonial functions for the cemetery itself and organizing the ritual schedules of mass and other votive tasks for funeral goers at the cemetery chapel.

from fordham.edu

In the 1840’s a massive number of Irish-Catholics immigrated to the United States. By 1855, there were over 200,000 Irish in New York City. British land policies, which sought to sweep the Irish peasants off their land, were compounded by the devastating potato famine of 1845 to 1847. A rot attacked the potato crop, on which the Irish population had become dependent. About 2 million people perished. The Irish often arrived in America with few material possessions and were forced to live in squalor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As detailed in the past, the first service conducted here, for Esther Ennis in 1848, was conducted by the legendary Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes.

Hughes was a charismatic firebrand who turned the Archdiocese of New York into a powerhouse player in education, real estate, finance, and politics within a single generation. Based in Manhattan, Hughes’s Archdiocese appointed the official chaplains of the Calvary Cemetery, once a prestigious position to hold. No evidence of a modern chaplain, although there must be some modern prelate who oversees the place, was discovered upon casual inspections.

The monument in today’s posting is that of one such chaplain of Calvary Cemetery.

from wikipedia

On April 8, 1808, the Holy See raised Baltimore to the status of an Archdiocese. At the same time, the dioceses of Philadelphia, Boston, Bardstown and New York were created. At the time of its establishment, the Diocese of New York covered all of the state of New York, as well as the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Bergen, Morris, Essex, Somerset, Middlesex, and Monmouth.

Since the first appointed bishop could not set sail from Italy due to the Napoleonic blockade, Fr. Kohlman was appointed administrator. He was instrumental in organizing the diocese and preparing for the Cathedral of St. Patrick to be built on Mulberry Street. Among the difficulties faced by Catholics at the time was anti-Catholic bigotry in general and in the New York school system. A strong Nativist movement sought to keep Catholics out of the country and to prevent those already present from advancing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lords and Ladies, gaze upon the inscription marking this marble as the monument of the First Chaplain of Calvary Cemetery, Rev. Patrick Hennessy.

This column, decorated and inscribed with iconography denoting the burial place of a Roman Catholic Priest, has stood here in section 3 since 1861. It adjoins two other monuments recently described at this, your Newtown Pentacle- the Connell obelisk from “whispered warnings,” and what turned out to be the Jeanne Du Lux and John P. Ferrie monument from “anxious band” and “doubly glad.”

from 1876’s “The visitor’s guide to Calvary cemetery, with map and illustrations” by J. J. Foster, courtesy archive.org

REV. PATRICK HENNESSY, Late Chaplain of the Cemetery, on which are the usual priestly insignia.

In the rear of the monument are statues representing ” Faith,” ” Hope,” and ” Charity,” angels in kneeling posture, and many others. Marble vases containing blooming flowers are scattered around, somewhat relieving the bare aspect of the ground, which is paved with small square-cut flagging, in which is a door leading to the vaults beneath. The whole plot is surrounded with substantial rails of marble.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

According to the quotation above, there is a subterranean vault which lies forgotten below the very spot upon which I stood while shooting the closer in photos which appear above.

Such occluded knowledge and latent danger is nepenthe, of course, for one such as myself. References gleaned from study of ancient tomes indicates that Rev. Hennessy actually lived within the gates of the cemetery itself, but that comes from a single source and is therefore not 100% reliable. If accurate, however, the structure would have been found at the foot of the hill which Section 9 sits upon.

One suspects that unlike myself, who is a vast physical and psychological coward known for his fits of shrieking laughter and terrifying pauses, an Irish priest from the New York of 1861 would have found little problem with straightening his back up and punching some rogue right square in the nose.

an obituary published on January 28 of 1861, found at the NYTimes archive, discusses the passing of Rev. Hennessy

HENNESSY. — At his residence, on Long Island, on Saturday, Jan. 26, Rev. PATRICK HENNESSY, in the 51st year of his age.

His funeral will take place from the Church at Calvary Cemetery, at 10 o’clock A.M., this day, (Monday.) 28th inst. His friends, and the reverend clergy, are respectfully invited to attend.

One Response

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  1. BRAVO, Mitch! And John P. Ferrie strikes again! This man got around….and he had important friends!

    If Father Hennessey lived on the grounds of Calvary Cemetery, he most likely would have lived in the very house that still stands adjacent to the front gates of the grounds. That house was used as Calvary’s Offices for many years, but I’m told that it was also a residence in every sense of the word.

    Jim Garrity

    March 11, 2013 at 4:21 am


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