The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for January 17th, 2017

ultimate blackness

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It’s Al Capone, Betty White, and Andy Kaufman’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood, you’ll find the principal burying grounds of the Roman Catholic Church in 19th and early 20th century NYC, called First Calvary Cemetery. It’s called “First” Calvary, as there are three other properties found to the east in Woodside that the church refers to as “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth.” First, or Old, Calvary has been in use since 1848. Calvary Cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Newtown Creek and is surrounded by the industrial zones of Long Island City and West Maspeth.

The majority of burials in First Calvary occurred between its founding and the Second World War, which means that the monuments found within its fence lines have endured the effects of the endemic atmospheric pollution typical of industrial America prior to the passing of the 1972 Federal Clean Air Act. Acid rain wasn’t a term used prior to that legislation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Granite seems to be the best choice for a monument able to weather the atmospherics hereabouts.

Marble rots away, obscuring the legend, iconography, and screed carven into the memorial stones. If you were to run your fingers across the surface of the stone pictured above, a sandy grit would transfer from it to your skin. To be fair, though, there used to be an acid factory right across the street from Calvary Cemetery.

That factory was opened in 1866, and was first known as “General Chemical,” then as “Nichols Chemical,” and then as “Phelps Dodge.” Phelps Dodge, of course, is one of the named “potentially responsible parties” or “PRP’s” in the ongoing Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phelps Dodge vacated its property long ago. Back in 1901, when the corporate entity was still called the Nichols Chemical Company, community complaints and a law suit by the cemetery forced them to build what was – at the time – the largest chimney in the United States to release their acidic waste gases high above the ground. It was supported by wooden piles driven into the landfilled Newtown Creek marshlands their factory was built on. These piles supported a 25 foot deep concrete foundation, which in turn provided a stable enough base for a 22,000 ton, 367 feet tall chimney.

Roughly translating that to modern day “building stories,” this was a 36-37 story tall chimney.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For comparison, the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is 53 stories in height, but three of those stories are below the ground. The Nichols/Phelps complex employed close to 1,500 people back in 1901. The acid factory was merely part of their production line, and the high grade sulfuric acid they were known for as a mere co-product for their true profit center.

The main focus of their business was the refining of copper. The company was producing some 517,000 tons of the stuff, annually, back in 1901 when that chimney went up. Most of the landfill that the company had used to build out the marshy shoreline of Newtown Creek, and upon which they built their factories, was material harvested from the refining processes – specifically slag from their redoubts and furnaces. The original shoreline of Newtown Creek was anywhere from 500-1,000 feet back from the modern shoreline, more or less where the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks are found today.


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