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Archive for the ‘Blissville’ Category

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A visit to Sims Metal Management over in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All summer long, one has a tendency to lead walking tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the fabulous Newtown Creek. There are boat tours too, but these walking and boat excursions are generally public facing tours that visit public places. My job is to provide historic context for wherever we happen to be, and describe the various issues each particular area is facing. There’s one spot along the Newtown Creek, however, which I only bring college or graduate student groups to. That’s Sims Metal, in Long Island City, and I brought a college group there last Saturday.

There’s a million reasons for this restriction, and number one is not wearing out my welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number two revolves around the very busy schedule of this waterfront business. Luckily, Sims and its management are anxious to spread the word about their recycling operations. Their Sunset Park facility was actually purpose built with visitors in mind and they maintain an education center at that site. The Newtown Creek operation is different, and is a very busy industrial site.

When I can get a group in here, the entire operation pretty much shuts down in the name of safety. The working guys love it when they see me walking a group up the road, I think, as they get to take a coffee break.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number three is a safety issue. Several of the times I’ve been here, just on my own – it’s been strictly hard hats and steel toe boots, gloves, glasses, the whole “working guy” uniform. With a largish group of students, this isn’t realistic, so the site manager tells his crew to take a break and then carefully guides us around the site’s edges and discusses the services which the company offers.

Those services include the receipt and initial sorting of the “MGP” (metal glass plastic) and cardboard/paper materials collected by the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling program, which is what’s going on in the first photo of this post. All of this municipal contract material will be barged out of the Creek and sent for finer levels of sorting and processing at the Sunset Park facility.

I got to visit the operation in Sunset Park last summer, and did two posts about it – “Noxious Mysteries” and “Unusually Worried“. The latter one details the actual process of sorting recyclable garbage, if you’re into that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other side of Sims’ operations here at Newtown Creek revolves around commercial customers. If it’s made of metal and you’re disposing of it, Sims is one of the larger players in the recycling business. Materials like the mountain of rebar pictured above get shipped here by truck from upland sources, then are loaded onto barges and sent off to be processed at another Sims facility.

My understanding is that material like that rebar in the shot above will be sent off to Jersey City and fed into a shredder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “big show” at Sims on Newtown Creek always revolves around the stacks of automobiles and trucks which they process. All the fluids, batteries, and various onboard tanks have been removed from these vehicles before they get trucked in. The discarded or junked vehicles are trucked into Sims and then stacked for eventual placement on a barge. That barge will be escorted by a tugboat over to another Sims facility in New Jersey where they’ll be fed into a shredder.

I’m told that said shredder will reduce a car to metallic toothpicks in a few seconds, but no matter how many times I ask, the Sims people say it’s just too much of a safety risk to let me close enough to photograph that part of the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The academic group I was shepherding around last weekend were urban planning students from MIT, and were in town to study the industrial zone in Long Island City. I’ve also had Robin Nagle’s NYU class back here, as well as a group from a Dutch university who make an annual visit to Newtown Creek. We only ask Sims to open their gates to us for academic groups, as a note.

The mission of the Newtown Creek Alliance is to “reveal, restore, revitalize” Newtown Creek. Bringing student groups to Sims Metal is part of the “reveal” side of the job. You should see what my colleagues are up to on the “restore and revitalize” planks, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do this summer.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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It’s National Sacher Torte Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The concrete devastations of Newtown Creek, after the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself has slipped behind and become occluded by the state of New Jersey, are spooky. During daylight, they’re just a cautionary tale with occasional glimpses of terror and wonder, but after darkness settles in on the soot stained masonry offered by the warehouses, factories, and the Great Wall of Calvary Cemetery – one finds himself constantly looking over his shoulder. In the case of the furtive glance captured above, my apprehension was directed towards the spot where Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd. nearby the old and nearly forgotten Penny Bridge. The masonry of the 1894 Penny Bridge is still extant, despite the actual span having been demolished around 1940. The first Penny Bridge, which was little more than a rope walk, opened thereabouts in 1803. It is at Penny Bridge that the presence of the spectral Blissville Banshee was first reported in 1884, as she glided across the oily waters of the Newtown Creek.

I mean – this ain’t Queens Plaza – where legions of vampires are known to drop from the steel rafters of the subways when night comes – but… Blissville after dark is just plain weird.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s not just me who feels this way, either. Last Spring, a buddy of mine – who’s fairly fearless – was walking along this stretch with me at night. He began to ask insistently where we were, and opine that he was completely disoriented despite being in his native borough. Paranoid ideations began to blossom in his mind, and despite my insistence that we were on very familiar ground, anxiety began to overwhelm his reason. A distinct sigh of relief escaped his cranial breathing holes when we emerged onto Greenpoint Avenue after walking down shadow haunted Review Avenue in a generally northern direction.

Perhaps he was experiencing the sort of chronal tunnel vision that I often do.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Could he have subconsciously known that Van Iderstine’s used to be here, or about Fleischmann’s Yeast with their stable of pneumoniac cattle. The unhealthy condition of these cattle, which attracted the attention of newspaper reporters, hygenicists, and State Board of Health Inspectors from Albany back in 1879, was attributed to being fed only fermented grain produced by the yeast brewers, which slid into their feeding troughs still steaming and straight from from the distillery process. The milk these cows produced was blueish in coloration, and nearly 1% alcohol by volume. This so called “swill milk” was not considered fit for general human consumption, as it was the lowest grade of dairy product commercially available in that era, but was considered a fitting protein source to serve to the orphans and prisoners confined on Blackwells Welfare Roosevelt Island. Nellie Bly might have spent ten days in a madhouse, but I don’t think she mentioned drinking swill milk in her famous exposé.

Van Iderstine’s, for those of you lucky enough to it have never heard of the business which used to inhabit these parts, ran a fat rendering mill hereabouts that was extant until the latter half of the 20th century. Animal parts, spoiled meat, rotten eggs, barrels of butchers blood – all were boiled down in open copper vessels here in Blissville in pursuance of the manufacture of tallow. Ghastly business, that.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite the atmospheric temperatures being low enough to allow one the usage of his full armor – the filthy black raincoat and a stout hat coupled with durable clothing woven from ruggose fibers – one is always aware of his vulnerability and obsequiousness to malign elements of society due to conducting my excursions on foot. It would be a simple matter for one or two stout men to overpower one such as myself, known for his physical cowardice and nervous temperament.

Others with stronger constitution might venture into the shadows of rumor haunted Blissville, but a humble narrator chooses instead to acknowledge his lurking fear and remain naught but a passing outsider and scuttling stranger.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Upon arriving at the inverse end of Review Avenue, a quick glance over my shoulder revealed a small group of stocky men forming up and pointing in my direction. They were clad in shadow, but the outlines of their group against the sodium lit walls of masonry revealed shapes which did not seem “right.” Discretion being the better part of valor, a humble narrator engaged the services of a passing taxi and made haste for the locked doors of HQ back in Astoria.

The world is a scary place, and the concrete devastations of Western Queens can be scarier than even the pathless deserts of Arabia, where the secrets of cities lost await discovery by the scientifically curious. What might be found… in those wisely abandoned metropolises… if occult rumors are to believed… could easily spark another dark age, and retard the forward progress of mankind – or possibly end civilization itself and condemn mankind to an endless era of ape like barbarity.

As far as the Blissville section of LIC goes – who can guess, all there is, that might be hidden down there?


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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It’s National Have a Bagel Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Encountered at the corner of Hunters Point Avenue and 36th street, which is at the “angle” between the Blissville and Sunnyside sections of LIC here in Queens, this formerly cool car appears to have suffered through some sort of catastrophic event. You’ll notice that there’s more than few odd things about this scene. My reckoning, at least, is that I can’t imagine that this immolation of an expensive auto was desired by its owner – but who knows?

Kids these days. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This was a fairly thorough fire, by all appearances, but one that was quite selective in terms of what it consumed. Little green cards with NYPD logos on them were visible on the heap, instructing “Do Not Tow” and proclaiming the wreck as being “evidence.” The vehicle is of the Mercedes sedan type, or at least it was. This puppy is likely going to be seen somewhere along Newtown Creek in the coming weeks, squished into a pile of castoff vehicles at one scrap yard or another.

Anybody out there missing a black Mercedes sedan?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That had to be some sort of super hot fire, in my eyes, to have melted away the engine bonnet.

Apparently, though, that’s what happened. In some ways, it visually reminds one of that mysterious phenomena called “spontaneous human combustion.” That’s the one where a body is found that’s been partially burned all the way to ash but the flames were super selective, leaving behind a hand or foot that is otherwise unharmed, and with little damage to furniture or wall hangings in proximity to high temperature combustion. To get human flesh to ash, crematoriums create fiery environments that are 1,400 to 1,800 degrees fahrenheit. How can something anywhere even close to an environment of that temperature not get scorched?

I mean… this blaze was hot enough to melt the engine hood, parts of the engine, and the entire interior cabin – but the tires are perfectly intact? Weird.

Steel melts at 2,750 degrees fahrenheit, I’m told.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

familiar rookery

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It’s National Eat a Red Apple Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The holiday season arrives at Newtown Creek in a manner alien to the neighborhoods surrounding it.

Hereabouts it’s truck tires roasting on a open fire, and that ain’t Jack Frost nipping at your nose kiddo, it’s benzene. Reviewing my year end list of; all the mistakes I’ve newly made, people I’ve offended, stupid things I’ve said in public, or generally humiliated myself somehow – it occurred that I hadn’t checked in on things in DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp) in about a month.

That’s the scene, above, at the spot where Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd. at Penny Bridge, in the Blissville section of Long Island City, in the Borough of Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that this bridge replacement project has been explored before.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

Most recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting, and the aftermath of the demolition as seen from Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section in this post from October 5th.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They’re still hard at work demolishing the rubble left behind by the “energetic felling” of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge at the start of October. These shots were captured from the hills of Calvary Cemetery, if you haven’t already figured that one out yet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reinforced concrete piers that carried the roadway are being demolished using traditional means. That involves the yellow thingamabob being equipped with a chisel hammer, and the guy on the orange lift is spraying water on the concrete to mitigate dust.

The shots of the Queens side of DUKBO in today’s post were shot on November 17th, a Friday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the following Sunday the 19th, a humble narrator scuttled over to the Poison Cauldron in Greenpoint.

That’s my pet name for the section of DUKBO that begins at Kingsland Avenue and heads east past Meeker Avenue to the National Grid fencelines at Lombardy Street. It’s ugly in the Poison Cauldron, I tell you, ugly. Things can’t “get from bad to worse” because they’re already there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Similar industrial demolition and scrap removal practices to those in Queens are also occurring on the Brooklyn side. Unlike the Queens side, however, I was able to walk right up to and on the job site. I even used one of the Porta Potties they had stationed to blow some internal ballast (hey, it’s a fairly long walk from Astoria).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is odd for me to see light in this spot… this was always an area permeated by shadows, which I now long for.

Additionally, not being chased, threatened, or harassed by the questionable managers of a local waste transfer station as to “whatchu takin pictchas of asshole, getdafukouttaherre” – said operation having been displaced by the construction activity – was not missed at all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only thing going through my mind was that this scene looked like a battle had been fought here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m sure I’ll have a bit more to tell you about the Kosciuszcko Bridge shortly, as there’s supposed to be a meeting of the Stakeholders Committee coming up in early December.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was only so far I wanted to go, as this was and is an active demolition site.

Luckily, that’s what zoom lenses are for.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The things you see along the Newtown Creek…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

… if you don’t take pictures of them, nobody would believe you.

How can such a place be real, and that so few people even know it exists, this omphalos of New York City?


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

December 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

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It’s National Brandied Fruit Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another few weeks to go and then I get to become gods lonely man again, a situation which a humble cannot wait for this year. There’s been a couple of days in the last week wherein my “full armor” has been deployed, and a filthy black raincoat has been observed by the hard hats of Newtown Creek as it flaps about in the wind beyond their fences. The “me” who conducts the tours is by design a very nice fellow, generous with his time, and entirely mission oriented towards my portion of the Newtown Creek Alliance motto of “reveal, restore, revitalize.” I’m on the “reveal” side of things, incidentally. As far as the other two go, I’d advise you visit newtowncreekalliance.com and check out the various street end projects in Maspeth and Greenpoint being worked on my colleagues at NCA, as well as the very promising “North Henry Street project” and Living Dock. NCA is loosely affiliated with multiple organizations around the Newtown Creek watershed, sharing both members and goals.

One of those organizations is the frankly spectacular Smiling Hogshead Ranch on Skillman Avenue at Pearson Place in Long Island City. A community garden and urban farm, the Hogshead folks are presenting a Harvest Festival at their site tomorrow – Saturday the 21st – between noon and seven p.m. I’m going to conduct three short walks for them, free, starting at 2, 3:30, and 5 if you want to come along and meet the folks who turned a derelict set of rail tracks into a verdant green space with little more than the sweat of their brows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that he is deluding himself about just being able to button up the raincoat and disappear into the miasmic air of the Newtown Creek for a while, since I’ve become fairly familiar to the folks who work around the creeklands and despite all of my best efforts to remain isolated from humanity… one will end up having to talk to them. Unfortunately, I have become… some how… garrulous and affable. This shakes my entire self image.

How the hell did this outsider end up being affable? Just the other day, one opined to “Our Lady of the Pentacle” that I have somehow become “approachable” in recent years. Used to be that when I walked into a shop, security would follow me around and old ladies would clutch at their purses out of shock and fear. I’d see some monster staring at me from across the room, and then while reaching out to touch its horrible countenance, suddenly realize that I was looking in a mirror and touching a pane of silvered glass. Our Lady informed that I’m old now, which makes me seem less “edgy” than formerly.

Saying that, a couple of rather inexpensive but recent additions to my camera bag have created new possibilities for night shooting, which is something I plan on doing a LOT of in the coming months of sepulchral darkness and cold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Oh, to dance along the bulkheads again. Filthy black raincoat flapping in the wind, camera in hand, dodging trucks and trains. Recording the truth of our times in graphic narrative and garish color, and uncovering the tales of days gone by when clear eyed mariners plied the grease choked water in steam powered vessels. Poking my lens into the nooks and crannies of that lugubrious cataract of urban decay known as the Newtown Creek…


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

local inquisitiveness

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There is no National Food day on October 5th!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As promised in Tuesday’s post, one headed over to Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville section of Long Island City to check out the scene after the October 1st “energetic felling” or demolition of the approaches of the Koscisuzcko Bridge. Given that Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery is carved into, offers some altitude and commanding views of the bridge(s) it’s a pretty good choice as far as “point of view.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long time readers of this – your Newtown Pentacle – will tell you that this bridge replacement project has been explored before.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszcko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszcko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Here’s one from August of 2016the December 2016 one, one from March of 2017 which discusses the demolition of the 1939 bridge.

Here’s a post showing what I saw during a pre opening walk through in early April of 2017, and the fanfare surrounding the opening of half of the new bridge in April of 2017, a walk through of the Brooklyn side job site in June of 2017. Here’s some night shots from early July of 2017. A series of posts focused in on the removal of the central truss of the 1939 bridge from the summer of 2017 – a timelapse, some stills, and the barging out of the truss.

Most recently, in late September of 2017, a final series of shots of the old bridge were captured in this post. Acquisition of a souvenir chunk of steel from the 1939 bridge was described in this post, and a video of the “energetic felling” of the approaches on October 1st was offered in this one. Still shots and views of the aftermath from the waters of Newtown Creek from later in the day on Oct. 1 are found in this posting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the south side of the job site, the Breeze company’s demolition crews are hard at work, and they were chipping and grinding away at a section which must be blocking the Lower Montauk tracks and the LIRR’s right of way. This section of the tracks is known as “dead man’s curve” due to it having been the site of the legendary Blissville Rail disaster and for the number of laborers employed by the now vacated Phelps Dodge company who thought that they could outrun a freight train.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is somewhat surreal, this current landscape in DUKBO. This view is looking north towards Sunnyside’s 43rd street, which is found on the other side of the Long Island Expressway viaduct that forms a shield wall between the industrial zone and the residential neighborhoods.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This view is looking eastwards towards West Maspeth, from a prominence inside the cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s a link to a FAR larger incarnation of the stitched panorama above, which captures the entire scene. This is a HUGE file, for those of you reading this on your phones, btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I promise this will be the last Kosciuszcko Bridge post for a bit. In my defense though, in my roll as Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, part of my “job” is to record the events of the Superfund era and to document the seismic changes happening along the fabulous Newtown Creek for posterity.


Upcoming Tours and event

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Hidden Harbors Of  Staten Island Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee – Sunday, October 15th, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

A very cool boat tour that visits two of the maritime industrial waterways of New York Harbor which adjoin Staten Island and Bayonne in New Jersey – The Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill. There will be lots of tugboats, cargo docks, and you’ll get to see multiple bridges from the water – including the brand new Goethals Bridge. I’ll be on the mike, narrating with WHC board member Gordon Cooper details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

moulder through

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It’s National Pepperoni Pizza Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Positively cinematic, First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville of Queens is. The Roman Catholic Church acquired Laurel Hill, found along the troublesome Newtown Creek, from the Alsop family back in 1848. The Alsops had held the land since 1648, when a fellow named Thomas Wandell acquired it from the Dutch colonial authorities. Wandell, an associate of Oliver Cromwell’s who had fallen out of favor with the Lord Protector, died in 1691 and the land passed to his nephew Richard Alsop (who died in 1718). The last Alsop who actually worked the land died in 1837, and it was a distaff member of the family who was a member of Manhattan’s “Knickerbocracy” that sold it to the church.

The Church sent armies of laborers to Blissville, who altered Laurel Hill into its current shape, installed a drainage system, and by 1860 or so there were as many as fifty interments a day taking place here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a few simply gorgeous structures in First Calvary Cemetery (ultimately, there are four Calvary Cemeteries in Queens, with the other three found over in Woodside) such as the Almirall Chapel.

Archbishop Farley had returned from a visit to Rome in 1908 with the intention of creating a new funerary chapel at Calvary which would also host an ossuary for the nuns, monks, and priests of his diocese. Architect Raymond Almirall designed the structure pictured above, which is one of the earliest poured concrete buildings in New York City. The dome of the chapel is forty feet across and eight eight feet high. Atop it is a statue of “Christ the redeemer” designed by a female sculptor (her sex is mentioned as it is quite significant that a female was chosen for this commission during the particular time period) named Merro Beatrice Wilson. The Almirall Chapel sits atop a shaft which leads down a hundred feet to a partially completed cruciform vault where the bones of Farley’s priests and nuns lie.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The real show stopper at Calvary Cemetery is the Johnston Memorial. Erected in 1873, at a cost of $200,000 (that would translate to about $4 million in modern terms) the Johnston Memorial, like the Almirall Chapel, forms a centerpiece of the section it’s found in. There were three Johnston brothers, who operated a very successful milliners business on Manhattan’s “Lady’s mile,” specifically on Fifth Avenue and 22nd street. Brother Charles died in 1864, and brother John left the world in 1887. The remaining Johnston brother, Robert, went mad with grief and fell into poverty. He died in a barn on the grounds of a an upstate nunnery, during a thunderstorm, in 1888.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Johnston memorial is well appointed with some exquisite carvings, and luckily the brothers sprang for granite rather than marble. The marble monuments all over Calvary Cemetery have the appearance of melting ice cream, due to the former presence of an acid factory in nearby Maspeth. A marble frieze over the entrance to the mausoleum, however, displays the characteristic damage from exposure to Newtown Creek’s corrosive atmospherics which one can see all over the cemetery’s acreage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary sits upon, and in, Laurel Hill. A natural prominence left behind by the glaciation process, Laurel is one of the foothills which lead through Maspeth towards the beginning of the terminal morraine of Long Island, which truly begins at another Roman Catholic cemetery called Mount Olivette. This “Y” shaped ridge of actual bedrock is what the elluvial shoals of the landform of Long Island are supported by, and they continue all the way to eastern shore with the the two branches of the Y terminating at Montauk and the Hamptons.

The view from Calvary is astounding, and I always remark that “you can see the whole soup bowl” of NYC’s inner harbor from up here. You used to be able to see a lot more, but… y’know… luxury towers and the real estate guys.

As a note, burial in First Calvary is quite desirable for Roman Catholics. Accordingly, the price of a grave hereabouts is astronomical, making this – from a square footage vs pricing ratio POV – the most valuable real estate in all of Long Island City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Adorning the dome of the Johnston Mausoleum, in addition to the statue of Jesus at its top, are granite renderings of four angels who gaze out at the sky from the cardinal points of a compass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east, the industrial zone of West Maspeth is hard to miss. The Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Koscisuzcko Bridge are just out of frame in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Calvary Cemetery is positively cinematic. It’s where Bruce Wayne’s parents, and Spider Man’s Uncle Ben, were buried in the movies. It’s also where Vito Corleone was interred in the Godfather movie. The place is seen regularly in television and movies as a set piece when you need a New York City backdrop for a funeral.

You never know what you’re going to find at Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville section of Queens, along the fabulous Newtown Creek, I always say. Bring a camera, and wander around the place without a plan, see what Calvary wants you to see. It’ll still be there the next time you come back, this history book etched in stone.


Upcoming Tours and events

The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 23rd, 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Join us on the wrong side of the tracks for an exploration of the hidden industrial heartlands of Brooklyn and Queens, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Saturday, October 7th, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

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