The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘NY 11377’ Category

and madness

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Calvary Cemetery in Blissville, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happened across this extraordinary monument over in Calvary Cemetery the other day. Depicting a weeping angel holding a bouquet of flowers, the top name on the stone is “Anna Genovese.” A bit of research was conducted on the name and year (1932), which unfortunately coincides with the second marriage of gangland leader Vito Genovese to a woman named Anna. Vito and Anna are actually in St. John Cemetery here in Queens, so this monument wasn’t erected in memory of Mrs. G.

It is a pretty Angel statue, however, and far enough away from the Newtown Creek side of Calvary to have largely escaped the acidic effluents of the Phelps Dodge refinery. The south eastern side of the cemetery exhibits stones which have the appearance of melting ice cream due to this effect. Granite is largely unaffected, of course, but Marble and Limestone alike exhibit pitting and decayed surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One realizes that angels represent the beatific and divine to people, but the whole concept gives me the willies. Over the years, one has indulged in studying the belief systems and bestiaries of the major religions, and a particular study has been made of the lore surrounding the so called “sons of fire” commonly called “Angels” and “Demons.” The Angels are, after all, the demons of God. Like Demons, Angels have naught but contempt for the “sons of clay” known as Men.

As a note, according to the last Spider Man movie, the section of Calvary Cemetery pictured above is where you’ll find the grave of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This odd arrangement of branches had nothing to do with Angels, I’m sure. Likely it’s a grounds keeper who recently watched the Blair Witch Project movie.

My take on Angels actually angers the religious folk out there. When asserting that the greatest and most loyal of the Angels is actually Lucifer – the original version of the “fall” story wasn’t the medieval Aquinas telling of a rebel prince denying his feudal master – instead it involved a divine command, offered to the assembled host of Angels in Eden, to “love” the Adamic pair and their offspring as if they were the creator deity itself. The Angel Lucifer questioned how he and his brothers could love any as much as they loved God itself, and it was the act of reason and doubt which damned both he and the fallen.

Some early versions of the tale see Lucifer as actually volunteering to play the role of adversary, as his God deserved a better enemy than the primeval “opposite” entity called Satan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Angels are meant to be asexual, incidentally, but usually referred to with male pronouns. Not Hermaphoditic at all, the race of Angels are instead meant to display qualities common to both human sexes, but are thought to be entirely “smooth” downstairs. Of course, the idea of a winged humanoid is likely an oversimplification for describing an extra dimensional race capable of evading the Newtonian laws of thermodynamics. In occult circles, the theory that all the human mind is capable of, as far as interpreting and visualizing the totality of the “sons of fire,” is the form of a winged medieval knight. Same thing with the God entity, which is so totally alien that all we are capable of seeing is a “burning bush.” It’s literally beyond human cognition, the supranatural.

I know, pretty deep stuff for a Tuesday. Tomorrow – something more concrete, steely, and material.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 4, 11:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m. –
DUPBO: Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

antique forms

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Visiting with the Alsops, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Roman Catholic Church purchased the land which would become LIC’s Calvary Cemetery back in 1848 from the Alsop family, who had inhabited it since the time of the Dutch decadence. The first Alsop on the land was a fellow named Thomas Wandell, who had ran afoul of Lord Protector Cromwell back in England and decided his best move was to hide out in the American colonies, specifically the ones which ran the flag of the Staten Generaal up the pole. The property was occupied during the American insurrection by none other than Lord Cornwallis and General Howe, and the experience of the Alsops regarding the forced quartering of troops and the damages inflicted on home and hearth by Hessian and Dragoon alike actually helped inform the Constitution of the United States’s ban on the practice. By 1848, the family line had dispersed and there was only one full blooded Alsop left in Queens. His estate sold the property to the Church, with the provision that the Catholics would maintain – in perpetuity – the Alsop family graveyard within the larger cemetery.

The Alsop plot is a theoretically unique place upon the earth, a Protestant graveyard entirely enclosed within a Catholic one. This doesn’t sound like too big a deal to modern ears, but back in the 1700’s, the Protestant Reformation and the Eighty Years War were still pretty present in people’s minds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Protestant Reformation, incidentally, is the filter by which one such as myself processes the news of the day. When you’re reading about insurgents and terrorists in the Middle East, it’s hard not to think that “those people” are savages and barbarians. That’s because… well, this post is written in English… Europe’s experience with this sort of thing has sort of faded into the historical firmament.

Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church back in 1521, which is coincidentally the same period in which Catholic Spain conquered the Mexica Aztec culture and appropriated an enormous quantity of precious metals and wealth from them. Churches in Spain, to this day, have a lot of Mexican silver worked into their ornamentation. What the Spanish Crown did with most of that silver, though, was fund the war against the Protestant crowns who followed Luther into the cold. It’s how they paid for the Spanish Inquistion, and the Counter Reformation, and it’s how Holland and the Netherlands ended up becoming independent countries after fighting their way out of the Hapsburg empires.

Europe, for a bit more than a century, was ripped apart by the religious wars. Famine, plague, all that good stuff was the result. Ultimately, the Thirty Years war between 1618 and 1648 ended up killing something like 25-40% of what modernity refers to as Germany.

At the end of it, the Crowns of Europe set up authoritarian states which brooked no dissidence and strictly controlled religion, printing, and what we would call “free speech.” The Dutch, and later the English, both began sending their religious zealots to the colonies in the Americas in an effort to try and keep the peace back home.

These zealots – Anabaptists, Puritans, Quakers – even Cromwell himself – were considered to be dangerous and it was best to make them go away. The reformation and its wars were bad for business and everyone agreed that a predictable future was better than the inverse, so the Kings grew ever more powerful in the name of stability.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember too, that 500 years ago, what we know as “Europe” was considered a violent backwater. The royalty were essentially the descendants of inbred motorcycle gangs who had ridden into a city and taken over by force of arms. Death came swiftly for the common people, as any infraction of the rules set down by these undereducated masters incurred reprisals that the ISIS people would be very comfortable with. After the Protestant Reformation’s wars had run their course, Europe entered into a period which is referred to as “the enlightenment” during which the winners of the reformation game consolidated feudal holdings they’d won control over into nation states whose names are familiar to modern ears – France, for instance. The countries which were never burned by the fires of these wars remained feudal duchys of the Catholic Church until quite late in the game – Italy comes to mind.

The absolute monarchs who ruled these new “national” territories were tyrants, so much so that the merchant classes of Europe – the so called Bourgeoise – began to pick up stakes and follow the zealots over to the Americas.

These Bourgeoise, who were heavily influenced by the Freemasons philosophically, are the people who led the revolutions against the European Monarchs, and the influence of the very conservative Catholic Bishops, and who set about trying to create Nation States which would operate in “rational” and “scientific” ways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s happening today in the Middle East is not entirely unlike the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants were religious fundamentalists driven to violent action by tyrannical and unfair governments who were supported by a clergy that supported and reinforced the power of the tyrants – those motorcycle gangs mentioned above. The Spanish empire was ruled by the Hapsburg family, who also controlled what would one day be called the Austro Hungarian Empire but at the time was called the “Holy Roman Empire.” Both Catholic and Protestant militarized and controlled vast resource bases, and when the Spanish hit the jackpot in Mexico – things flew into high gear. Genocide was an official policy back then, and the reason that the Crusades were abandoned wasn’t entirely because of the rising power of the Ottomans. It was because the Crusades were being aimed at the Albigensians and Cathars in France and what we would call Germany.

As Americans, we are the inheritors of a particularly Anglophile point of view. The fact that this POV exists at all is because the Spanish Armada never made it to the Thames.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For a straight up history of the Alsops, check out this post presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – back in 2011. Institutional memory is something that I constantly rattle on about. Something has gone wrong with our culture – it just might be Facebook – in recent years. A scandal or tragedy occurs, and everybody acts as if it’s something that’s happening for the first time. Ignorance of history seems willful, which breeds a sense of fatalism on the part of many. The world is not going to hell in a hand basket, rather, it’s been there before.

How did the Europeans solve the religious wars which decimated them for nearly 150 years? Totalitarian governments and absolute monarchy, that’s how, which sparked the age of colonialism. How did they solve that? Republics and representational democracy. Where that led – the second thirty years war – WW1 and 2. Which led to the Cold War…

I’ve got to stop hanging out in cemeteries, because places like the Alsop plot are how every story ends.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

obvious empiricism

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Tomorrow – Calvary Cemetery awaits.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, I’ll be narrating (humbly) a walking tour of First Calvary Cemetery here in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. I will be at the northeast corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenues at 10:30 a.m. As long time readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, will tell you – I have a special love for Calvary.

It’s the largest chunk of “green infrastructure” found along the Newtown Creek as well as serving as the final resting place of literally millions of Roman Catholic New Yorkers. It’s part of the firmament of LIC, and a significant touchstone for the history of 19th century NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Expect to encounter unexpected life forms in Calvary. The cemetery lies along the migration routes of several bird species, and I’ve spotted everything from Canada Geese to Great Blue Herons and Red Tail Hawks there. On, and in, the ground there’s a plethora of critters – such as the small rabbits which the Irish of the 19th century would have referred to as “Coney’s.” No guarantee on what we will spot, but there’ll be something interesting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sculptural monuments are found everywhere in First Calvary, from thirty foot high obelisks to enormous mausolea. We will be visiting the final resting place of Governors, Senators, even the tomb of the original gangster himself – Joseph Masseria. The rightful King of Ireland is buried in Calvary, along with members of Corcoran’s Legion – the Fighting 69th. For NYC history fans, and tapophiles – this place is a smorgasbord of interest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walking tour will be roughly two hours long, and will range over several shallow hills which host a natural grass surface. A hat or parasol is highly recommended to shield yourself from the sun. The walk is not difficult, but if you suffer from mobility issues – this likely is not the tour for you. Surrounding Calvary Cemetery are the concrete devastations of Western Queens – and the heavy industrial zone which forms the northern shoreline of the Newtown Creek. We will have a unrivalled view of the ongoing Kosciuszko Bridge construction project, btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bring your camera along, as Calvary Cemetery is a jewel. The Manhattan skyline is omnipresent, providing for impossibly candid views of an area stretching from the Williamsburg Bridge to the Queensboro. During the era of the so called “Gangs of New York” there was a saying which went “All roads lead to Calvary” and the cemetery was once a major destination for the Catholic masses of tenement Manhattan. Surrounding the great burying ground were saloons and road houses that serviced mourners. After the tour concludes, we will be visiting the last of these road houses (bar and food not included in ticket price, btw, just a post tour hang out). 

One other thing to mention, obviously, is that if there’s a funeral underway we are going to steer clear of it out of respect and deference for the mourners.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Walk ups are always welcome, for those of you uncomfortable with online ticketing, and the cost of the tour is $25 per head. For those of you who are comfortable with such online things, the link found below will take you to a credit card processing page. As a note, I couldn’t make the “ships within two weeks” line go away on the cc processing page, which a couple of people mentioned as being confusing. Nothing will be shipped to you, but you will receive an email receipt and your name will appear on the check in list I’ll be using “day of.”

Hope to see you tomorrow morning, at the corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenue, at 11 a.m.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 22nd, 2015
First Calvary Cemetery – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
click here for details and tickets.

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

sepulchral adorations

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Tour announcements, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On August 22nd, your humble narrator will be offering a walking tour of First Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood. First Calvary was founded in 1848 by the Roman Catholic Church and is one of the most amazing spots to experience in the Borough of Queens. It sits alongside the Newtown Creek, and is hemmed in by automotive expressways.

The walking tour will meet up at the corners of Greenpoint and Review Avenues at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 22nd and will be two hours long (give or take).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The narrated walk will play out over several shallow grassy hills. If mobility is a issue for you, this might not be the tour for you, accordingly. We will enter the cemetery on the Newtown Creek side, and exit on Greenpoint Avenue nearby the Bantry Bay Public House and the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the path through First Calvary Cemetery, several noteworthy New Yorkers who are interred there will be discussed, and amongst other attractions we will visit a theoretically unique place on the Earth – the colonial era Alsop Cemetery, which is a Protestant burying ground entirely enclosed within a Roman Catholic cemetery.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary hosts multiple valleys of mausolea which are amongst the finest examples of Victorian era funerary architecture found in NYC, and certainly so in Queens. Closed toe shoes are highly recommended, as is a hat or parasol to shield you from the late August sun. Dressing appropriately for late summer weather goes without saying. Bring your camera, as this landscape is spectacular, and a visual feast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding views of the NYS DOT’s Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction project will also be experienced.

Additionally, my pal from Newtown Creek Alliance – Will Elkins – and I, will be narrating on two Newtown Creek Boat tours on September 3rd for the Open House NY organization. Ticketing links for both excursions are found below.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 22nd, 2015
First Calvary Cemetery – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
click here for details and tickets.

September 3rd, 2015
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Open House NY, click here for details and tickets.

ordinary interpretation

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First Calvary Cemetery, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been a while since a post about my favorite place in Queens has been offered at this, your Newtown Pentacle. For those of you who have recently arrived, Calvary was the official burying ground of the Roman Catholic Church  for about a century. There are four sections, which contain more than six million interments, and the oldest section (First Calvary) was consecrated in 1848 by the Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes. It adjoins the lugubrious Newtown Creek, a century of its expansion has largely consumed a 19th century community called Blissville, and it is the final resting place for mobsters, governors, and the rightful king of Ireland.

Calvary Cemetery is a movie star, having provided Hollywood with the setting for funereal scenes in multiple films. Fictional characters buried here in the movies range from Don Corleone in the Godfather to both Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacey in Sony’s Spider Man franchise. Bruce Wayne’s parents are buried here as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Calvary Cemetery is a built environment, the crown of what was once known as Laurel Hill. A broad slope rises from the former swamps found along Northern Blvd., gaining altitude and moving through what is now called Sunnyside, and cresting at the former family farm of the colonial era Alsop family. Laurel Hill’s altitude then drops precipitously to the flood plains of Newtown Creek. In the 1850’s and 60’s, Church laborers extensively remodeled Laurel Hill to fit its mission, creating a private drainage system and removing millions of tons of top soil. By the late 19th century, Calvary had become a major destination for mourners from the largely catholic population of lower Manhattan and it was served by both ferry and trolley lines. Along its borders – road houses, saloons, and hotels were found.

That is, until the age of industry really kicked into gear along the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of Calvary’s neighbors was a company originally called General Chemical, but which is better known today as Phelps Dodge. General Chemical manufactured sulphuric acid (amongst other things) and Phelps Dodge, which was engaged in the copper business, acquired General Chemical at the start of the 20th century. They would use the acid produced here to free valuable metals from the ore it was laced into. General Chemical was not popular with its neighbors, due to the effluent which would drift out of its smoke stacks.

According to anecdotes from the time, coming from both Blissville and the town directly east of it – Berlin (now known as West Maspeth) – this effluent would wither gardens, ruin laundry hung out to dry, and in the case of Calvary Cemetery right next door – dissolve the tombstones.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marble is particularly vulnerable to acidification, and visibly rots away when exposed to ph’s high enough to be classified thusly. Pictured today is an 1866 monument dedicated to a person named “Mary Kiernan.” This monument bears the classic “rot” and weathering exhibited by acid damaged marble. Touching the stone, you’d pull your hand away and discover a sandy grit sticking to your fingers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

General Chemical found itself in a real pickle on this issue, as “public relations” hadn’t been invented yet, and the Church was pressuring the largely Irish political establishment of Tammany Hall to do something to help them. The company’s response was to build the tallest smoke stack to be found anywhere in the United States (at the time), with the goal of keeping the noxious emanations of the plant as far away from the ground as possible. They also planted a series of vegetable gardens in Blissville and Berlin, and began inviting reporters to witness the thriving patches of cabbage growing within throwing distance of their acid factory.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the inscription on the Kiernan monument, and as you’ll observe, most of the fine detail in the carving has the appearance of melted ice cream. Like General Chemical, and so many other of the great corporations which once distinguished Newtown Creek – Phelps Dodge has come and gone.

Of all that was here along the Creek in the decade leading up to the Civil War, only the genuine antiquity that is  Calvary Cemetry remains.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the cemetery, you’ll notice statuary bearing similar damage. The main source of acidification today comes from the exhaust of automobile traffic, as it mixes with atmospheric humidity, which eats away at the stone. Calvary Cemetery is bounded by the Long Island Expressway on its northern side, and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is found less than a half mile to the east. Greenpoint Avenue, and Review Avenue are local truck routes which host extremely heavy traffic.

All told, nearly a half million vehicles a day pass by the cemetery every single day of the year, here in the Netwon Pentacle.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

August 8th, 2015
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills – LIC Walking Tour
with Atlas Obscura, click here for details and tickets

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

horrible swaying

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In the cold waste.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is preoccupied, driven to distraction actually, by the Big Little Mayor’s announcement yesterday that he will be using the full power of City Hall to drive the decking over of the Sunnyside Yards and the subsequent installation of a housing complex in that space which would eventually be home to some 30,000 people. It reminded me that I like “gridlock” and “divided government” as it keeps epically bad ideas like this from coming to fruition. The price of decking the yards, alone, runs into the hundreds of billions, for instance. The term “affordable” is determined using a federal formula called the “average median income” or “AMI” which will average together the income and tax data gathered within a set area and calculate what “affordable” means. This area will include the Upper East Side in Manhattan, where the Wall Street people live, which means “affordable” will translate into $50,000 or more in rent a year. The term “affordable housing” is a shell game, and the money would be better spent repairing the decaying NYCHA system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses threw his hands in the air at the idea of decking the Sunnyside Yards, saying that it was just too complicated. So did Nelson Rockefeller. A cultic group of urban planners, however, refuses to give up on the idea. Currently led by Dan Doctoroff, the right hand man of the Big Little Mayor’s analogue for Satan – Michael Bloomberg – these planners salivate at the idea of setting up an ideal community. Towers in the park, as the crypto fascist LeCorbusier would have described it. They use Starrett City as an example? Have you ever been to Starrett City? I have, and I don’t plan on going back to that impersonal collection of Soviet style apartment blocks ever again. Density is a good thing? How about we dense up the sections of Manhattan rife with four story town houses like the Upper East Side?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve been wondering what my 2015 was going to hold. Now I know. For those of you reading this at your office desks on Beekman or Chambers streets, start planning on this project not being as much of a slam dunk as you thought it would be. Your worst nightmare, pissing off someone who understands the “system” but isn’t beholden to it, has happened. The Sunnyside Yards project proposal is going to be opposed, vociferously. You can’t fight City Hall? Not on City Hall’s terms you can’t, but this is going to be a street fight, and your expensive suit is going to get very dirty before I’m through. I may call Queens home, but I’m from Brooklyn, and street fights are what we know how to do.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm

wondered whether

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My Bubbe would have described the first shot as “Yoyzel on de cross.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a Jewish family, “Bubbe” is Grandma, and let me tell you this – Sarah would not have liked me even taking pictures of a crucifix, let alone hearing about me wandering through First Calvary cemetery on a regular basis. She was not a big fan of Halloween either, preferring to see the masks and costumes come out for Purim instead. Hailing from the Pale, and having lived through late 19th and early 20th century Pogroms (and other indignities) inflicted upon her rural community by the Cossacks, my Grandmother was particularly suspicious of the Goyem. She instructed that one should dwell with their own kind, because at least then “you’d see it coming when somebody had it in for you.” You have to cut the old lady some slack though, she saw her younger brother’s head chopped off by the Cossacks, who played a drunken match of polo with it afterwards. For Bubbe Sarah, the word “Russian” was a synonym for “rapist.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While reminiscing about transmitted generational prejudices and familial lore, one happened to notice this odd scene at the monument to Sarah Bell and the Kelly family. A doll lay upon the loam, in a position which would be familiar to crime scene investigators. No investigation of the Bells or Kelly’s has been undertaken, but one suspects that their sentiments about the English were probably quite similar to my Bubbe’s feelings about the Russians. It amazes me to this day how much effort, finance, and political capital these two empires expended in the name of oppressing and exploiting rural peoples – the Irish and the Jews of the Pale – over the centuries. The same goes for the United States, incidentally. How much has our government spent over the centuries suppressing – not just the aspirations of negroes and native Americans – but a vast rainbow of minority opinions?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’m in the “if it doesn’t affect me, why should I care what you do” camp, and that’s the end of my progressive neo prudentialist liberal politics for the day. Bubbe would have been beside herself at the idea that some child had lost her dolly, however. She would have used the astoundingly forceful personality for which she was famed, during her “shtetl” and Lower East Side garment worker days, to compel me to stand out in the middle of Greenpoint Avenue and ask every passing motorist if their child had lost their toy until it got dark. The old lady was tougher than leather, but had a big heart, which bled for everybody that told her a sad story. She also made one hell of a pot of chicken soup, which is dearly missed by one such as myself in the autumn.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, November 8th, Poison Cauldron
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Note: This is the last Newtown Creek walking tour of 2014, and probably the last time this tour will be presented in its current form due to the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project. 

Written by Mitch Waxman

October 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

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