The Newtown Pentacle

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utterly devoid

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It’s National Potato Salad Day, National Peanut Cluster Day, and National Pancake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where to go, what to see, and why bother? Such are the thoughts which intrude and occlude whenever one such as myself leaves the house. Someone else has always gotten there first, and there are certain scenes which – while they never disappoint – I’ve visited literally thousands of times. I’d like to travel abroad, photographing exotic animals and esoteric people, but that would likely involve a good deal of finance, and planning, and I hate to fly. Also, it may be too hot, or cold, and I’ll likely get sunburned. Physical discomfort will likely result, my cherished preconceptions would likely be challenged, or I could end up being killed and eaten by a pack of monkeys.

Ultimately, everyone and everything will eventually make it to Queens anyway so why leave? As the band TLC advised – stick to the hills and waterfalls you’re used to. We’ve got the monkey situation sorted out around here already, there are no uncaged hippos or other large mammalian killers (other than mankind), and I know every possible private spot there is to urinate around these parts. As a note: There are two public bathrooms in Calvary Cemetery, but the one at the Review Avenue gates is often locked. You really, really shouldn’t let loose elsewhere in the cemetery. That’s just disrespectful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a recent wander through Calvary, wherein I was exploring the eastern side of the polyandrion, a humble narrator became the focus of attention for a group of Crows. Possibly Ravens, but I don’t know what the difference between the two are. My belief is that they saw my filthy black raincoat flapping about and figured that one of their own had taken to the ground, but I’m an idiot. As is usually the case, for some reason birds aren’t afraid of me. I can walk through a flock of pigeons or sparrows pecking at the ground and they neither scatter into the air nor otherwise acknowledge my presence.

For some reason this is equal parts disconcerting and deeply satisfying.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned above, Long Island City is famously home neither to packs of carnivorous monkeys, nor lurking hippopotamus, or even large feline predators. There are absolutely no giant fire breathing lizards or irradiated turtles lurking in Newtown Creek, which categorically never attacked Maspeth in June or September of 1958.

Our big problem are the vampires, of course, who lurk in the shadowed rafters of the Long Island Expressway during the day, as well as the elevated subway tracks around Queens Plaza and Roosevelt Avenue. There are reportedly “things” down in the sewers which the NYC DEP refuses to acknowledge, bizarre abominations and parodies of the primatological branch which IND platform based commuters sometimes spot moving about in the fuligin shadows of the subway tunnels. The MTA denies their existence too, calling them “urban legends.”

There are the rat kings, the cockroach collective consiousness, and the aboriginal horrors which lurk at Hallets Cove – but that’s another story. If you ask the U.S. Coast Guard, they’ll deny those reports offered by professional sailors of a sea monster dwelling in the turbidity of Hells Gate, one which only emerges during powerful thunder storms.

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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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sterile abysses

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It’s National Religious Freedom Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is a fan of the U.K.’s long running science fiction serial “Doctor Who.” A villain recently added to the rogues gallery of the time traveling television hero is a race of aliens called the Weeping Angels. These Weeping Angels appear to be statues, if you’re looking at them. Blink, or turn your head, and the Angel statue comes to life and “gets ya.”

I’m often reminded of these fictional extraterrestrials while wandering through Calvary Cemetery in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I mention the Weeping Angels, as it can often be quite a creepy experience solitarily waltzing through Calvary Cemetery. I’ll find myself fixated on a certain bit of statuary, focusing in on its details, as with the Neville monument pictured above. In my mind’s eye, the proverbial “other shoe” is about to drop at any second when the statue will turn its head and stare back at me.

If they ever find me stone cold dead somewhere in Calvary, it will likely be the case that a statue reached out to me from its perch and a blood vessel in my head burst from the purest form of terror.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s probably the life sized statues that are the creepiest ones. Covered in nitre and lichens, there’s a lot of true art on display in this – the principal burial ground of the Roman Catholic Church during the heroic age of 19th century New York City. Mortuary sculpture doesn’t get its due, unless it’s literally older than Croesus, in which case it’ll be found at the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A truly striking bit of carving is found nearby the Greenpoint Avenue gates of the cemetery. The granite Quirke Naughton monument is stunning, and has survived the century it has stood here in fine fettle. The angel adorning it is more than seven feet tall, and the cruciform has to be at least ten to fifteen feet in height. Were this one of Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels – which might sweep a humble narrator up into its otherworldly embrace – only that inhuman thing which cannot possibly exist but nevertheless inhabits the sapphire megalith of Long Island City, and which contemptuously stares down upon the world of men with its three lobed burning eye, would know what became of me.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

sheerly perpindicular

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It’s Friday the 13th…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tapophile? Ghoul? Trespasser? I’ve been called all of these things because of my devotion to studying the history of First Calvary Cemetery in the Blissville neighborhood of Long Island City. Calvary Cemetery, for the uninitiates amongst you, was founded by the Roman Catholic Church in 1848 to comply with New York City’s “Rural Cemetery Act” which proscribed the continuing interment of cadavers in Manhattan due to fears of contagious disease. Prior to this, it was common for churches to have graveyards, and far more common was the usage of the dirt floor basements of tenements as ad hoc burial spots for the poor. The law commanded all the major religious denominations to acquire and maintain cemeteries in “rural areas” to house their congregants – which at the time – was a description that included the south eastern corner of Blissville near its border with the Berlin section of Maspeth. The cemetery was consecrated by Archbishop “Dagger” John Hughes in 1848, and there are literally millions buried in this – the original property – and in the nearby Second, Third, and Fourth Calvary Cemeteries. The law also requires the disinterment of buried bodies, which was a ghastly process that occurred in the dead of night, and vast numbers of human remains were removed from their Manhattan graves and barged across the river for reinterment in the new rural cemeteries. There are so many cemeteries in the surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens that the term “cemetery belt” is commonly used to describe the vast acreages of graves. All of these are not Roman Catholic ones, of course. There’s a cemetery for everyone.

For Catholics, however, all roads lead to Calvary.

Calvary Cemetery was founded, and continues to be maintained, by the Roman Catholic Church – specifically by the Trustees of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and it is a very special place. The Trustees consider the cemetery to be an extension of the altar at the Cathedral. To one such as myself, Calvary is a history book, left sitting wide open and found along the Queens shoreline of the noisome Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Your best bet is to wander in here, roam around a bit and see what you can see. If you come here looking for something specific, it’s going to be quite frustrating. Let the place talk to you, and it’ll show you exactly what you need to see – just like Queens itself. Don’t force it. Look up, down, all around. Notice things. If you take a hard look at these things, you might be offered a lost or occluded slice of the history of New York City.

That’s the grave of the Malone family – Father Sylvester Malone, his brother Edward and his sister in law Annie. Slice.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Father Malone… wow… it’s actually amazing to me that he’s not still spoken of in North Brooklyn. Beloved in life, Sylvester Malone was born in Ireland’s County Meath. Malone was recruited to the priesthood by Reverend Andrew Byrne in 1838, and came to America with him. In NYC, Malone fell into the circle of priests surrounding Archbishop John Hughes, and was ordained at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1844. Malone was shortly assigned to Old St. Mary’s church in Williamsburg. Malone worked a Parish circuit that included the East River side of Newtown (including Astoria’s Hallets Cove) and the former Boswijck – or Bushwick – Colony, including Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick. Malone formed a friendship with architect Patrick Keely (who also designed St. Anthony’s in Greenpoint and more than 200 other new gothic churches in the northeastern United States) and the two oversaw the construction of Sts. Peter and Paul church in Williamsburg, which Malone was permanently assigned to in 1852.

The inscription on his memorial reads: 

Sylvester Malone. Pastor of St. Peter and Paul’s Church for fifty five years. Regent of the University of the State of New York. Live in Charity with all of your fellow citizens. A curse on prejudice and ignorance. Bane of the human family. As long as you have existence, there can be but little peace and charity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Malone was known for his open acceptance of people of other faiths, regularly attending the Jewish community’s Purim Ball, visiting the Masonic Hall, was an outspoken abolitionist, and encouraged his flock to perceive other faiths and cultures as neighbors rather than adversaries. Famously, he was one of the first Catholic priests to embrace the African Americans in his community, presenting honors to the Civil War’s Black Veterans Association. He happily interacted with Protestant denominations as well. While researching this post, some of the earliest usages of the term “tolerance” jumped out at me. You don’t hear much about the modern political concept of “tolerance” in the 19th century, and almost never from the pen of an Irish born Catholic priest based in industrial Brooklyn.

Malone was also a regent of the State University of New York, and remained at Sts. Peter and Paul Church until his death in 1899. Unfortunately, the original building housing his church was demolished in 1957, so I can’t show you that. A modern church building sits on the old site, but the influential gothic design of the original is lost to modernity except for a few blurry old photos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were three Malone Brothers, with Sylvester being the senior. Brother Patrick was the middle son and a Civil Engineer by trade, and Edward was the youngest. Edward fought in the Civil War, was a physician and surgeon of some renown, and died at the age of 52. Patrick and Edward actually died within a few months of each other in 1890. There was a sister too, but I can’t tell you anything about her, and I’m not sure if she ever left Europe or not.

Dr. Edward Malone was born Aug. 5, 1832, and died June 16, 1890. His wife, Annie Loyola Malone, died July 13, 1916.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You never know what, or who, you’re going to find in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

angled planes

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Not rodents, the groundling burrowers are instead mammalian and obligate nasal breathers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The groundling burrowers have a nearly 360 degree field of vision, with their only blind spot directly in front of them at the tip of their nose. They are crepuscular (meaning they’re most active around dawn and again at dusk), and are digigrades (meaning that they walk around on their toes – five on the front feet and four on their stern). The sound of their screams are blood chilling, they have two sets of those chisel like front teeth, and just about every predator you can think of is after them. When one of their number spots danger, the groundlings are known to thump their powerful hind legs on the ground to alert the others.

The burrowers watch the skies. Death circles above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The groundlings burrow into the loam. Their tunnel entrances are well hidden, from above. The tunnels themselves are called burrows. If and when a complex of these subterranean tunnels – or burrows – is found, it’s referred to as a “warren.” More than half of the population of their entire race is found in North America. The males are called “bucks” and the females “does.” Should you find a place where a warren exists, you have likely found what’s known as either a nest, or a “herd,” but what is referred to most commonly as a “colony.”

The burrowers watch the horizons, for death can come at them from all sides.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

They don’t burrow deeply, the groundlings. If at all possible, they’ll move into deep burrows dug by other animals, true rodents such as groundhogs or rats. In an ideal world, perfection would be a series of already excavated voids in the earth, which these lagomorphs could theoretically connect via individual burrows and create a multi acre warren. This would form a hidden groundling metropolis of prodigious size.

Safety is found below, where death means solace.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First Calvary Cemetery in LIC’s Blissville section, in NYC’s borough of Queens. Founded by Archbishop Dagger John Hughes in 1848 as the primary burial ground for the Roman Catholic Church of NYC. The final mailing address for millions of humans, it is observably infested with obligate nasal breathers – these groundling burrowers. Were it only possible to witness a cross section of the mound Calvary is built into, called Laurel Hill, and the warren it contains…

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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