The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for the ‘Lower Manhattan’ Category

tapering arms

leave a comment »

Back in lower Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Dover Street in Lower Manhattan is the stuff of historical legend. It starts its western path abruptly at South Street, and to the north is the tangled steel of the FDR Drive ramps and the always victorious Brooklyn Bridge. There are buildings on Dover which date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The interesting thing is that they’re not churches, or government buildings, instead they’re shops with homes above.

As a note, when the British controlled Manhattan before and during the Revolutionary War, everything in the shot above was pretty much the East River. It’s all landfill, from the modern shoreline west to Front Street, which is coincidentally the corner this shot was captured on, meaning I was standing on the historic shoreline of the island. This is the northern extent of the South Street Seaport Historic District, and Peck Slip is about a block away. Governor Al Smith grew up in this neighborhood in the late 19th century, back when it was still a port, and Tammany ruled it all.

Al Smith is buried is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The South Street Seaport is a historic area in the New York City borough of Manhattan, centered where Fulton Street meets the East River, and adjacent to the Financial District. The Seaport is a designated historic district, and is distinct from the neighboring Financial District. It is part of Manhattan Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, and is bounded by the Financial District to the west, southwest, and north; the East River to the southeast; and Two Bridges to the northeast.

It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan, and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. This includes renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, and modern tourist malls featuring food, shopping, and nightlife, with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Water Street at Dover is where you’ll find a solid claimant to the title of oldest bar in NYC. It’s the Bridge Cafe, which I’m told is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy damages. The original shell and frame of the building went up in 1794, and was altered steadily until the 1880’s when it assumed its present form. Bridge Cafe has a nice history of the building at their site. Doesn’t mention the great fire of 1835, but there you go.

Just down the block, Kit Burn’s “Sportsman Hall” at 273 Water Street was a saloon where you could watch bare knuckled humans boxing, or bet on the canine and rodentine combatants that were fighting in the 250 seat (400 standing) octagonal rat pit Kit maintained in the basement. The Sportsman Hall was housed in what’s considered to be the third oldest building in Manhattan (1773), which is now called the Joseph Rose House and Shop. Kit Burns and his competitors in the rat pit game are a big part of the reason that the ASPCA was formed back in 1866. Kit died in 1870, and is buried in LIC’s Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek.

Small world.

from wikipedia

Born Christopher Keyburn in New York City on February 23, 1831, Burns joined the Dead Rabbits as a young man and, by the late 1840s, co-led the organization with Tommy Hadden. Both men started their own businesses in the Bowery with Burns opening his Sportsmen’s Hall on Water Street. His establishment was widely known for holding illegal bare-knuckle boxing prize fights as well as featuring such entertainment as the infamous “rat pit” where blood sports such as rat and dogfighting took place. In these events, large gray wharf rats were captured and set against dogs. These dogs, mostly terriers, were sometimes starved for several days beforehand and set against each other as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too far away, over on Canal and Lafayette, is what was once known as the Bruce Building – 254-260 Canal Street. George Bruce was a rather successful printer when he started to build his NYC headquarters back in 1856. The Bruce Building was converted over to office space back in the late 1980’s, but what makes it really special are the iron works which dress the walls. They’re the (1850) patented work of James Bogardus, according to prevailing opinions. Bogardus was the guy who pioneered the cast iron facades commonly seen on Victorian era buildings in NYC and elsewhere.

James Bogardus is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, but he was a descendent of Dominie Everardus Bogardus, who died in a ship wreck in 1647. Dominie Bogardus was granted a piece of property by the Dutch colonial government across the river from Manhattan, a point of rocky land surrounded by swamps and salt marshes, which came to be called “Dominie’s Hoek.” It adjoined a fertile waterbody still called the Mispat, but which we know today as the Newtown Creek. The LIC saloon “Dominie’s Hook” is named after him. In 1825, the Hunter Family acquired the Hook, and its been called Hunters Point ever since.

Small world.

from wikipedia

The Reverend Everardus Bogardus (1607-1647) was the dominie of the New Netherlands, and was the second minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest established church in present-day New York, which was then located on Pearl Street (Manhattan) at its first location built in 1633, the year of his arrival. Bogardus was, in fact, the second clergyman in all of the New Netherlands. (The slightly obscure early history of the Dutch colony meant that he was often considered the first clergyman.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 15, 2016 at 11:00 am

haggard and ghastly

with one comment

Eldridge Street Synagogue, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, a humble narrator was invited to a “thank you” event for the Open House NY weekend site hosts (we produced a Newtown Creek Alliance event at the 520 Kingsland Avenue Green Roof this year). The event was set for six o’clock in what is now Manhattan’s Chinatown, at the 1887 vintage Eldridge Street Synagogue, a 19th century institution which had fallen into disrepair during the middle 20th century, but which has been restored and converted over for use as a museum.

from eldridgestreet.org

The Eldridge Street Synagogue opened its doors at 12 Eldridge Street on September 4, 1887, just in time for the Jewish High Holidays. Hundreds of newly arrived immigrants from Russia and Poland gathered here to pray, socialize and build a community. It was the first time in America that Jews of Eastern Europe had built a synagogue from the ground up.

Dozens of Stars of David decorate the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s façade. Here in America, Jews could worship openly and freely. The synagogue was a proud declaration of newly- found religious freedom for the synagogue’s immigrant founders. The synagogue was also emblematic of their economic aspirations. With its soaring 50-foot ceiling and exuberant Moorish-style interior, Eldridge Street provided an inspiring contrast to the crowded tenements, factories and shops of the Lower East Side.

For fifty years, the synagogue flourished. Men and women came in their finery, and mounted policemen patrolled the crowds. The congregation hired world-renowned cantors and in 1918 hired Rabbi Aharon Yudelovitch, the first in a series of famed Talmudists and speakers. Thousands participated in religious services in the building’s heyday, from its opening through the 1920s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself enjoys being in the company of other historically minded folks, it should be mentioned, but I’ve always found the people I meet at these sort of gatherings to be somewhat stuffy types who take themselves quite seriously, and that my particular and inescapable sense of humor is neither appreciated nor expected by them. Accordingly, a minimal amount of time is devoted to “socializing” with the “Manhattan people.”

Instead, I wander around and take photos.

also from eldridgestreet.org

“It was as though the synagogue was held up by strings from heaven,” said Roberta Brandes Gratz, founder of the Museum at Eldridge Street, of her first impression of the synagogue in the early 1980s. Pigeons roosted in the balconies and benches were covered with dust. Gratz and others rallied to save the building. They formed the non-sectarian Eldridge Street Project, pre-cursor to the Museum at Eldridge Street. The synagogue was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and more than $20 million was raised to restore it to its original grandeur.

The Museum completed the Eldridge Street Synagogue restoration in December 2007, the synagogue’s 120th anniversary. The restoration received nearly every major preservation honor, including the prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation 2008 Preservation Award. The crowning piece of the Museum’s restoration is a magnificent new stained-glass window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans.

Today the Eldridge Street Synagogue is home to the Museum at Eldridge Street, which welcomes people from around the world for tours, school programs, concerts, lectures, festivals and other cultural events. The building also continues to be home to Kahal Adath Jeshurun. This small Orthodox congregation has never missed a Saturday or holiday service in the more than 120 years since the synagogue first opened.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The overall architectural impression received from visiting the Eldridge Street Synagogue was that a significant Moorish and or Galician influence was evident in its design. I’ve seen ruins of synagogues in Southern Europe, built during the days of the Ottomans, which this structure reminded me of – but nothing of the size nor as ornate as the one on Eldridge Street. That’s America for you, I guess.

from wikipedia

The Eldridge Street Synagogue is one of the first synagogues erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazis). One of the founders was Rabbi Eliahu the Blessed (Borok), formerly the Head Rabbi of St. Petersburg, Russia. It opened at 12 Eldridge Street in New York’s Lower East Side in 1887 serving Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun. The building was designed by the architects Peter and Francis William Herter, (but unrelated to the Herter Brothers cabinet-makers). The brothers subsequently received many commissions in the Lower East Side and incorporated elements from the synagogue, such as the stars of David, in their buildings, mainly tenements. When completed, the synagogue was reviewed in the local press. Writers marveled at the imposing Moorish Revival building, with its 70-foot-high vaulted ceiling, magnificent stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures and hand-stenciled walls.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Star of David is everywhere you look on the front of the building, an elder sign meant to act as both a ward and an announcement that “we are here.” Chatting with one of my cousins about this location afterwards, I kept on coming back to the sort of “Sheols” which the Waxman clan frequented in Brooklyn. There are three forms of modern Judaism in the United States – Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox. I grew up in the former variant, and our ritual centers could best be analogized to Christian churches as being plain and unadorned in the manner of Lutheran or Presbyrterian temples. Eldridge Street was an Orthodox center, and they liked to pour it on in the sort of manner for which the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches are known for. The modern day Orthodox are fundamentalists, and eschew this sort of “glitz.”

from nytimes.com

By 1910, according to the historian Hasia R. Diner, the neighborhood contained half a million Jews; by contrast, Vienna, one of the largest Jewish centers in Europe, had a Jewish population of 175,000, and Chicago, about 100,000. This neighborhood had one of the largest Jewish populations of any city in the world — and surely one of the poorest. Most of the area’s 60-some synagogues were humble gathering places named after the Eastern European towns and shtetls from which their worshipers had fled, resembling the social clubs that develop among many immigrant communities.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you know anything about Jewish mysticism, which the Orthodox are well known practitioners of, you’ll spot instances of Kabbalist motif all over Eldridge Street. The Sephiroth and other occult concepts are omnipresent, and really seem to be governing the designs laid down by architects Peter and Francis William Herter.

from njit.edu

This synagogue was built in part to assert the importance of this Orthodox congregation in opposition to the more liberal German Jewish population which bad preceded them. The feeling was that German Jews had become to Americanized and assimilated and had, therefore, given up many of their traditional Jewish practices in favor of the more liberal reform movement. The construction of Eldridge Street Synagogue was a statement on the part of its congregation that one does not need to abandon strict Judaism to su~ in America. The opulence and ornament of the synagogue compare to German Jewish/Reform synagogues of the same period. The architect of the building was the German firm of Herter Brothers, which went on to build numerous Lower East Side tenement buildings. This was not the first synagogue for this congregation, which was housed in earlier buildings prior to raising the capital for the construction of their own building.

Eldridge Street Synagogue is located on the block bounded by Eldridge Street on the west, Canal Street on the north, Allen Street on the east and Division Street on the south. The immediate neighborhood is a sheltered enclave, set off from the surrounding bustle in part by the Manhattan Bridge, which sits just above it. The building fills most of its lot, which is approximately 60 feet wide by 87 feet deep, but is set apart from its neighbors by narrow areaways. This block is part of the densely packed Lower East Side which is a neighborhood known for role as a point of first contact for immigrants throughout the last two centuries, a role that continues to this day. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eldridge Street, btw, is named for a soldier named Lieutenant Joseph C. Eldridge of the 13th U.S. Infantry, who died during the war of 1812. Eldridge was butchered by the Ottawa, in a fashion horrific enough that the British actually petitioned that American prisoners taken by the Ottawa be rendered to the King’s army in exchange for a substantial bounty. Chief Blackbird told the British that money meant nothing to his people, and refused.

from warof1812chronicles.blogspot.com

One of the essays in “THE WAR OF 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence” told of “The Death Of Joseph C. Eldridge…,” a lieutenant with the 13th U.S. Infantry, who was ambushed by Chief Blackbird and other Ottawa warriors. The Ottawas, from Michigan, “joined the British army during the siege of Fort George,” and that is the vicinity where was killed. An investigation conducted by Colonel William Claus, of Canada’s Indian Department, ensued at the request of the Fort George commander after it was reported that Eldridge was tortured and killed in captivity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second floor of Eldridge Street Synagogue is where the ladies would have been seated, but since it’s a museum now, I was allowed to go up there and get my shots. That’s a Bimah, in the shot above, incidentally.

from nyc-architecture.com

READER’S PLATFORM (Bimah) — The table upon which the Torah scroll is read. The location, in the center of the sanctuary, follows the older European tradition. The central location is to insure that all can hear the reading of the Torah, and refers to the location of the sacrificial altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. In many American synagogues the bimah is placed in the front of the congregation near the Ark. In Sephardic synagogues the bimah is generally located in the rear.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my tripod with me on this excursion, but I did find a couple of spots where I could rest the camera for a minute. This allowed me to drop the ISO down to 100, and narrow the aperture for a greater depth of field and infinity focus. Next time I come back to Eldridge Street, I’m bringing the tripod.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

rat bitten

with 4 comments

Manhattan just stinks, yo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, I did two things which I had been looking forward to for a bit. The first was the purchase of a new lens to fit into the camera, one whose specific occupation and design revolves around low light and night time photography (the shots in today’s post were captured with the thing), and the other was narrating a Working Harbor Committee “Newark Bay” excursion. Having the former with me, and having completed the mission for the latter, one headed for the Subway to make a hasty retreat back to the rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria .

My path carried me through the stinking warrens of the financial district. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years did a humble narrator live on this island called Manhattan, which one used to refer to as “Home sweet Hell.” At night, the garbage collects on the concrete in front of office building and apartment block alike. The vermin rise from the sewers, drawn by the scent of festering food and moldering coffee grounds. Sidewalks narrow, and oddly colored rivulets of khaki colored liquid ooze into the gutters through rodent chewed apertures in the bags of filth. Sidewalk pavement and roadway asphalt both seem to be covered in a layer of rancid cooking grease, which gets tracked around by a thousand pairs of shoes an hour. It was a hot night, humid.

And they say Newtown Creek smells…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was heading for the Fulton Street stop for the 5 line. The 5, an express, is the preferred method for me to escape the municipal and financial center of the greatest city the world has ever known. The line traverses the spine of the island, and allows for a connection to a Queens bound train in just a few stops. The less time spent on this island, especially the southern third of it, the better.

That’s where I spotted this mountain blocking the cross walk and spilling into the street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has many friends who call Manhattan home – and as confessed earlier – I used to do so myself. My cliff dwelling pals tend to get hot under the collar when a humble narrator begins to discuss his disdain for the unsustainable civilization of Manhattan. My points are all “matter of fact,” and I usually advocate for something like “Brexit” but involving Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn breaking away from the center and forming a new political entity which is a bit less vampiric than the one we’ve had since 1898 – which is centered around a Beaux Arts building that we unfortunately keep Bill De Blasio in that stands (partially) on what was once a colonial era garbage dump known as the “Collect Pond.”

“Consume, consume, consume, flush, throw it out, let it be somebody else’s problem” – that should be the Borough Motto over in the City.

I would hazard a guess that within six hours of the above shot being captured, the entire mountain of trash pictured above was actually being sorted somewhere along Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was a fellow at the center of the midden, peeking into bags and removing items of value like recyclable deposit bottles and bits of copper wire. Got to hand it to the “canners” for their industry and hustle, you really do. The streets are literally paved with gold in America, or at least there’s money lying around in the stinking streets.

What many don’t know is that canners have their own territorial “routes” in the City, and that violating another canner’s turf can result in a physical confrontation. I discovered that there’s also an organized crime aspect to this industry, or at least there used to be over on the West Side, back when I lived in Manhattan about fifteen years ago. Mystery trucks would show up at predetermined times and locations, paying cash at three to four cents per bottle, as opposed to the little chits that you get from the recycling machines at supermarkets which you need to redeem within. The canners are happy to settle for the lesser number, as they don’t have to waste hours feeding the machines which take one can at a time, or deal with the manager of a supermarket for whom they are less than a priority.

Something very similar to this collection spot has been observed in Sunnyside, incidentally, on 43rd street beneath the Long Island Railroad Tracks. There’s a Spaniard with a van… but, of course, the scale of business that the canners of Queens operate at for an entire week would be dwarfed by a single night’s worth of collections for these financial district guys.

Wall Street versus Main Street, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In addition to the rats and canners scurrying about, the sewer grates hereabouts also crawl with roaches and water bugs migrating in and out of Manhattan’s underworld. Those little black “drain flies” are also abundant in the air. The smell, which I attempted to define earlier, could be best described as “yellow.”

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that in English there are so few words, comparatively, for descriptions of smells. There thousands of visual adjectives, plenty for sounds, lots for the touch and feel category, but relatively few for smells. Accordingly, I ascribe colors to the descriptions of smells, and after dark – Manhattan smells yellow. I have spoken.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The worst part of lower Manhattan, to me at least, is that for the people who work hereabouts – this all must seem normal. Unfortunately, most of the people who spend their professional lives in this area can be best described as financial titans, realtors, politicians, and an army of government bureaucrats. Spending their time in this stinking, shadowy warren of imposing buildings and narrow sidewalks – which only occasionally allow a glimpse of the sky or a breeze – has made them think that this is what the entire city should look like and that they’ve somehow failed the rest of us until it does.

It’s why when they visit Queens or Brooklyn, their first instinct is to demolish some property and erect large buildings on it. Those large buildings can then be used for affordable housing people who “don’t fit” in Manhattan. These people can then support themselves by collecting cans, or whatever, as long as it’s somebody else’s problem.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

acrid smoke

with 2 comments

Tremulous skies and clean underwear, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That crazy heat wave which we all suffered through last week produced a series of powerful afternoon and evening thunder storms here in Astoria. The skies were so interesting and dynamic that one felt compelled to record the scene.

Pictured above was a worrisome looking funnel cloud that formed up to the east, and on the right hand side of the shot you can see the wall of rain pushing in from the west.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another day (or night actually), and another thunderstorm formed up. For this one I was at home on my porch. Psyched to actually capture the bolt of lightning seen above (it’s harder than you would think to photograph lightning without certain specialized trigger devices) one suddenly realized that I was standing next to a chain link fence during a lightning storm and was in a particularly exposed position.

Suddenly, my underwear didn’t feel so clean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I found myself a slightly safer spot, under something, and continued to crack out shots of the approaching deluge. Likely, I was deluding myself as to being safer, but regardless I felt a bit less exposed to the elemental fury that was approaching.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a completely different note, while in the financial district of lower Manhattan last week, the van pictured above was spotted.

Clean underwear on demand is its promise, which is something I think we should all aspire to, especially during stormy weather.

Upcoming Events and Tours

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

reptilian devils

with 2 comments

I want to believe…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The world would be so much more interesting if all the nutty and paranoid stuff was true. How I do wish that the Queen of England was actually a human alien hybrid, that Kennedy was killed by the CIA and a cabal of militarists, that Area 51 was anything except for a place where exotic fighter jets and stealth aircraft are tested. “Chem trails,” “banksters,” and the rest of the fantasy scenarios are all built around an elaborate mythology that paints the government of the United States as some great machine which operates with impunity and precision.

Have you actually interacted with the government? Try it out, and that should sunder all notions of the “hidden hand.” These people can barely tie their shoes, cannot keep a secret, and are more concerned with getting approval for overtime than they would be in conspiring with alien overlords (unless they were hiring). If anything, officialdom would start applying for grant monies to form committees to study the alien overlords.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last week or so, I’ve been telling people I meet that “Holy Crap, just the other night, Obama himself kicked in my door looking for guns to take.” The general reaction has been either “well, at least he did something” or “it took him long enough.” I don’t have any guns – I’m more of a blunt force trauma guy – but the point I’m trying to make is that the whole notion of this sort of conspiracy is sophomoric.

Try arranging a lunch date for five people to meet up at the same time and place, purposely excluding someone inside your social circle. The excluded person WILL find out about it, and loudly proclaim their resentment. Magnify that out to any topic associated with conspiratorial secrecy and do the math.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always believed that the reason people cling to conspiratorial fantasy is the utter banality of real life. Perhaps it’s the nihilist philosophy that I cling to, which renders everything I experience as shades of cold gray. If you were a member of some cabal, there would have to be some sort of bank account associated with it to cover costs and handle payroll. There would be paperwork which someone would have to administer, and an excel spreadsheet generated to track the project.

Even Mafiosos and ISIS keep paper records. Nixon did, and that’s what did him in. Ollie North did. Bill de Blasio does. There’s no such thing as a secret if somebody other than you knows about it.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm

hellacious tide

leave a comment »

My mother used to call me “the complaint department.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A buddy of mine once described his ideal job as “freelance unsolicited criticism.” He posited that he’d walk into a bank, let the manager know that the velvet ropes leading to the tellers were arranged incorrectly, and then submit a bill for his services. I’ve always liked the concept, although to be fair, my buddy’s nickname is “Special Ed.”

Pictured above, a view of lower Manhattan from the Wallabout in Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unsolicited criticism number 1 is offered to my fellow riders of the NYCTA Subway system. For the love of god itself, use your freaking headphones when you’re playing a video game on your phone while riding the train. It’s bad enough that I’m being subjected to evangelist Korean guy and to jazz busking. Do I really need to listen to the stupid beeping and blinging that your game is making?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unsolicited criticism number 2 is also aimed at my fellow riders of the Subway system. I am certain that allowing me to exit the freaking train will not, in fact, cause you to not be able to get onboard. Pushing past someone like me, a veteran of 1980’s NYC’s punk scene, means that you will – in fact – find yourself bouncing off of a stranger whose elbows are far sharper than yours. The worst offenders on this subject are found at the 59/Lex stop. Do you really want to experience the “people moving” techniques I learned in 1980’s mosh pits?

No? 

Then wait your turn and let me get off the train before you enter it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unsolicited criticism number 3 and 4 are offered in the shot above.

First, the solar powered garbage cans that the urban planning geniuses of Pratt University have been placing around Lower Manhattan and the tony sections of North Brooklyn. Let those words roll out of your mouth – “solar powered garbage cans.” Do you have a fossil fuel powered garbage can in front of your house, lords and ladies? Was this a problem that needed solving?

Secondly, the giant pit you see above – according to the NYPD personnel I asked about it – used to be a subway grate on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. It seems a truck driver decided to use the sidewalk to bypass a parked car and discovered that a sidewalk grate wasn’t designed to carry the weight of a truck.

Fellow New Yorkers – NYC streets are color coded. Black pavement is for vehicles (including Bicycles, Delivery bikes, and trucks). Gray pavement is for pedestrians, baby carriages, and “not vehicles.” Stay the feck off the sidewalk.

Bah. 

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm

detail to

with 2 comments

Oy gut to visits mit das Goyem again!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friends at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral allowed me to photograph their 2016 Irish Language Mass, over in Lower Manhattan’s Bloody Sixth Ward on the corner of Mott and Prince, which occurred on Saturday the 12th of March. This isn’t the first time I’ve shot this event – check out “wildest speculations” and “luminous aether” for my earlier efforts.

One thing you’ll pick up on is that this year is that the House of Dagger John – St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral – looks a bit different. There is an enormous amount of construction going on within the building, as there’s a restoration project underway meant to prepare the Church for an upcoming historical anniversary and return her to the splendor of an earlier era.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, I got there early, way before any of the parishioners showed up. During the ceremony itself, my preferred spot to shoot from is alongside the organist, which is on a catwalk that sits what must be thirty or feet over the floor. The image above is from ground level, at the center of the aisle between the pews, looking straight at the altar.

I presume they’re called “pews,” and that the ceremonial center is called the “altar,” incidentally. I’m Jewish, so what do I know? If you’re Roman Catholic, and I’m calling out “something” as something it’s not, please offer corrections in the comments section below rather than getting offended.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the pipe organ, there is one, and it’s a magnificent thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The altar area at the front of the basilica has also enjoyed a bit of restoration. The carved wooden statues of the Saints (presumptively) or Apostles on the ornate screen have received quite a bit of artistic attention since my last visit here. The big oil painting that used to act as a centerpiece has been replaced by a model of the Cathedral which encloses the host.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Cruciform has also been cleaned and its paint restored, and has been relocated from its former position behind the carved altarpiece. It’s now suspended from the roof by thin wires.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks back towards the organ from the front of the Basilica, up on the altar itself. The stained glass which normally adorns the windows has been removed, and been sent off to an artisan glass shop for restoration. There’s a fabricated construction material that looked like Tyvek covering the windows, and you’ll notice there’s a scaffold set up in the lower left hand corner of the shot. Just about everywhere I looked, there was something going on, repairs wise.

I was informed that this Mass is the first time in many, many months that the Cathedral has been open to the public due to these construction and restoration efforts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Irish language mass got going, and it was in celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Naturally, it started with bagpipes, and most of the attendants whom I spoke with were indeed of Hibernian descent. There were a couple of important people who spoke, in Irish… can’t really tell you what they were saying as I’m not fluent in Gaelic. The ceremony itself went on, and the priests performed their devotions. Actually, the guy on the left is Pastor of this church and is a Monsignor.

As a note, I LOVE photographing this event, and am honored that I’m asked to attend and record it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my awe, of course, is that this was the church of Archbishop John Hughes – who is my nominee for the most important but largely forgotten New Yorker of the 19th century.

Dagger John, as he was known in his time, is the founder of Calvary Cemetery along my beloved Newtown Creek in Queens, and he actually officiated the very first funeral that was held there. It was also because of Dagger John, and his creation of an entirely free Parochial School system for the children of the poor (including Protestants) that the Protestant elite of NYC created a Public School system which must NEVER mention a god or offer religious instruction.

If you don’t think about the Protestant/Catholic conflict when discussing 19th century NYC, you probably don’t know anything about the Bowery B’Hoys or the Bloody Sixth Ward. McGurk’s Suicide Parlor was a couple of blocks away from here, not far from McSorley’s and Cooper Union. A few blocks east, German and Ukrainian  Socialists conspired to oppose the bosses over on first, and just a few blocks further east was an area referred to as “The Jew Ghetto.” Lame Duck was the king of Doyers Street and its opium parlors to the south, and to the north west at Union Square – a political organization which called itself “Tamanend” was just beginning to flex its electoral muscles.

Back in the 1830’s and 40’s the Catholic Church was considered to be a threat by the old line Protestant “powers that be” and the Pope was referred to as (and was the de facto) King of Italy. NYC was boiling with racial tension in that era, with ethnic militias making war upon each other on the streets. A Nativist Mob once marched on this very church intending to burn it down, and were greeting by Irish gunmen manning the fences along Mott, Mulberry, and Prince Streets.

It’s hard to imagine, I know. Back then, the concept of race wasn’t just black and white, it included National origin. Back then, the Irish were considered a degenerate and primitive race, separate and lesser than the other pale skinned Europeans. Reading the NY Times archives from back then on the subject of Irish emigration, and the growing population of Catholics in the United States, can be a startling experience for modern eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mass played out, and the two priests brought the host down for the congregants.

On a technical front, I was constantly swapping lenses throughout the ceremony, and rotated through my entire kit several times. The camera was set up on a tripod, with a remote shutter release cable installed. The “architectural” shots were narrow aperture and low ISO (to gather all the ornate details available within the hyperfocal distance available between f8 – f22 and “infinity”) and a shutter speed which floated around in the neighborhood of 2-6 seconds.

The shot above, if I recall correctly, was a high ISO (2,000, maybe) with the aperture set at f7.1 and the shutter open for 1/60th of a second. There were several exposure triangles which were quickly gleaned for usage on various types of shots, suffice to say, and that all of the “technical” sort of night shooting I’ve been doing is growing increasingly useful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wanted to get a bit “arty” in the shot above and blur the moving people a bit while leaving the Church and its ornamentation tack sharp. The aperture went down to f22 and then I lowered the ISO to 100 so as to cut down on as much light as possible from hitting the sensor, and then opened the shutter up for 30 seconds. Anything moving in the shot became ghostly and was blurred into a motion trail.

The arty part was to try and suggest the impermanent condition of the living in the context of a sacred space which has seen the fortunes of New York City rise and fall several times over, or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you click through to the flickr set these photos are a part of, (just click the image) there’s lots more of Old St. Patrick’s and the ceremony to check out in there. I hope that when the restoration is done I can get my camera back into the House of Dagger John.

Eyn loshn iz keynmol nisht genug!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

%d bloggers like this: