The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Lower East Side

smartly curled

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A visit to Manhattan, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For reasons that I’d rather not go into, one had several hours to kill recently while immersed in an elevated and overtly emotional state of mind. Wandering around First Avenue and its side streets, between 14th and 23rd street, happenstance carried me to 415 14th street where one may notice that the Church of the Immaculate Conception stands. The address once belonged to a Presbyrterian outfit that called itself “Grace Chapel” but after the construction of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village annihilated the Roman Catholic original “Immaculate Conception” across the street, the Catholics purchased the building and moved in. They’ve been here since 1946, I’m told.


In 1914, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company embarked on one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the history of New York City. It created Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town to address a projected housing shortage among returning World War II veterans. The Met, as it was known in those days, bought up block after block of the area between 14th and 23rd Streets, from First Avenue to Avenue C. Included in the purchases were Immaculate Conception Church, its rectory, convent and school buildings.

The Archdiocese of New York then purchased an Episcopal mission settlement, Grace Chapel, on the south side of 14th Street, East of First Avenue. It was renamed “Immaculate Conception.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Lower East Side, along with Harlem, barely resembles the neighborhood I remember from the 1980’s. This particular corner used to be a good place to die, or at least catch a scorching case of death, and there was a bit of a fortress mentality to the area back “in the day.” Junkies, addicts, and the whole crew of loathsome indigents who called the L line Subway station on 14th “HQ” used to pollute the sidewalks hereabouts. It was odd to see the gates to the church open, and a sign promised that there was a cloister back here, so I scuttled onto the property to take a look.

from wikipedia

A cloister (from Latin claustrum, “enclosure”) is an open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth. The attachment of a cloister to a cathedral or church, commonly against a warm southern flank, usually indicates that it is (or once was) part of a monastic foundation, “forming a continuous and solid architectural barrier… that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the serfs and workmen, whose lives and works went on outside and around the cloister.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfortunately, the so called cloister seems to have converted over to a parking lot, so there wasn’t too much to see. There’s also a parochial school back here, and for some reason – unaccompanied middle aged men with cameras seem to set off alarm bells when the subject of school children comes up so I headed back out to 14th street. I did stop into the chapel, but there were bunches of adherents praying in there and I didn’t want to disturb their reverie or violate their privacy by taking photos.

It’s quite lovely in there, however.

from wikipedia

Stranger danger is the danger to children presented by strangers. The phrase stranger danger is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives. Many books, films and public service announcements have been devoted to helping children remember this advice. The concept has been criticized for ignoring the fact that most child abductions and harm result not from strangers, but rather from someone the child knows.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the front of the church, there’s a public fountain. There aren’t many of these 19th century artifacts left in Manhattan – I can think of one in the west village and a couple down near the City Hall/Canal Street area that was once known as the Five Points, but it’s a rare thing to spot them anymore. I’m far more surprised that it survived the urban renewal period of the 40’s and 50’s than our current era of gentrification, actually. It’s more than likely that there used to be a common cup chained to the fountain, not unlike the one displayed in a period photo at ephemeralnewyork in the link below.

from ephemeralnewyork

This 1913 photo shows a boy at a public water fountain in Madison Square Park; he’s drinking from a common cup attached to a chain. Of course, no one today would ever drink from the same cup thousands of strangers also put their lips on. But back then, in pre-germ-awareness times, not everyone realized how unsanitary it was.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m no metallurgist, but to me the fountain seems to be bronze. There’s a basin and two ornamental fishes, the latter were where the water was dispensed into the former. If you think its difficult finding a place to sit down or use a toilet in 21st century Manhattan, you couldn’t imagine how rough it would have been back in the late 19th century.

Back then, this part of the Shining City was a thriving immigrant neighborhood of tenements and small factories that extended to the East River. The other side of the street, where Stuyvesant Town currently squats, was once a slum called “The Gaslight district.” Amenities like this drinking fountain were acts of charity offered to the affected masses by the well off. On the masonry above it is the legend “Ho, everyone that thirsteth.”

from wikipedia

In 1842, one gas storage tank at East 23rd Street and the river was erected, quickly followed by the construction of other gas tanks, and by the late 19th century, the site of the complex had become known as the Gashouse District because of the many tanks that dominated the streetscapes. The tanks, which sometimes leaked, made the area undesirable, as did the Gas House Gang and other predators who operated in the area. With the construction of the FDR Drive, the area began to improve. By the 1930s, all but four tanks were gone and, while shabby, the area was no more blighted than many parts of the city after the years of the Great Depression; crime in the district had been endemic, however. When Alexander S. Williams was promoted to police captain and assigned to the area, he met the gangs’ violence with equal force of his own, putting together a brute squad that beat up gangsters with clubs. He commented: “There is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the base of the bronze fountain is a legend offering the birth and death dates for a person named “Fanny Garretson Russell.” I looked around the web for information on this inscription, which you’d think would be well documented due to its presence in Manhattan, but found nothing.

“OK” thought I, and utilizing some of my “find the hidden history of Queens” skills, I got to work-

Fanny was the grand daughter of Charles Handy Russell, of Providence Rhode Island. Russell’s father was a Major in the continental army during the American Revolution, and the family history goes all the way back to the Mayflower on one side and the founding of Woburn, Massachusetts in 1640 on the other.

Charles Handy Russell came to New York in the 1820’s, rising to a position of financial and political prominence. Russell was a railroad man, the President of the Bank of Commerce, dabbled in maritime insurance, was part of the original board of directors in charge of Central Park, and a husband to Caroline Howland. The couple had children: Charles Howland Russell – who was the Private Secretary of the United States Secretary of State during the administration of President Hayes, and Samuel Howland Russell were amongst them.

Samuel, a mining engineer who graduated from Columbia University, married Elizabeth Watts Garretson in June of 1884. Their first daughter was named Fanny, who died on the 23rd of August in 1894. This fountain’s dedication is to her.

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idle curiosity

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In today’s post- The New York Marble Cemetery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If your view of second avenue in Manhattan’s East Village looks like what you see in the shot above, there’s only one place you can possibly be.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You would be standing on the other side of these gates, found at the end of an alley, and within a walled off corridor which was established in 1831- the same year that the French Foreign Legion first deployed and Charles Darwin left England for the Galapagos onboard the Beagle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the perks of working with Atlas Obscura is that I can sometimes insert myself into somebody else’s adventure, and in this case, it was Allison Meier’s walking tour excursion to the New York Marble Cemetery at 41 1/2 Second Avenue. She graciously allowed me to attend her sold out tour.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Check out this page, which I think Allison wrote- at the Atlas Obscura– for the full history of the place (there’s no point in me paraphrasing it). The tombs are all underground, with the grave markers arranged on the walls in the form of stone plaques. The surrounding neighborhood has literally risen around the place, with every building style from 19th century tenement to ultra modern luxury hotel represented around it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The president of the cemetery association was there to talk to the attendees, and she described the walls as being quite fragile and in bad condition. Nearly two hundred years of New York air, and vibration, have taken their toll on mortar laid down just ten years before Mary Rogers “the beautiful cigar girl” was found in a trunk floating along on the Hudson- sparking the interest of none other than Edgar Allen Poe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the plaque denoting the tomb of Uriah Scribner, father of the eponymous founder of the publishing house “Charles Scribner’s Sons.” Uriah died in 1853.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

1830’s New York City is literally the stuff of legend.

It’s Poe’s town, as well as the NYC that Herman Melville and Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant knew, a city which had less than a quarter million inhabitants. What we call the lower east side was farmland back then, and the center of town was down near the Battery.

The river fronts were described as a “forest of masts” for all the merchant trading vessels found docked there.

Check out the New York Marble Cemetery here.

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Want to see something cool? June 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron Saturday, June 15, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Kill Van Kull– Saturday, June 22, 2013
Staten Island walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Working Harbor Committee, tickets now on sale.

The Insalubrious Valley Saturday, June 29, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Newtown Creek Alliance, tickets now on sale.

supposedly solid

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP Pump House described in yesterday’s posting, which is located in Manhattan’s “Alphabet City” neighborhood, is found across the street from Con Ed’s East River Generating Station. Both facilities are, in turn, surrounded by vast residential complexes which long time New Yorkers might refer to as “The Projects“.

Governmental officials would prefer the term “affordable housing“, of course, or at the very least- “The Jacob Riis Houses”.

from wikipedia

The New York City steam system is a district heating system which takes steam produced by steam generating stations and carries it under the streets of Manhattan to heat, cool, or supply power to high rise buildings and businesses. Some New York businesses and facilities also use the steam for cleaning, climate control and disinfection.

The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Consolidated Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the United States. The organization within Con Edison that is responsible for the system’s operation is known as Steam Operations, providing steam service to nearly 1,800 customers and serving more than 100,000 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from Battery Park to 96th Street uptown on the West side and 89th Street on the East side of Manhattan. Roughly 30 billion lbs (just under 13.64 megatons) of steam flow through the system every year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The subject of the post today has little to do with the aforementioned complex of buildings, they are mentioned strictly for contextual and geographic orientation of the Con Ed facility. My understanding is that this “cogeneration” facility is considered to be a desirable target to those ragged armies of third world sappers commonly referred to as “terrorists“, and several acquaintances and or friends have found themselves being interviewed by Police and Security personnel merely for having photographed the place.


In the grand tradition of the Jumbo dynamos, the six-story boilers installed at Fourteenth Street and East River were so large that a luncheon for nearly 100 people was served inside one of them before the renovated station went into operation in the late 1920s. During the opening day ceremony in 1926, Queen Marie of Rumania flipped the switch to start the 100,000 horsepower turbine generator.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The view in the first two shots are from the East River, captured while onboard aquatic vessels, and the shot above is actually from the roof of the DEP Pump house.

The housing complex in the shot above is not true “public housing”, rather it is the Stuyvesant Town property. After the second World War, “urban renewal” projects such as the Riis Houses and Stuyvesant Town were seen as the answer to the endemic poverty found around and propagated by tenement slums. Funding and political impetus for large scale developments such as these- inspired by the ideations of a cryptofascist architect, LeCorbusier, and his disastrous “Tower in a park” conception- were made possible by both Federal and entrepreneurial sources.


Located on the east side of Lower Manhattan, the 43,000-sq.-ft. facility produces electricity and steam for homes and businesses throughout New York City. The project was completed May.

To repower the 360-MW power plant, the project team is performing all civil, structural, electrical and mechanical work, including the installation of major equipment, such as two GE Frame 7FA gas turbines, two Vogt-NEM, Inc. heat recovery steam generators and three Atlas Copco gas compressors. More than 100,000 lin. ft. of process pipe will be installed.
Construction of a new, onsite water treatment plant is also a part of the contract. The new treatment plant will consist of a 9,000 GMP reverse osmosis system that will produce pure water for steam generation. Electrical work includes the installation of 77,000 lin. ft. of conduit, 15,000 lin. ft. of cable tray, 665,000 lin. ft. of power and control cable and 30,000 electrical terminations.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Historically, this area was known as the Gas House District, so named for an enormous number of multi story “high pressure” tanks and the hundreds of associated industrial buildings which serviced and supplied them. A network of pipes snaked out into Manhattan from the East River, supplying fuel to street lights, commercial customers, and even residences.

The adage “Don’t blow out the light” was displayed prominently in hotels and flop houses all over town during the 19th century, as newcomers to the City would often treat a gas light in the manner they would a candle- which would have disastrous, fatal, and often explosive results. The District followed the East River and extended from 14th to 27th streets.

The neighborhoods surrounding the Gas Light District was notorious for its violent crime.


Address: East 14th Street

Architect: Thomas E. Murray/Unknown

Date: 1926/1950s

The Consolidated Edison Company’s East River Generating Station dominates the eastern section of 14th Street, stretching from 13th and 17th Streets and between Avenue C and the East River. It was erected primarily in two phases, the first campaign completed in 1926 and the second in the 1950s. Because of its size and prominence, the East River Generating Station plays an important role in the history of the East River waterfront, as well as in the general evolution of power plant architecture in New York City. The widespread low-scale fabric of the Lower East Side, consisting mostly of tenement buildings, went generally unchanged for most of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, while the rest of Manhattan was seeing the erection of skyscrapers and other tall buildings.

Driven by the increasing cost of power plant construction and the need to design “with an eye to the future,” the East River Generating Station of 1926 was designed to be less ostentatious than earlier stations that were typically of the Beaux-Arts Style, yet it was also less monolithic than contemporaries such as Hell Gate or Hudson Avenue Stations. The waterfront façade of this building was divided into three distinct bays in rectilinear form, a design scheme that allowed for easy expansion as need be. The building uses vertical fenestration and horizontal bands of limestone set within a field of dark red brick to give the façade a sense of visual excitement

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 22, 2012 at 12:15 am

grotesquely gnarled

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in a prior posting– certain anonymous parties had contacted me about- and a meeting at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan was arranged- to discuss and finally gain possession of information which would lead to a certain location in First Calvary Cemetery which has denied all attempts at discovery.

Arriving at the venerable church early, however, the individual with whom this appointment was arranged arrived with confederates of a seeming rough character, and the notion that I had stumbled into some sort of conspiratorial snare of malign intent terrified me. Your humble narrator fell into “one of my states”, and the scene was fled in a stuporous panic.

Several hours later, when able to recompose myself, it was discovered that the memory card of my camera was nearly full, and this is the second of a series of postings attempting to reconcile the hundreds of photos I found with my episode of “missing time”.

from wikipedia

Missing time is a proposed phenomenon reported by some people in connection with close encounters with UFOs and abduction phenomena. The term missing time refers to a gap in conscious memory relating to a specific period in time. The gap can last from several minutes to several days in length. The memory of what happened during the missing time reported is often recovered through hypnosis or during dreams.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Based on the series of photos, it is presumed that my route took me down Mulberry on a southern declination, before turning east on Kenmare and ultimately to Delancey. The warren of streets which defy and predate the Manhattan grid, which is two centuries old this year– I would add- have been massively altered from their historic patterns by the attentions of urban planners and DOT engineers since the time of the Bloody Sixth Ward.

Partially, this was to accommodate the “automobile city” of the early 20th century, but no small effort was spared to eliminate the alleyways and so called “courts” which denied easy policing and access by fire and sanitation inspectors in this region of the Shining City.

It was in these courts and alleys that the street gangs of the 19th century were allowed to fester and swell, an offensive and dangerous situation to the progressives and reformers of the post civil war era “City Beautiful”.

from wikipedia

The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy concerning North American architecture and urban planning that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of using beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. The philosophy, which was originally associated mainly with Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. allegedly promoted beauty not for its own sake, but rather to create moral and civic virtue among urban populations. Advocates of the philosophy believed that such beautification could thus promote a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My trusty camera seems to have been pointed in the direction of the 2nd of the three East River Bridges to have been erected, which we know as the Williamsburg. 100 years ago, I might have boarded a street car or horse drawn wagon to carry me over the span and boarded it at Bowery and Delancey. Were I cognizant of my surroundings, rather than stumbling in a panic, I might have caught an electric light rail- which is referred to as a “subway”- but instead and inexorably I marched forward into “Jewtown”.

from HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES By JACOB A. RIIS, courtesy google books

THE tenements grow taller, and the gaps in their ranks close up rapidly as we cross the Bowery and, leaving Chinatown and the Italians behind, invade the Hebrew quarter. Baxter Street, with its interminable rows of old clothes shops and its brigades of pullers-in—nicknamed “the Bay ” in honor, perhaps, of the tars who lay to there after a cruise to stock up their togs, or maybe after the “schooners” of beer plentifully bespoke in that latitude— Bayard Street, with its synagogues and its crowds, gave us a foretaste of it. No need of asking here where we are. The jargon of the street, the signs of the sidewalk, the manner and dress of the people, their unmistakable physiognomy, betray their race at every step. Men with queer skull-caps, venerable beard, and the outlandish long-skirted kaftan of the Russian Jew, elbow the ugliest and the handsomest women in the land. The contrast is startling. The old women are hags; the young, houris. Wives and mothers at sixteen, at thirty they are old. So thoroughly has the chosen people crowded out the Gentiles in the Tenth Ward that, when the great Jewish holidays come around every year, the public schools in the district have practically to close up.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The politics of modern city dwellers prefers not to attach ethnic sobriquets to neighborhoods where any single population crowds out other mention anymore, but in the 19th century no such prohibition applies. Early subway maps refer to this section of Delancey east of the Bowery as “the Ghetto” for instance. Such description signifies the magnetic appeal of the tenement neighborhood to the vast Yiddish speaking populations which made good their escape from the “the Pale” in the 19th century.

These largely weren’t the Orthodox Jews of today, of course, as the Hasidic and Lubavitcher sects – typified by an outdated style of dress and clannish separation from their surrounding environs – are a fairly modern path which only began to gather real steam in the 19th century (just like most fundamentalist religions) and in the 20th century these groups still represent only a tiny fraction of the larger ethnic population.

Instead the majority were religious but secular peasants from the countryside, suddenly finding themselves in New York City living next door to a sophisticated citizen from the Austro Hungarian- or Russian- or Ottoman- empires. It was these transplanted urbanites who founded the Forverts and other Yiddish language newspapers.

from wikipedia

The Forward (Yiddish: פֿאָרווערטס; Forverts), commonly known as The Jewish Daily Forward, is a Jewish-American newspaper published in New York City. The publication began in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily issued by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel DeLeon. As a privately-owned publication loosely affiliated with the Socialist Party of America, Forverts achieved massive circulation and considerable political influence during the first three decades of the 20th Century. The publication still exists as a weekly news magazine in parallel Yiddish (Yiddish Forward) and English editions (The Jewish Daily Forward).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The synagogues of Eastern and Southern Europe which have survived into modernity have all the appearances of a fortified house or town, and go to some lengths to blend into the surrounding communities. In the United States, however, the desire to show off and build a palace to the almighty was not limited to the Catholics or Episcopalians. Such aspirations were present amongst the Jews as well.

On the corner of Delancey and Forsyth one may find the former “Forsyth Street Synagogue, Poel Zedek Anshei Illia (Doers of Good, People of Illia)“. In modernity, it serves as a place of worship for the Seventh Day Adventists, which grew out of the millennialist Millerites in the years following the “Great Disappointment” 1844.

from wikipedia

October 22, 1844, that day of great hope and promise, ended like any other day to the disappointment of the Millerites. Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some Millerites continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium, the “Great Sabbath”, and that, therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud, and must be prayed down. Probably the majority however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives. Some members rejoined their previous denominations while a substantial number became Quakers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An unknown structure to me, online accounts describe it as having passed from Hebraic hands during the long 20th century decline of the neighborhood and speak of its resurrection when it began to serve as a church to some of modern Christianity’s more charismatic adherents. It is odd to see the Mogen David bisected by the rood outside of the esoteric or gnostic traditions.

Delancey street, I would mention, always figured prominently in the adages and folkloric warnings that my grandmother would hand out when I was a young but already humble narrator. A product of the Pale herself, she found work in America in that jewish garment trade which once flourished here, and even into extreme old age she practiced her craft. She always referred to Delancey and the environs as a home to midwives and fortune tellers (kabbalists) and shmata men.

When queries as to how lucrative the shmata (rag) trade was, and who could possibly need enough rags to keep a merchant employed full time- her response was “vat doz yu tink yu viped yur arse mit? Dere vas no terlet papah beck den”.

from wikipedia

Adventism is a Christian movement which began in the 19th century, in the context of the Second Great Awakening revival in the United States. The name refers to belief in the imminent Second Coming (or “Second Advent”) of Jesus Christ. It was started by William Miller, whose followers became known as Millerites. Today, the largest church within the movement is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Adventist family of churches are regarded today as conservative Protestants. While they hold much in common, their theology differs on whether the intermediate state is unconscious sleep or consciousness, whether the ultimate punishment of the wicked is annihilation or eternal torment, the nature of immortality, whether or not the wicked are resurrected, and whether the sanctuary of Daniel 8 refers to the one in heaven or on earth. The movement has encouraged the examination of the New Testament, leading them to observe the Sabbath.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Uncertainty exists in my mind as to whether or not my trance induced scuttling and the photographic record thereof bears any kind of narrative thread or not. It would seem that my subject matter and focal point of view remained steady with normal pursuits, chasing esoteric and disabused touchstones of the oft occluded past, and noticing the small details hidden amongst the centuries old tapestry.

One wonders if I might have wandered into this storefront psychic and what Gypsy legend would have been offered. Perhaps I did, but in my trance state, who can venture as to what might have occurred in the moments between photos?

from wikipedia

Romani mythology is the myth, folklore, religion, traditions, and legends of the Romani people (also known as Gypsies). The Romanies are a nomadic culture which originated in India during the Middle Ages. They migrated widely, particularly to Europe. Some legends (particularly from non-Romani peoples) say that certain Romanies are said to have passive psychic powers such as, empathy, precognition, retrocognition, or psychometry. Other legends include the ability to levitate, travel through astral projection by way of meditation, invoke curses or blessings, conjure/channel spirits, and skill with illusion-casting.

Burial: Romanies pushed steel or iron needles into the body’s heart and put pieces of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears, and between the fingers. Hawthorn was placed on the legs, or driven through the legs. They would also drive stakes, pour boiling water on the grave, and behead or burn the body. All this preparation was to ward off vampires.

Afterlife: Romanies had a concept of Good and Evil forces. Dead relatives were looked after loyally. The soul enters a world like the world of the living, except that death does not exist. The soul lingers near the body and sometimes wants to live again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The River of Sound awaited, and a vast steel span was to be crossed.

Tomorrow is Williamsburg, where Brooklyn’s Grand Street will be attained and the puzzling series of shots found on my camera card will be further explored at this… Your Newtown Pentacle.


compulsive walking

affected animals walk oblivious to their surroundings. They appear to be blind, walk into objects, headpress against them and stay in this position for long periods, are oblivious to danger and may die of misadventure. They may attempt to climb a wall and fall over backwards. Common causes are hepatic encephalopathy and increased intracranial pressure.

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