The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Mulberry Street

unending steps

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

By email, I was contacted by a personage who claimed that the long desired location of a certain interment at First Calvary Cemetery in Queens- the burial site of “he who must not be named“- was in his possession. Further, it was asserted that while anonymity and certain other odd conditions were required, the occluded information so long sought would be mine for the taking.

A meeting was hastily arranged at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Manhattan’s Mulberry street, and your humble narrator scuttled off to the Bloody Sixth Ward and the House of Dagger John.

What greeted me was not to my liking.


The recent elevation of New York as an Episcopal see with its own bishop inspired the increasing Catholic population to build the original Cathedral of New York under the name of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick. The site chosen belonged to the corporation of Saint Peter’s Church and was located on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan. The cornerstone was laid in June 1809.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is habit and curse, an early arrival was attempted and achieved, and a hidden vantage point amongst the venerable pews was attained. The odd fellow who had contacted me described his aspect and appearance accurately, and recognition was instant when he strode confidently into the ancient church. He did not arrive alone, as he had implied in his missives, however.

The disturbing aspect of his companions, leathery creatures best described as men, and the hushed instructions he seemed to be offering them, brought me to a peak of nervous excitedness and a panic set in upon me. Stupidly, I had walked directly into a spiders web, lured in by forbidden fruit.

Had some sort of diabolical plot, hatched by those malign forces whose secretive occupations and desires and unguessed at existence has been inadvertently hinted at and offended by this- your Newtown Pentacle, been set in motion to snare and silence me?

from wikipedia

Until 1830, the Cathedral was the ending place of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. After that, it ended on Ann Street at the Church of the Transfiguration, whose pastor, Father Varela, was Cuban, but was a fervent nationalist and the chaplin of the Hibernian Universal Benevolent Society. Eventually, the parade moved uptown to pass in front of the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In 1836, the cathedral was the subject of an attempted sack after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing nativists led to a number of riots and other physical confrontations. The situation worsened when a brain-injured young woman wrote a book telling her “true” story – a Protestant girl who converted to Catholicism, and was then forced by nuns to have sex with priests, with the resulting children being baptized then killed horribly. Despite the book being debunked by a mildly anti-Catholic magazine editor, nativist anger at the story resulted in a decision to attack the cathedral. Loopholes were cut in the church’s outer walls, which had just recently been built, and the building was defended from the rioters with muskets.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As previously described, vast physical inadequacy and cowardice are my hallmarks. The least of all men, my only recourse is flight, and I seem to have descended into some sort of fugue state.

I remember leaving the sepulchral darkness and unnatural cool of the old Cathedral, but from the moment that the burning thermonuclear eye of god itself shone upon me, it’s a total blank.

My next conscious memory is that of having arrived back at HQ in Astoria some hours later with blistered feet and chafed thighs, and an odd crusty residue around my eyes reminiscent of the dehydrated tears which adorn the occulum of a recently awakened sleeper.

During this multi hour episode, I seem to have been taking hundreds of pictures as I scuttled instinctually and inexorably homeward.

I’ve pieced my somnambulist route together from the shots on my camera card and for some reason, seemed to be subconsciously following an ancient street car route, the one that went to Calvary via Williamsburg as I later scried.


In 1850 a line of two horse stages was running from Grand Street ferry past the Dutch Church on the Old Woodpoint Road out to Newtown. Grape arbors extended from Leonard Street to Humboldt Street.

Martin J. SUYDAM ran a stage from Peck Slip and Grand Street. Ferries through Grand Street and Metropolitan Avenue to Newtown.

The Grand Street and Newtown Railroad Co., was chartered in 1860. At the foot of the street was the office of the Houston Street Ferry Association and later of the Nassau Ferry Co. A long wooden stairway led from the ferry to the American Hotel, latter, #2 & 4, kept by Jackson HICKS.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some sort of odd symmetry presents itself, of course, in this dreamt of photowalk. The vast numbers who lie within the emerald devastations of Laurel Hill made the same journey themselves, although most did not take the Williamsburg Bridge- rather a connecting ferry and streetcar line which would have joined some forgotten 19th century Manhattan pierage (near its own Grand Street) with the gentry of Brooklyn. Don’t forget, in the 19th century, Manhattan was a pestilential hell hole of factories and open sewers populated by a starving horde of refugees- Brooklyn was in it’s own golden age.

The Bridge didn’t come along until 1883 after all, and First Calvary was nearly full by then.

from “An East-Side Ramble” William Dean Howells Impressions and Experiences (New York: Harpers & Brothers, 1896) courtesy

I suppose there are and have been worse conditions of life, but if I stopped short of savage life I found it hard to imagine them. I did not exaggerate to myself the squalor that I saw, and I do not exaggerate it to the reader. As I have said, I was so far from sentimentalizing it that I almost immediately reconciled myself to it, as far as its victims were concerned. Still, it was squalor of a kind which, it seemed to me, it could not be possible to outrival anywhere in the life one commonly calls civilized. It is true that the Indians who formerly inhabited this island were no more comfortably lodged in their wigwams of bark and skins than these poor New-Yorkers in their tenements. But the wild men pay no rent, and if they are crowded together upon terms that equally forbid decency and comfort in their shelter, they have the freedom of the forest and the prairie about them; they have the illimitable sky and the whole light of day and the four winds to breathe when they issue into the open air. The New York tenement dwellers, even when they leave their lairs, are still pent in their high-walled streets and inhale a thousand stenches of their own and others’ making. The street, except in snow and rain, is always better than their horrible houses, and it is doubtless because they pass so much of their time in the street that the death rate is so low among them. Perhaps their domiciles can be best likened for darkness and discomfort to the dugouts or sod huts of the settlers on the great plains. But these are only temporary shelters, while the tenement dwellers have no hope of better housing; they have neither the prospect of a happier fortune through their own energy as the settlers have, nor any chance from the humane efforts and teachings of missionaries, like the savages. With the tenement dwellers it is from generation to generation, if not for the individual, then for the class, since no one expects that there will not always be tenement dwellers in New York as long as our present economical conditions endure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As evidenced in the shot above, I seem to have proceeded south along Mulberry Street, past the high walls of the Old Cathedral which were erected by Dagger John and the Hibernians to protect the sanctuary from the violent attentions of Nativist rioters during those starry years when this neighborhood was known as “the bloody sixth ward”.

from History of the Second company of the Seventh regiment By Emmons Clark, courtesy google books

The Sixth Ward was noted for its disorderly character, and the frequent skirmishes which took place within its borders, with the consequent black eyes and bloody noses, gave it the well-known sobriquet,—”the Bloody Sixth.” On the first day of the election, in the spring of 1834, it was said that the anti-bank, Democratic, and Irish citizens of the Sixth Ward, had blockaded the polls and prevented the Whigs from voting. On the second day, the Whigs from other districts rallied in large numbers to the Sixth Ward, resolved to break the blockade and give their friends an opportunity to cast their ballots. The result was a series of engagements, in which both parties maintained their positions in the field until the polls closed for the day. A ship, mounted on wheels and adorned with Whig banners, was drawn through the ward, and used to convey voters to the polls, and this insulting invasion of the Democratic stronghold increased the excitement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This grand walk carried me, in a seemingly dream like state, through the lower Manhattan neighborhoods known to Dagger John and his compatriots as either “Jewtown” or “the Ghetto”, over the Bridge, into Williamsburg, through Bushwick and then Maspeth in Brooklyn and Queens respectively, into Berlin and then Blissville in the Creeklands, and ultimately Calvary Cemetery itself. Over the next few days, and from the comfort and safety of a well fortified Newtown Pentacle HQ (which sports a cadre of Croatian Varangians dedicated to my health and well being, should these malign forces decide to visit… as well as other… more esoteric defenses) I’ll be presenting the fruits of this journey. As mentioned, I somehow kept shooting the whole way.

from wikipedia

Basil II’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, led him to employ them as his personal bodyguards. This new force became known as the Varangian Guard (Greek: Τάγμα των Βαράγγων, Tágma tōn Varángōn). Over the years, new recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway kept a predominantly Scandinavian cast to the organization until the late 11th century. So many Scandinavians left to enlist in the guard that a medieval Swedish law from Västergötland stated that no one could inherit while staying in “Greece”—the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine Empire. In the eleventh century, there were also two other European courts that recruited Scandinavians: Kievan Rus’ c. 980–1060 and London 1018–1066 (the Þingalið). Steven Runciman, in The History of the Crusades, noted that by the time of the Emperor Alexios Komnenos, the Byzantine Varangian Guard was largely recruited from Anglo-Saxons and “others who had suffered at the hands of the Vikings and their cousins the Normans”. The Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic peoples shared with the Vikings a tradition of faithful (to death if necessary) oath-bound service, and after the Norman Conquest of England there were many fighting men who had lost their lands and former masters and looked for a living elsewhere.

Additionally, for those who might be interested in a FREE boat tour of Newtown Creek on City of Water Day – which is Saturday, July 16th- this web page bears monitoring.

Bandits Roost, 2010

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– photo by Jacob Riis (or one of his associates) found in the public domain at wikipedia, of Bandits Roost- 59 1/2 Mulberry Street, 1888

This is one of those iconic images from the dawn of the photographic era, the sort upon which entire scholastic careers and political memes are based. It purports to show a group of street toughs at the Mulberry Bend, which Riis described as the very heart of the manifest evil that was Five Points. The part of the Lower East Side described in the 1980’s as “Alphabet City” was similarly described as hell on earth by politicians and journalists, but it was actually an ok place- which makes me wonder…

For the purposes of this post though, it is one of those truly rare historical captures that lists a street address, so I headed down to Mulberry and Bayard Streets to see if I could find the spot… however… Riis and his allies in the municipality oversaw the obliteration of Five Points and its wonders, and there is no 59 1/2 Mulberry street in modernity (entire streets were demapped, or had their names changed- the actual Mulberry Bend is now Columbus Park), so I was forced to get a little “batman” on this one…


Columbus Park was named in 1911 after Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), the Italian explorer credited with discovering America, or at least with awakening Europe to the opportunities there.  Bounded by Baxter (formerly Orange), Worth (formerly Anthony), Bayard, and Mulberry Streets, the site has alternatively been named Mulberry Bend Park, Five Points Park, and Paradise Park.  Columbus Park is situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan, adjacent to the infamous “Five Points” and “The Bend”.

Until 1808 the site for the park was a swampy area near the Collect Pond (now Foley Square) and hosted a set of tanneries.  In 1808 the pond was filled and became Pearl Street. When the filling began to sink, a foul odor emerged which depressed the living conditions of that neighborhood. As a consequence, the area became host to one of the world’s most notorious tenements, known for its wretched living conditions and rampant crime, earning such names as “murderer’s alley” and “den of thieves.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The east side of Mulberry Street still exists, and as evidenced above- this is 62 Mulberry- a modern day parking lot.

also from

Mulberry Bend Park was planned in the 1880’s by Calvert Vaux, co-designer of Central Park.  Vaux saw this park as an opportunity to bring new life and order into the depressed neighborhood.  Riis remarked of Vaux’s newly designed park that it is “little less than a revolution” to see the slum housing replaced by trees and grass and flowers, and its dark hovels infused with light and sunshine and air.  The park opened in the summer of 1897, with bench-lined curved walkways and an expansive, open grassy area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just next door- this is 60 Mulberry-


We have a growing “RAT” problem at Columbus Park and the surrounding neighborhood. The Health Dept. has been doing “RAT” Indexing (research) and hear is what they are saying…

“Columbus Park after years remains a challenging situation………..

  • There is an extraordinary amount of food trash left in baskets each day and night;
  • abundance of litter within the park that does not get collected on a regular basis;
  • many restaurants along Mulberry Street place out their trash each night and the rats have easy access;
  • and the park is located over very old subterranean lines of sewer, and even old streams. These subsurface areas no doubt serve as partial replenishes for rat control achieved at surface level. Many of the restaurants on Mulberry have failed for having rats on their premises; and thus there is likely a back and forth swapping of the rats from Columbus Park to Mulberry Street basements.
  1. Baiting alone will NOT get this done. In fact, long term, it exacerbates it.
  2. There also appears to be a hawk which is using the park for easy pickings of the rats; and so the Parks Dept will need to weigh in on “the risk to the hawk” if any large scale baiting is done. They will need to make the call.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just next door- this is 58 Mulberry- so, spinning on my heels at that point equidistant between 58 and 60 Mulberry…

Coincidentally, 58 Mulberry has a back house, according to the NYCDOB, and is an “old law” tenement. Check out this article from 1881 which describes Mayor Grace’s tour of the block and includes a description of #56 Mulberry as “a tenement house of the worst class”. And also- this one which discusses the mortality rate on this block in 1884.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is 56 Mulberry today, but I’m uncertain as to whether this is the original structure which Grace visited.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This entrance to Columbus Park must be 59 1/2 Mulberry Street, Bandits Roost.

from wikipedia

Old Law Tenements are tenements built in New York City after the Tenement House Act of 1879 and before the so-called “New Law” of 1901.

The 1879 law required that every inhabitable room have a window opening to plain air, a requirement that was met by including air shafts between adjacent buildings. Old Law Tenements are commonly called “dumbbell tenements” after the shape of the building footprint: the air shaft gives each tenement the narrow-waisted shape of a dumbbell, wide facing the street and backyard, narrowed in between to create the air corridor. They were built in great numbers to accommodate waves of immigrating Europeans from troubled nations. The side streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side are lined with dumbbell structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I ask myself, how would Riis have described this 21st century gathering of amiable asiatic card players at 59 1/2 Mulberry Street?

from, “How the other half lives, by Jacob Riis”

Abuse is the normal condition of “the Bend,” murder its everyday crop, with the tenants not always the criminals. In this block between Bayard, Park, Mulberry, and Baxter Streets, “the Bend” proper, the late Tenement House Commission counted 155 deaths of children in a specimen year (1882). Their per centage of the total mortality in the block was 68.28, while for the whole city the proportion was only 46.20. The infant mortality in any city or place as compared with the whole number of deaths is justly considered a good barometer of its general sanitary condition. Here, in this tenement, No. 59 1/2, next to Bandits’ Roost, fourteen persons died that year, and eleven of them were children; in No. 61 eleven, and eight of them not yet five years old. According to the records in the Bureau of Vital Statistics only thirty-nine people lived in No. 59 1/2 in the year 1888, nine of them little children. There were five baby funerals in that house the same year. Out of the alley itself, No. 59, nine dead were carried in 1888, five in baby coffins.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 20, 2010 at 12:05 am

Mulberry Streets

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Note: The series of posts you’re about to see, over the next few days, are offered as a notebook- sort of a work in progress. When I get something wrong, please let me know, as this is a learning experience for your humble narrator.

The “Bloody Sixth” provides a certain context, in my mind, for why the vast numbers of people left Manhattan for points east and populated Brooklyn, Long Island City, and Newtown. In many ways, we live in the wreckage of their utopia… here in the Newtown Pentacle.

This is an image of a Mulberry Street Tenement from the

Harper’s Weekly of September 13, 1873, from the Library of Congress:

A familiar illustration, it’s linked to by many people, and is provided for context- although it is difficult to read the actual text- even in the larger version attained by clicking the image. It describes a visit to a Mulberry Street Tenement and it’s “back house” in the upper drawing, and an inspection of a fruit market set up along the sidewalk in the lower.

This is a short post, but likely interesting to long time readers and antiquarians…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Exiting from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, I noticed a surprising relict of the ancient sixth ward. The bloody sixth, as it was called by sensationalist and muckraker alike, was famous for the smaller structures that landlords would erect in their back yards in order to maximize their real estate. So called “back houses” were once a common sight, but were the worst places to live- as they shared their living space with the outhouses and privy drains of the larger structure and the enormous population housed therein and most were in perpetual shadow.


The worst thing in New-York from a sanitary point of view is the rear tenement. It kills more people than war or famine in proportion to its opportunities. It is a sure lurking place for dirt, disease, and death.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For some reason, the progressives of the 19th century were horrified by open air markets set up along the sidewalk. On modern day Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, one can observe similar merchant activity to that described by Jacob Riis and others- little shops set up in hallways and along the sidewalk, any hole in the wall- by an insular people loathe to let go of their customs and language.

Other Riis terminologies like “Tramp Burrows”, “Jewtown”, and “Heathen Temples” trample upon modern political corrrectness, however, and will most likely be trimmed from future discourse.

Moving about the sixth ward in 2010, one might happen across a Chinese grocer offering alien vegetables of unknown specie, who barely hides her umbrage when the Gwai Lo tourists ask “What’s that?”. Many sidewalk vendors were noticed to have displayed signs that say “photos $2”.

from wikipedia

Gwai Lo (鬼佬) literally means “ghost man” (the word “ghost” refers to the paler complexions of stereotypical Caucasians). The term is sometimes translated into English as foreign devil. The term arose when the first group of Europeans appeared in China as they were associated with barbarians . For several thousand years, Chinese people had the image of its borders continuously breached by “uncivilized tribes” given to mayhem and destruction. The term was popularised during the Opium Wars in response to the Unequal Treaties. In Southern parts of China, the term gwai lo was used. In Northern parts of China, the term (Western) ocean ghost ((西)洋鬼子 (Xi) Yangguizi) was used, Europe being West of China.

Also of interest, this is a digitally retouched and colored image found in the Public Domain over at Wikimedia Commons, representing Mulberry Street in 1900:

My belief – if the signage displayed in the above photo is accurate and 88 Mulberry Street means the same thing now as it did 110 years ago- is that this is the corner of Mulberry and Bayard Streets, looking uptown from below Canal Street with Five Points behind the camera. Obviously, the photographer had someone watching his back.

from wikipedia

The street was named after the mulberry trees that once lined Mulberry Bend, the slight bend in Mulberry Street. “Mulberry Bend is a narrow bend in Mulberry Street, a tortuous ravine of tall tenement-houses… so full of people that the throngs going and coming spread off the sidewalk nearly to the middle of the street… The crowds are in the street because much of the sidewalk and all of the gutter is taken up with vendors’ stands”.”  For the urban reformer Jacob Riis, Mulberry Bend epitomized the worst of the city’s slums.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My 2010 shot looks downtown toward Five Points from the far end of the scene above, at Mulberry and Grand Streets in modern Little Italy’s “main street” restaurant row, and at the infamous “Mulberry Bend”.

from wikipedia

Much of the neighborhood has been absorbed and engulfed by Chinatown, as immigrants from China moved to the area. What was once Little Italy has essentially shrunk into a single street which serves as a tourist area and maintains few Italian residents. The northern reaches of Little Italy, near Houston Street, ceased to be recognizably Italian, and eventually became the neighborhood known today as NoLIta, an abbreviation for North of Little Italy. Today, the section of Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal Streets, is all that is left of the old Italian neighborhood. The street is lined with some two-dozen Italian restaurants popular with tourists, and seemingly very few locals. Unlike Chinatown, which continues to expand in all directions with newer Chinese immigrants, little remains of the original Little Italy.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 19, 2010 at 12:05 am

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