The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘New York City

ultimate blackness

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It’s Al Capone, Betty White, and Andy Kaufman’s birthday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in LIC’s Blissville neighborhood, you’ll find the principal burying grounds of the Roman Catholic Church in 19th and early 20th century NYC, called First Calvary Cemetery. It’s called “First” Calvary, as there are three other properties found to the east in Woodside that the church refers to as “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth.” First, or Old, Calvary has been in use since 1848. Calvary Cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Newtown Creek and is surrounded by the industrial zones of Long Island City and West Maspeth.

The majority of burials in First Calvary occurred between its founding and the Second World War, which means that the monuments found within its fence lines have endured the effects of the endemic atmospheric pollution typical of industrial America prior to the passing of the 1972 Federal Clean Air Act. Acid rain wasn’t a term used prior to that legislation.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Granite seems to be the best choice for a monument able to weather the atmospherics hereabouts.

Marble rots away, obscuring the legend, iconography, and screed carven into the memorial stones. If you were to run your fingers across the surface of the stone pictured above, a sandy grit would transfer from it to your skin. To be fair, though, there used to be an acid factory right across the street from Calvary Cemetery.

That factory was opened in 1866, and was first known as “General Chemical,” then as “Nichols Chemical,” and then as “Phelps Dodge.” Phelps Dodge, of course, is one of the named “potentially responsible parties” or “PRP’s” in the ongoing Federal Superfund situation on Newtown Creek being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Phelps Dodge vacated its property long ago. Back in 1901, when the corporate entity was still called the Nichols Chemical Company, community complaints and a law suit by the cemetery forced them to build what was – at the time – the largest chimney in the United States to release their acidic waste gases high above the ground. It was supported by wooden piles driven into the landfilled Newtown Creek marshlands their factory was built on. These piles supported a 25 foot deep concrete foundation, which in turn provided a stable enough base for a 22,000 ton, 367 feet tall chimney.

Roughly translating that to modern day “building stories,” this was a 36-37 story tall chimney.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For comparison, the sapphire megalith of Long Island City is 53 stories in height, but three of those stories are below the ground. The Nichols/Phelps complex employed close to 1,500 people back in 1901. The acid factory was merely part of their production line, and the high grade sulfuric acid they were known for as a mere co-product for their true profit center.

The main focus of their business was the refining of copper. The company was producing some 517,000 tons of the stuff, annually, back in 1901 when that chimney went up. Most of the landfill that the company had used to build out the marshy shoreline of Newtown Creek, and upon which they built their factories, was material harvested from the refining processes – specifically slag from their redoubts and furnaces. The original shoreline of Newtown Creek was anywhere from 500-1,000 feet back from the modern shoreline, more or less where the Long Island Railroad’s Lower Montauk Branch tracks are found today.


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sterile abysses

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

sheerly perpindicular

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It’s Friday the 13th…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

For Catholics, however, all roads lead to Calvary.

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

The inscription on his memorial reads: 

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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

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

– photo by Mitch Waxman

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


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unholy centuries

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It’s Rush Limbaugh and Rob Zombie’s birthdays today, and the day that Saint Aelred of Rievaulx died.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering through Woodside one fine day, I happened across this bit of memorial statuary at the corner of 65th place and Laurel Hill Blvd. Technically speaking, I wasn’t in Woodside, this is actually Winfield. The Real Estate shit flies have more or less eradicated that name from current discourse, calling this area “East Woodside,” but it’s Winfield. Winfield was named for Mexican and Civil War General Winfield Scott, if you’re curious, who died in 1866.

The statue commemorates 7 local soldiers lost to combat in the First World War, and was erected and paid for by the people of Winfield.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Originally installed at the corner of Fisk Avenue and Queens Blvd., Robert Moses’s people moved it here when they were building the Brooklyn Queens Expressway back in the 1950’s. It’s bronze, and was sculpted by Italian-American sculptor James S. J. Novelli. Seven feet tall, the statue’s official nomen is “Winfield War Memorial and Victorious America.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The statue has not had an easy time of it over the last century, particularly since 1958 owing to its location at an on ramp for a highway, according to the NYC Parks Dept. who maintain it and whom I gleaned the information for this post from.

from nycgovparks.org

Due to its location at 65th Place and Laurel Hill Boulevard adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Winfield Memorial has suffered various indignities over the years. In 1958, completion of the nearby section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway bisected the community, and orphaned the monument to this park triangle located perilously close to an off-ramp. In 1969 and 1989 the statue was knocked from its perch by vehicles, and on the second occasion the head was severed from the body and reattached. The monument suffered from weathering, frequent attacks of graffiti, and other assaults by vandals; it received an in-house reconditioning in the 1990s by Parks crews.

In 1999 a City Capital contract restored the monument, replaced its damaged granite base with a replica, and the surrounding plaza was upgraded in an attempt to beautify its setting and better protect the sculpture. Unfortunately, in December 2001 the sculpture was again injured in a horrific car accident that dragged the sculpture several hundred feet into the expressway. In 2010-11 Parks’ Citywide Monuments Conservation Program repaired the damages and reinstalled the artwork at its rightful place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Novelli bronze, which is seven feet and four inches tall above the base, seems to be in fairly fine fettle these days. Why not take a walk or ride your bike over to check it out, and contemplate the war to end all wars that happened a century ago. You can also muse about the Powerbroker, just like I do everytime I visit the “House of Moses.”


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 12, 2017 at 11:00 am

flaming thing

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It’s Tag des Deutschen Apfels (German Apples) day in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bright passage, it’s a not unlikely spot to find a group of cultists dropping a bizarre golden diadem into the water hoping to contact those who might lie below the seething waters. Hells Gate, with its bizarre and blasted subterrene topography, cannot possibly host a race of non human intelligences, can it? That would be crazy.

I mean, is this Queens or Innsmouth?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of alien intelligences with unintelligible plans for the future, the DEP’s MV Red Hook sludge boat slid through the bright passage while one was contemplating what sort of life might inhabit the craggy bottom. Between the strong cross currents of the tide, all the endemic pollution… it boggles.

It’s almost as if the area is being terra formed for a different and quite alien species.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was pleased that a concurrence of maritime and locomotive subject matter occurred as Amtrak’s Acella came rolling by on the Hell Gate bridge at the same time as Buchanan 1 tug slid through the Hells Gate narrows of the East River. When I left the house this day, I rued not having the time to visit Staten Island and the Kill Van Kull – my original intention for the afternoon. What with the sun setting in the late afternoon, it’s kind of difficult to complete that journey from Point A in Astoria while the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is still hanging in the sky.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back to worrying about the ones who cannot possibly exist in the deepest waters of Hells Gate, and their land dwelling acolytes who surreptitiously accompanied the wholesome Hellenes during their 1970’s migration to Astoria, did a humble narrator’s thoughts turn.

There are too many individual and quite minor clues to mention which lend credence to the theory of their presence – odd smells and sounds, brief flashes of unrecognizable shapes seen when walking past closing doors, the popularity of Bosnian cuisine, bizarre chanting. This is an entirely different “thing” than the occluded witch cult operating out of St. Michael’s cemetery, incidentally, but perhaps I’ve already said too much.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The sound of chitinous scratching on my second floor garret window will no doubt resume after this posting, and the whispered calls to leave this life behind and to either go into the water or dance with the night ghouls of Nephren Ka across the rooftops and tombstones of western Queens will no doubt follow.

Who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there, beneath the waters of the Bright Passage?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

grim castle

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Today is the Fête du Vodoun in the Republic of Benin.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shlepping around Astoria one day, my footsteps found me over by Luyster Creek on the forbidden northern shore of Queens. The real estate shit flies have recently been getting pretty active nearby, with medium sized developments that absolutely do not have any connection to local elected officialdom’s blind trusts and out of office legal partnerships. That sort of thing could never happen in modern day NYC, after all. Dimly lit rooms have replaced the smoke filled ones, I’m told, as it’s now impolitique to smoke indoors. I don’t want to talk about any of that this week, however.

I came here for the boids. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another urban waterway in Queens which I describe as a “future superfund site,” Luyster Creek can also be referred to as Steinway Creek – as it adjoins the Steinway piano factory and once upon a time, old man Steinway used to have his mahogany delivered in log form via Bowery Bay and Long Island Sound by floating it into Luyster Creek lumberjack style. One wrote a profile of the waterway at my old Brownstoner Queens column a few years ago, click here for it.

To understand the modern incarnation of the waterway, let’s just say that these shots were captured from a spot at the end of Astoria’s 19th avenue and that I was standing on an open sewer leaking sewage overflow from the nearby Bowery Bay sewer plant. The shorelines on the western side are pretty much all Consolidated Edison property, but as you head north to where it meets Bowery Bay, you’ll encounter a couple of fuel depots on the eastern side. The water smells like bad cheese and goat poop.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Despite all that, it’s still one of the spots where migratory water birds like to hang out during the winter. The shallows seem to host a fairly abundant amount of whatever delicacies they prefer to quaff. I’ve never been sure where “Duck” ends and “Mallard” begins, but there’s a few of one or the other in the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m fairly sure that these friggin things are Mute Swans, which as of quite recently (January 1st) are no longer targeted by Department of Environmental Conservation hit squads for being a specie termed “invasive.” The DEC hit squads are nothing to mess around with, incidentally. A team of hard men and and women with combat experience and the “thousand yard stare,” they recently exterminated a group of coyotes in this area with extreme prejudice.

I’ve heard accounts of that operation which sounded like something from a Charles Bronson movie.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 10, 2017 at 11:00 am

rotting creation

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It’s National Cassoulet Day, here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Astoria Tumbleweeds doth fly. In accordance with the ancient village’s calendrical notch on the wheel of the year, it’s time to abandon the holiday tree to the vagaries of the wind. All the neighbors scoff at the idea of driving the thing over to one of the many municipal mulching drop offs. That ain’t natural.

What you are supposed to do, according to Astoria tradition, is drag it over to the corner and then skulk away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often there’ll be an orderliness to it all. One forlorn tree, excommunicated from the warm embrace of a family home, acts as an anchor point for others. Soon a veritable wagon train of trees can be observed. A recent perambulation carried me across several of these evergreen middens, which persisted well beyond the close attention which the redoubtable DSNY crews offered to their more mundane sort of waste collection duty – the black bag or putrescent waste, and the various recyclables encased in their respective blue and clear bags.

Apparently, medical waste is meant to be housed in red bags, so there you go. You’re also supposed to put grease in a can or bottle labeled appropriately, and spent batteries should also be in a labeled container.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily for one such as myself, as my walk was coming to its conclusion the wind began to kick up and the astoria tumbleweeds began to explore their migratory patterns. Speaking strictly as “a member of the tribe,” one has often wondered about the annual tonnage of lumber which the holiday month celebrations imports into NYC, by the various goyim, can be quantified as. I’m sure there’s somebody at DSNY who could inform. I’m sure there’s also someone else at DSNY who could and would catechize on the efficacy of mulching your Christmas Tree before it becomes an urban runabout.

All I can say about the Jewish POV on this holiday tree madness is this – what, you paid how much… for a dead plant which you can’t eat, and that you threw out after just a month? Meshuggenehs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As seems to be a holiday tradition here in my neck of Astoria, wherein garbage and recycling pickup are dually scheduled for Sunday nights, the back to back “day off” for the long suffering truck crews of DSNY results in the neighborhood beginning to fill up with considerable amounts of trash. Add in the tidal wave of cardboard and wine bottles which appear in the domestic bin…

Astoria, our abundance runneth over, and the tumbleweeds doth fly.

btw – for those of you Luddites who don’t know what a Cassoulet is, click this link to Food Network for a recipe.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

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