Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Urban Gadabout: Return to Queens's historic First Calvary Cemetery


Plus: Where was Nancy Reagan born?

In Calvary Cemetery, Long Island City (Queens), with a familiar skyline in the distance. Photo by Mitch Waxman (click to enlarge).

All I need is an angle, an angle, an angle.
And some timing, timing.
All I need is an angle, an angle, an angle.
It's the angles and the timing that count.
-- Hubie Cram, in "Take a Job," from Do-Re-Mi (lyrics by
Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Jule Styne)

Nancy Walker (Kay Cram), Phil Silvers (Hubie Cram); Original Broadway Cast recording, Lehman Engel, cond. RCA, recorded December 1960

by Ken

Forget the angles. Just now my timing is, shall we say, off.

I got all excited last month when my pal Mitch Waxman mentioned, during a walking tour around the Dutch Kills tributary of his beloved Newtown Creek, that he was going to be doing a walk in First Calvary Cemetery, the original section of the now-mammoth Calvary Cemetery, on the northern shore of the Creek, in the Blissville neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. Mitch had been enthusing mightily about First Calvary on his Newtown Pentacle blog, in a post called "ordinary interpretation" (with subsequent posts: "sepulchral adorations" and "obvious empiricism). As he's written:
It's the largest chunk of 'green infrastructure' found along the Newtown Creek as well as serving as the final resting place of literally millions of Roman Catholic New Yorkers. It's part of the firmament of LIC, and a significant touchstone for the history of 19th century NYC.
So I was gung-ho for the tour. But as soon as I was able to check my calendar, I discovered that I was conflicted out. Rats! But that's old business, which I wrote about (at the above link). Subsequently, even before Mitch announced it himself on the blog, I got excited all over to see that he was doing Calvary again -- this coming Saturday, October 3, at 11am -- for New York Obscura Society (the local arm of Atlas Obscura), with whom he does periodic tours, as he does with Brooklyn Brainery. (It was on account of Mitch, in fact, that I first learned about both outfits. I've now done a bunch of events with both.)

This time I approached my calendar gingerly, and found what I thought would be a tight fit but a perfect match: That same day I was already registered for a Municipal Art Society tour of Transmitter Brewing -- located under the Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek, on the Queens side. That's not exactly a stone's throw from Calvary up the creek, but it's about as neat a pairing as you could hope for. The timing might be a little tight getting from one to the other, but it was certainly workable, based on the 2pm start time I had entered on my calendar.

Unfortunately I had entered the Transmitter Brewing time wrong, as I discovered right after I registered for the Calvary tour. It starts at noon, not 2pm. The Obscura Society folks have been kind enough to refund my registration, and I'll have to wait for another opportunity to do Calvary with Mitch. But if you're free Saturday, you don't have to wait:

Flanked by the concrete devastations of western Queens’ industrial zone and backdropped by an omnipresent Manhattan skyline, Calvary Cemetery is a historical smorgasbord and aesthetic wonderland of sculptural monuments.

Founded in 1848 by the Roman Catholic Church, Calvary Cemetery is the resting place of over six million dead, among them Senators, Governors, Businessmen, Mafiosos, most of Tammany Hall in fact - and on a certain hill - an heir to the throne of Ireland. The Roman Catholic Church continues to upkeep and maintain its administration over the cemetery to this day. In addition to its original purpose, Calvary also serves the City of New York as a significant parcel of Green Infrastructure, a green oasis in the middle of the Newtown Creek's industrial zone which drinks up billions of gallons of water during storms.

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman for a walk upon the rolling hills of what was once known to Queens as Laurel Hill. We'll visit the 300 year old headstones of the colonial era Alsop cemetery - which is uniquely a Protestant cemetery encapsulated by a Catholic one - see the memorial to NYC's Civil War soldiers laid down by Boss Tweed and the Tammany elite, and one dedicated to the "fighting 69th."

Meeting Place: North east corner of Greenpoint and Review Avenue, nearby the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in Blissville.

Details: We will be exiting the Cemetery through the main gates at Greenpoint and Gale Avenue, nearby Borden Avenue and the Long Island Expressway. Afterwards, discussion will continue informally over food and drinks at the Botany Bay Publick House, a bar and restaurant at the corner of Greenpoint and Bradley Avenues.

Dress and pack appropriately for hiking and the weather. Closed-toe shoes are highly recommended. Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the end of the walk.

The price is $30. For information and ticket purchase, go here.


I thought I was going to get to this in tonight's post, but perhaps it's better to deal with it separately (perhaps tomorrow, perhaps not). It's not a trick question, and if you look it up, you'll probably get an answer that's correct as far as it goes but that doesn't go quite as far as one might have reason to expect. It's kind of as if Mrs. R has been hiding something all these years. (Speaking of which, just how many years has it been? This is another Nancy Reagan question that's just a little tricky.)

Stay tuned.

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