Street View in Queens, New York
I fired up Google Street View and started poking around the edges of cemeteries in Queens, New York. Why would anybody do such a thing?
For me anyway it began this morning with a phone call from Rocco Marinaccio. He’s not even from Queens, but he is a Mets fan. The conversation came around to graveyards. I told him I wanted to visit Green-Wood Cemetery, which is in Brooklyn, not Queens, but lots of landscape artists are buried there. Asher Durand! John Kensett! George Bellows! To dampen my enthusiasm he suggested we visit Woodlawn in the Bronx instead. “Miles Davis is buried there,” he said. Rocco is from the Bronx.
Back to Queens. My mother is from Queens. Four or five generations of her people are buried there in Calvary Cemetery. That alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to send me out to dig around in the virtual graveyards this evening, but this afternoon I was reading a book about Joseph Cornell, the artist and filmmaker. Cornell lived most of his life on Utopia Parkway in Queens. In his later years he became infatuated with a young woman who worked at a diner. They became friendly enough that she was able to steal some things from him and try to fence the loot. She got caught, but he never pressed charges. Soon after that, an old boyfriend showed up at her place and murdered her. As an ode to her memory Cornell made a silent 16mm film called Flushing Meadows. It was shot in the cemetery where she is buried.
I wondered if this famous film might be out there on the web. It’s not—or I couldn’t find it—so instead I settled for a Street View stroll around the neighborhoods of Flushing. I dropped into my excursion in front of some auto repair garage. You often find such places on the edges of graveyards in Queens. I clicked my way along the summer streets to Horace Harding Parkway and headed west. Near the corner of 164th St., I spotted this guy sitting waiting for a bus. The bus was late. Close by was a litter basket nearly full. Behind it all stretched a graveyard, itself nearly full. Shadows of trees were inching closer. The whole scene made me really sad. So I clicked my way out of there as fast as I could.
I turned north on 164th and made my way up to Flushing Cemetery. I think this is where Cornell shot his film, but I’m not sure. Street View wouldn’t let me into the graveyard itself, so I had to settle for what I could see from along the fence. Not much, so I turned around and headed back the way I came.
When I got to the corner of 164th and Horace Harding Parkway, that forlorn guy was still sitting waiting for his bus. The litter basket and the graveyard were just as I had left them, nearly full. The shadows of the trees had not moved. They seemed to be waiting for something. Indeed, nothing in this whole scene had changed. Except me.