(Rockland Ave in Staten Island – Photos by Bald Punk)
A violent storm two days ago had felled trees, power lines, and left many streets throughout NYC still closed. Driving in Staten Island to a job estimate, I exited the highway and soon after rolled into a traffic jam on Rockland Avenue. It’s a two lane road enshrouded by barren trees and thickets of bare brush. Much of it appeared desiccated as it was the tail-end of a long arctic winter.
At various intervals throughout the day, I had had a needling sensation that something otherworldly was set in my path. I wasn’t able to say what it could be, though I had the suspicion it was the ghost of a slave named Hardy. I knew he wasn’t done with me yet it.
A week ago Hardy had paid me a visit, and I believe, filled my head with a dream of early Coney Island set side-by-side against the arrival of a slave ship in NY Harbor. Though at the time he had spoken to me, his words were vague and as indecipherable as his figure had been.
In the past few days other surreal images have followed me in and out of sleep. The most vivid and reoccurring was of NY Harbor jammed with colonial-era British warships. In it the sky is a blood red color, filled with plumes of liquid black smoke.
The most violent action is by two tenacious frigates as they shell the Brooklyn shoreline by what is now Shore Road. Just inland from there, white and grey, low-lying smoke tells the tale of small skirmishes. A single man-o-war sits out across the Narrows by Staten Island. Every so often, it fires a cannonball from one of its many stout guns and though the ball always falls short of land, I can hear gales of laughter and song from the sailors after each shot. Given it’s just a skirmish, I don’t think the full-on battle for Brooklyn in August of 1776 had begun.
This scene reminds me of poor Max Beckley. He was a Revolutionary War soldier mortally wounded in the Battle of Brooklyn, only to be abducted from the southern marshes by a demon. From what I’ve gathered, a Staples office supply store on 4th Ave marks the spot. (See bottom links for more on Max.)
(André Basset’s – “Representation of the terrible fire of New York,” 9/21/1776)
My lady friend includes Max in her prayers. I just hope that by God’s graces, he’s dead and gone, though I’m all but certain his terror is ceaseless.
Up ahead at the intersection with Manor Road, a traffic cop stood on the dirt corner where there was no sidewalk or concrete to speak of. The left crosswalk was closed off with yellow police tape. In that direction, at a bend up the road were Con Edison trucks parked askew with their yellow lights flashing.
On impulse, I turned right and followed a handful of other autos. The road branched off into three parts, each leading up into an exclusive community known as Lighthouse Hill. I took the middle road and passed the upper floors of a nursing home set lower on the hill. The road rose up higher and to the right. There was a succession of toppled trees on both sides of the street.
In one section of a sprawling wooded area, it was good to see white flowers pushing up through the fallen brown leaves. I spotted a man coming out of the woods onto the road. When a second later I looked in the rear view mirror, I lost sight of him. I sat higher in the seat and checked the passenger window, half-expecting to see the man running abreast.
The road crested and slipped around exclusive, “million-dollar homes.” At the other side of the hill the street ran diagonally downward. There was a serene view off a steep, home-encrusted cliff out over about ten miles of land, and over Raritan Bay out to Sandy Hook, NJ.
(View from Lighthouse Hill Road out to Sandy Hook, NJ)
The traffic came to a halt by what looked like a small stone fortress called the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.
I stuck my head out the window and saw the road was closed at a steep bend ahead. The cars were turning and coming back. I followed the line of cars through another detour and came out in the parking lot of Latourette Golf Course. I exited and made a left and headed into more traffic that wound down Snake Hill Road.
Below on the right was old St. Andrew’s Church, which itself overlooks Historic Richmond Town. I had taken photos in that area a few months ago. I had the sudden urge to take more. My camera was in my bag in the passenger seat.
I made a hard right just before the bottom of Snake Hill, and parked alongside St Andrew’s. The road was paved for a hundred feet or so and then was blocked off to traffic, though it still ran on unpaved for about a half-a-mile or more.
The church was surrounded by a stone wall and a very old graveyard. A two-story, white-vinyl residence sat in the rear with a detached three-car garage and a basketball hoop in the driveway.
The moment I stepped out of the car I knew I had stopped for a purpose. I scanned the graveyard with my senses on full alert.
It seemed as if every inch of my body pulsed. Yet, strangely, that was the touch of the supernatural.
(Church of St. Andrew’s)
I forgot my search for a moment and marveled up at St. Andrew’s, founded in 1708. The church has a haunting beauty that is framed by an idyllic setting. It includes not only colonial Richmond Town, but a nature preserve behind it that runs for miles.
I pictured colonial settlers coming to worship on cart paths set right smack in the middle of the modern road.
Within a few minutes, I spotted a man plodding through the cemetery, cradling a camera that had a long telephoto lens.
I realized he wasn’t flesh. He was vaporous. His skin was translucent and his eyes lacked any white or iris. The surface was an ashen color. I had the feeling it was Hardy.
“Don’t run away this time, boy,” he whispered, his voice bassy and ominous. Now I was certain it was Hardy.
Thick crevices, closer to slash marks were cut into the ghost slave’s face. It looked like a large feline had tried to gouge out his eyes. Though more than likely it was from the lash of a whip.
My whole being sunk and I found I couldn’t move. For an instant, the pain and suffering Hardy had endured in life seemed real in my head. And then I thought of his afterlife, which hadn’t been much better as he had been burdened as the guardian of the demon, Old Seven.
“Where is he?” I asked in a whisper, referring to Hardy’s hellhound charge. I searched the area around the ghost slave. His eyes closed and something changed about him. He knew to whom I referred, but was reticent. I raised my voice. “Where is Old Seven?”
“Inside me,” he said.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Twenty-Seven – March 2010 (Feat: Ghost of a Slave named Hardy)
Church of St Andrew’s – Staten Island (Photos only)
The below two episodes both conclude by focusing on Max Beckley. Expect to read a lot more on him in the future.
Episode Fourteen – August 2009
Episode Seventeen – September 2009