Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh f_____ town.
– Thomas Wolfe, Only the Dead Know Brooklyn, 1935
At the mouth of the alley near the corner of 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, between the bar and the plumbing supply store, stands a tall iron gate. Affixed to the front are two signs: the white one says that a garage is available for rent; the yellow sign proclaims in English and Chinese that behind this gate is a private driveway; violaters will be tow and ticket [sic].
Peeking past the iron bars of gate, beyond the partially-disassembled cars and the tools strewn about the ground, a passer-by can glimpse something that seems out of place — a flash of color out of keeping with this dirty, gray, shadowed space.
If the workmen are in a good mood they’ll allow you to pick your way through the mazes of tires, wrenches and hoses until you reach the back wall. There you will find a grotto roughly hewn from wood, plaster and pieces of broken stone. The person who built this wasn’t a skilled craftsman, didn’t know how to use a lathe or a level, didn’t know how to move the electrical outlets that were already laid onto the surface.
But at some point, an unknown person, for unknown reasons, felt compelled to build this grotto in this very spot. Driven by passion or madness, he or she carefully built a series of niches, firmly fixed statues of saints inside them and painted the entire creation.
Today, the men who labor here know nothing of the hidden grotto, its creator or its meaning. The plaster is crumbling. The paint flakes from the wood. St. Gabriel’s wing is broken; St. Joseph’s robe is chipped; Mary’s blue mantle is marked with patches of gray. But still they stand here, long forgotten, silently keeping watch over the workers and cars. Just another of Brooklyn’s many mysteries.