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Canal neighbors will perform ritual procession for patron saint of flooding - Brooklyn Paper

Canal neighbors will perform ritual procession for patron saint of flooding

Dirty water: Seductresses of Southern Brooklyn tempted Saint Florian, but he stayed true to his saintliness, according to the new Gowanus mythology that will be presented at the Royal Shuffleboard Club on Aug. 16.
James Bell

They’re praying against hell and high water.

A ghoulish Gowanus gallery will attempt to appease the gods of the neighborhood’s fetid canal with a solemn procession honoring the patron saint of flooding this Sunday afternoon.

The ritual is ostensibly to ward off the freshets of feces that surge through the neighborhood’s streets every time rain breaks the toxic channel’s banks — but organizers say they’re mostly hoping it will create a new local tradition and a few laughs.

“It’s a great way to create new rituals and myths that bind us together and create a sense of community, but also with a sense of humor, a sense of the absurd, and a can-do scrappy artistic attitude,” said Joanna Ebenstein, creative director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, which is staging the event.

Local merchants and neighbors will carry a paper mache effigy of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters and flooding, from the museum at Seventh Street and Third Avenue to the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club on Union Street.

Marchers will then enjoy shuffleboard, canal-themed cocktails, and a three-hour program of talks, films, and music inspired by one of the most polluted waterways in the country — beginning with a presentation on the fictional origins of the new procession.

The mastermind behind the procession says he wove together the stories of Saint Florian and angry Roman sea god Poseidon to create the fantastical ceremony, and he hopes the practice will take a load off neighbors of the canal who fear its wrath.

“We’re creating rituals to exorcise the anxieties caused by the potentiality of the Gowanus Canal flooding,” said James Bell, a friend of the museum who will present the genesis tale under the pseudonym E.P. Bell.

Other presenters will include a forensic pathologist Jay Stahl-Herz, who will discuss the difficulties of doing post-mortems on bodies found in water, and comedian and musician Jessica Delfino, who will perform a piece titled “Ghosts of Oysters Past.”

Ebenstein said she first discovered the power of Saint Florian when Hurricane Sandy provoked the canal’s ire and she feared the deluge would flood her museum’s location at the time — which was even closer to the canal than the current Third Avenue spot. She said she invoked the saint against the torrents, and — maybe miraculously — the floodwaters went straight to the building’s cellar and spared the rest of the repository.

Sunday’s march may be partially tongue-in-cheek, but Ebenstein says rituals are a seriously important way for communities to bond and ward off their worries.

“I think we need ritual, and I think we need beliefs, even if they are self-mocking,” she said. “It gives us something humans need to survive.”

The Saint Florian Gowanus Procession kicks off at the Morbid Anatomy Museum (424A Third Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Streets in Gowanis, www.morbidanatomymuseum.org). Aug. 16 at 2:30 pm. Free.

It will be followed by a variety show and shuffleboard at the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club (514 Union St. between Nevins Street and Third Avenue in Gowanus, (347) 223–4410, www.royalpalmsshuffle.com). Aug. 16 at 3–6 pm. $20.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Unholy water: Gowanus residents hope to pray the canal flooding away.
The Brooklyn Paper file / Bess Adler

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