Hidden on top of Pine Hill, overlooking the town of Waterbury Connecticut is Holy Land USA. Once a local mans recreation of the Holy Land, it now lies in disrepair. Years of exposure to vandals and the natural elements has give it a post-apocalyptic aesthetic. Stories of gang murders, a secret order of nuns and cult like activity are now the staple theme of tales concerning this curious landmark.
In the early 1950s, lawyer, evangelist and eccentric John Baptist Greco began construction of Holy Land. Greco claimed to have received a message from God to build this religious sanctuary. With help of volunteers associated with his organization, the Catholic Campaigners for Christ of Connecticut, Greco built this king-sized diorama out of what ever he could get his hands on. Discarded household appliances, left over construction materials, chicken wire, cement, tin, and religious statuaries all went into its assembly.
Through the 60’s and 70’s Holy Land was a popular destination for tourists and religious pilgrims. If the godly message Greco received was, “If you build it they will come!”, it couldn’t have been more correct. According to The Wall Street Journal, Holy Land USA had an Average of 44,000 visitors a year. It was still opened to the public until Greco’s death in 1986, at the age of 91.
Greco willed the land to the nuns who lived in a small convent on the ground of the park. After his death, the upkeep of the park quickly declined. Over the years and order of nuns have attempted to do some maintenance. Unfortunately their small measure of care could not prevent the park from quickly decaying to its current state. Though many have been very interested in restoring this unique landmark, the nuns have refused any of these offers. It wasn’t long before bulldozers began to occupy the grounds in preparation to raze the park. Folk art enthusiasts put a stop to its destruction by holding sit-down demonstrations and sabotaging any possibility of progress and keep the bulldozers from doing their job. No one is really sure about what will become of the park and the lot of land. As time passes and it continues to be consumed by nature and the elements, its future seems very obvious to me.
I decided it was time to visit Holy Land before there was nothing left to be seen. Using my mapping software I quickly uncovered its location. Its signature giant cross cast a shadow large enough to be seen from the USGS Ariel photographs. On this adventure I would be joined by Isaac Dolom, a reporter from the Daily Sonic and resident of Conn. Though Isaac had grown up in Conn., he had never heard of Holy Land.
When I began my long road trip to Holy Land early Sunday morning, it was raining heavily and visibility was extremely poor. As I began to get closer and closer to Holy Land, the clouds began to dissipate and the sun began to shine. Racing down RT 91 I was amazed by the shear cliffs of Besek and Higby mountain. Though I am familiar with the beauty and diversity of Connecticut’s landscape, I had mostly visited the coastal sections and only knew of the rest through maps and books. Seeing it up close was an eye opening experience.
Isaac and I met at a small diner west of Holy Land. After a quick lunch and a chance to chat, we sped off to Holy Land USA. Isaac and I zigzagged our way through the streets on the south side of Pine Hill until we discovered the road leading to Holy Land. Just inside its gates we were immediately greeted by Jesus to welcome us to the park. I had notice that things surrounding his holiness were well groomed as if by providence, but the further you distanced yourself from his divine aura things quickly deteriorated. To his right sat the remains of mini-Jerusalem and to his left the disheveled lot that once housed the steel chariots of his pilgrims.
As we proceeded into this Lilliputian ghost town I discovered surprises around every corner. The Sphinx, Bethlehem Village, and The Tomb of John the Baptist all hidden behind the overgrowth. Psalms cast in iron or stone told the story of the savior. The goliath cross stood there on the top of the hill, like a beacon for lost souls. Even from a distance, the site of this glowing colossus would give a man reason for pause.
Eventually it became like a scavenger hunt. Both Isaac and I had read about many of the site and were determined to see them all before we left. Though much of the park was in a greater state of decay than expected, this holy shanty town provided several hours of fun for Isaac and I.
Even long after his death, John Baptist Greco’s creation is inspiring yet another generation to make the pilgrimage to his temple on the hill. It has servers his god and I would go as far to say Mr. Greco, very well. He may have considered this his way of showing his worth to God. John was not the first man consumed by the need to server his god in a novel manor. Mankind’s proclivity to construct a spiritual billboard is ubiquitous. This has been going on for centuries all over the world. Even today there are many other just as impressive as John’s Holy Land. I anxiously wait to see the next example of pious obsession. I’ve even toying with the idea of building one myself. Since I’m not a religious man, it would have to be a tribute to something important to me, Coffee! As a matter of fact, a giant statue of Juan Valdez and his Donkey constructed from broken percolators sound right! It will all be Fueled by his holy spirit, Caffeine!
~ Strange New England
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