It’s the early 1950s in Waterbury, a mid-sized mill town in western Connecticut, known affectionately as the “Brass City.” While the city’s occupants go about their daily routines, one man decides a tribute to his Lord and Savior is desperately in order. So he begins to build. For the next several years, John Baptist Greco (attorney and evangelist) organizes hundreds of volunteers who put in thousands of man-hours constructing a miniature re-creation of Bethlehem and Jerusalem from Biblical times. It’s truly a labor of love for Greco, whose devout belief in God leads him to build this strange — but intriguing — miniature village.
Today, Holy Land, USA stands in ruin on a hill overlooking the Brass City. In it’s heyday, Holy Land drew crowds from around the world, up to 44,000 people a year, who came to see the miniaturized place of worship and devotion. In the 1960s and 1970s, Holy Land was a top tourist destination greeting vacationers who wanted to see the chicken-wire-and-plaster recreations of their favorite Holy Land landmarks.
Growing up in Waterbury, we were known as the city with “the cross on the hill,” the 40-foot concrete and steel lighted behemoth that was as much a source of pride as it was an eyesore. The Hollywood style sign on the side of the hill was the only other marker that could be seen from Interstate 84, and since the park’s demise in the mid 1908s, even that slid into obscurity. Occasionally, the nuns to whom the park belongs attempt some maintenance, if only to appease lovers of the attraction and keep trespassers (of which there are many) from maiming themselves on the property. But as the years pass by, this loving tribute slides further into obscurity.
A few years ago, the old 40-foot tall cement and steel lighted cross was replaced with a much smaller steel beam cross, which pales in comparison to its predecessor, and to me signals the final nail in the coffin of Holy Land. If you do attempt to see this place (not condoned or recommended by me), take your camera and wear sturdy shoes. It may be one of the last times you’ll be able to see this post-apocalyptic looking relic.