Holy Land USA
Holy Land USA was an 18-acre (7.3 ha) theme park in Waterbury, Connecticut, inspired by selected passages from the Bible. It consists of a chapel, stations of the cross, and replicas of catacombs and Israelite villages constructed from cinder blocks, bathtubs, and other discards. The park has been closed to the public since 1984, but its grounds remain intact.
Creation and peak years
Holy Land USA was conceived by John Baptist Greco, a Waterbury-based attorney. Greco, a Roman Catholic, founded a volunteer organization called Companions of Christ, with the purpose of creating an attraction that would replicate the Bethlehem and Jerusalem of the Biblical era. Construction commenced in 1955. Bob Chinn, the grounds chairman at Holy Land USA, recalled Greco’s mission in a 2001 interview with The New York Times: "He was a very spiritual man. He wanted to do this for the people of the community. He felt no one, no matter the race, creed or color, should be separated. He wanted a place for all people to sit and be peaceful."
Among the attractions at the site were a recreation of the Garden of Eden, a diorama depicting Daniel in the lions' den, and various recreations of the life and ministry of Jesus. The centerpiece of the site was a 56-foot cross and an illuminated sign that read “Holy Land USA.”
During its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s, Holy Land USA attracted upwards of 40,000 visitors annually. Greco closed Holy Land USA in 1984, with plans to improve and expand the site. But the work was left unfinished when Greco died in 1986. The property was left to the Filippini Sisters.
Closure and deterioration
Since its closure, Holy Land USA has fallen into a state of advanced disrepair. Although it is not open to the public, the site continues to attract attention. In 2002, the Waterbury Region Convention and Visitors Bureau received more than 150 calls a year for directions to the site. The web site Roadside America has included it in its coverage of offbeat attractions, albeit with the cautionary note that visitors should “explore with caution (and with an up-to-date tetanus shot).” Many attractions and statues at the site have either been vandalized or otherwise fallen into disrepair.
There has been ongoing debate about the site's future. It has been suggested that the park be preserved as folk art, and there have been numerous failed attempts to restore the park, including one involving the Knights of Columbus in 2000. The Religious Sisters of Filippi Greco have been accused of fearing "liability and being sued" and thereby turning away volunteers and stopping restoration efforts, but they have also received support from those who believe that, although accepting the park reluctantly, they have been "good stewards" over it. The Sisters held weekly prayer meetings at the site and the holy hours on Sundays were devoted to the Virgin of Revelation, an apparition of the Virgin Mary witnessed in 1947 by an Italian on his way to assassinate Pope Pius XII in Rome. The Sisters claim the statue of the Madonna in the chapel is one of three commissioned by Pope John Paul II.
Despite the lack of full restoration, some renovation projects have been undertaken since the park was closed. In 1997 a group of Boy Scouts repaired the illuminated “Holy Land USA” sign as part of a community service project and in 2008, the original 56-foot cross was replaced with a 50-foot stainless steel one, which was dedicated in a ceremony led by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell.
In July 2010, the rape and murder of a 16 year-old girl inside the park received widespread media coverage and generated renewed interest in the unused property and its future use. Reports indicated that trespassing had reduced in the years before the murder.
On June 20, 2013, Mayor Neil O'Leary and car dealer Fred "Fritz" Blasius purchased Holy Land from the Filippini Sisters for $350,000, announcing a plan to clean up and revitalise the site as part of a community effort. The plan included the installation of a new and larger lighted cross on the property. On December 22, 2013 the new cross was illuminated.
In popular culture
The Flaming Lips 1990 music video for "Unconsciously Screamin" from the record "In A Priest Driven Ambulance" was mostly shot at this location by directors Jim Spring and Jens Jurgensen. Outtakes from this video shoot were also used in the 2005 documentary on the band called "Fearless Freaks" directed by Bradley Beesley.
- Holy Land Experience, a religious theme park in Florida.
- Klatzker, David (2002). "The Holy Land of America". America and Zion: essays and papers in memory of Moshe Davis: 250. ISBN 978-0-8143-3034-0. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
- Frances, Chamberlain (November 4, 2001). "The View From/Waterbury; A Hilltop Landmark Undergoes a Revival". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Paul, Zielbauer (November 12, 2001). "A Sight That Inspires Ambivalence; Ruins of a Religious Park Await Restorers or the Bulldozer". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "Holy Land USA". Roadside America. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Anne Marie, Sommer (August 28, 2005). "At Holy Land Usa, A Vision Crumbles". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "Former Holy Land U.S.A. theme park in Waterbury continues to crumble". New Haven Register. 26 May 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- Jack, Sheedy (July 3, 2008). "Cross May Spark Revival of Holy Land USA". The Catholic Transcript. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Grossman, Andrew (July 22, 2010). "A Murder Puts Focus on Holy Land U.S.A.". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Davidow, Bernard T. (28 June 2013). "Holy Land U.S.A. Purchase Would Restore Giant Lighted Cross On Waterbury Hill". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Davidow, Bernard T. (5 July 2013). "Raising Waterbury's Holy Land From Ruins". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- "Holy Land cross lit up in time for Christmas". News 8 (WTNH.com). 22 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- "Colbert: Shrine of the Times". The Daily Show. 20 November 2002. Comedy Central. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-november-20-2002/colbert---shrine-of-the-times.
- Bremer, Jennifer (Autumn 2008). "Holy Land USA". American Road. pp. 46–48.