From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
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.
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. 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 Religious Sisters of Filippini.
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 hold weekly prayer meetings at the site and the holy hours on Sundays are 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 blessed 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.