The Hartford Courant
8:22 PM EDT, July 5, 2013
For decades, motorists driving into Waterbury on I-84 invariably looked for one landmark — a huge illuminated crucifix on a bluff near the highway.
Alas, the cross was lost several years ago, but Mayor Neil O'Leary has a plan to restore it. Good for him.
The cross was the centerpiece of a religious attraction called Holy Land USA, 18 acres of religious statues and exhibits. It was created by Waterbury lawyer John Baptist Greco, and at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s drew 40,000 visitors a year. After Mr. Greco died in the 1980s, the property passed to a small order of nuns.
The exhibits deteriorated; the theme park was closed in 1984. But the crucifix lived on, until it too finally deteriorated. The nuns replaced it several years ago with a much smaller cross illuminated by spotlights, which burned out. The nuns left, and it appeared the cross was lost.
Well, not quite. When he ran for mayor in 2011, dozens of voters asked Mr. O'Leary about the cross. Long story short, he and a good friend, businessman Fred "Fritz" Blasius, are creating a nonprofit that will raise money, buy the land from the nuns and restore a 50-foot-plus lighted cross.
Though there is no public money involved, Mr. O'Leary is sensitive to the fact that he is promoting a Christian symbol in a multicultural community. But he said residents understand that he is doing so because the cross is of historic significance to the whole city. He said he has had no complaints from the non-Christian community and is getting an enthusiastic response from residents.
Symbols like this are part of what tie people to places. It will be great to see the cross on the hill again.
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