The View to Liberty
By Laura Capuano, Contributor
June / July 2005
Unbeknownst to many, Lady Liberty has a girlfriend. Thanks to the Irish immigrant turned prominent Brooklyn businessman Charles Higgins, Liberty has gazed directly into the eyes of a statue of Minerva – who stands contentedly in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery – for the past 85 years. Since its founding in 1838, many prominent New Yorkers have been buried in the cemetery, including F.A.O. Schwarz and the Tiffany family of stained glass fame. At the highest point of the graveyard on Battle Hill, Minerva stands with an arm raised saluting the statue on Ellis Island, reciprocating the raised torch.
Recently, their line of vision has been threatened. Higgins donated Minerva, the Greek goddess of wisdom, to the people of Brooklyn in 1919 to commemorate the Battle of Long Island, the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence. Higgins was a history buff who made his fortune selling Higgins India Ink. The nine-foot-tall bronze Minerva was a “reciprocal monument to the Statue of Liberty.”
Now developers want to obstruct the view with a 70-foot high apartment block, thus obstructing the connection between the two monuments. Not surprisingly, Brooklynites are up in arms over the proposed development. The statue of Minerva is the site of the annual commemoration of the Battle of Long Island, held every August 26th, and is also a very popular attraction within the cemetery.
Charles J. Hamm, grandson of Higgins, is involved in a movement to stop the overdevelopment of this brownstone area of Brooklyn and to preserve his grandfather’s vision. According to Hamm, the view, which is touted as “the ultimate symbolism of liberty,” is not coincidental. He has said that his grandfather wanted “that visual, emotional impact statement.”
The opposition to this development and others has the support of local city council members, the Borough President’s office and a grant from the Park Slope Civic Council. Over 250 people protested with a “March to Battle Hill.” Residents are concerned that their neighborhoods will be completely taken over by high-rise condo and apartment blocks and are trying to get the land around the cemetery rezoned. President of the cemetery, Richard Moylan said he was surprised at how quickly the developments rose, and expressed concern that the view could be lost forever. The next few months are critical for the neighborhood. The application for the rezoning of the proposed site will be completed by the end of the summer. But residents and many others who appreciate the significance of the view from Battle Hill and the connection between the two symbols of freedom are hoping that the process can be expedited and the plan for the high-rise building nixed before it’s too late. ♦