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Brooklyn, New York

Minerva in the Green-Wood Cemetery

A curious friendship between two inanimate ladies. 

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Founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn soon became a most desired location for the dead, and the living. By 1860, Green-Wood was attracting 500,000 visitors a year, rivaling Niagara Falls as the country’s greatest tourist attraction.

Visitors come to gawk at the most famous of the 560,000 permanent residents: F. A. O. Schwarz of expensive toy fame, Henry Chadwick of baseball fame (whose monument is complete with bases, catcher’s mitt, baseball glove, bats and a granite baseball), Samuel Morse of code fame, Leonard Bernstein of orchestral fame, Boss Tweed of corruption fame and Louis Comfort Tiffany of stained glass fame—among many others. Others come to marvel at the screeching, bright green monk parrots who escaped from a shipment at Kennedy Airport and set up shop into the ornate towers of the entrance gate. But the most delightful surprise awaits those visitors who venture up Battle Hill, the highest point in the Cemetery.

In 1920, Charles M. Higgins, an Irish immigrant (and local history buff) decided to build an altar on Battle Hill to the long-slighted Revolutionary War Battle of Long Island, the first major battle after the Declaration of Independence. He chose to top the monument with a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. Perhaps anticipating that Minerva might get lonely at the top, he made sure she had a friend nearby: Minerva’s waving hand is reciprocated directly 3.5 miles to the West by Lady Liberty’s upraised torch.

In 2008, this long-distance friendship became a source of tension between a real estate developer and historic preservationists. To ensure that a new condo (marketed as “The Minerva”) would not block the sacred view, a construction worker was hoisted 40 feet in the air in a cherry picker to prove to a group of preservationists standing next to Minerva that the line of sight to the Statue of Liberty from Battle Hill would not be obstructed.

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