In the early 1950s John Baptist Greco, a staunch Roman Catholic, had a vision of a roadside theme park devoted to God. By the end of the decade, he had created exactly that: a theme park built to replicate a miniature Bethlehem. By the 1960s, the park was visited by some 50,000 people a year. One could come and see a recreation of the Garden of Eden, biblical-themed dioramas and various tributes to the life and work of Jesus Christ.
The park was perhaps best known for its Hollywood-style sign reading “Holy Land USA” and its 56-foot steel cross that can be seen for miles, especially when lit up at night. It is said that there is a town joke that citizens grow up thinking Jesus was electrocuted on the cross. In 1984, the park was closed for renovation. Greco had hopes of expanding the site to attract more visitors; however, this was never achieved as he died in 1986.
Responsibility for the park passed to a group of nuns. For a while, they tried to keep the park clean and neat looking but never opened to the public. Regardless of their efforts, the park became seedy and vandalized since Greco’s death. To this day, the nuns still own the property, however, it is the local teenagers and foragers who have made their mark. Statues have been beheaded, dioramas destroyed, and tunnels blocked. Occasionally tourists still stop to look, and even explore, but they make sure they are gone before dark.
While much of the park remains, in recent years it has become dangerous and was the site of a murder of a young woman in 2010. Holy Land is far from being the safe haven of replica spirituality that it once was. The property was purchased a few years back, the nuns moved elsewhere and NO TRESPASSING signs posted everywhere. The best bet, stay away: there’s not enough left to justify the trip to get there and the neighborhood is questionable even by Waterbury standards.
Update May 2018: Holy land has been undergoing a refurbishing by the Mayor, Neil M. O’Leary and volunteers who have been working to get it opened possibly by the end of 2018. The old cross has been removed and a larger cross that is let up at night-sometimes with different colors reflecting a religious day or holiday.
Update as of December 2020: The park now appears to be open.