Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

A few weeks ago I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do for years. I walked through the gates of the Holy Land.

No, not the hot, dry, war torn Holy Land… I’m talking about the one in Waterbury — which is actually in much worse shape than the real and very ancient holy sites in Israel.

According to RoadsideAmerica.com:

Holy Land USA burst onto the rocky slopes of Pine Hill in the early 1950s, when lawyer and evangelist John Greco responded to a personal message from God (or perhaps a broadcast message also received by the builder of Alabama’s Ave Maria Grotto, Iowa’s Grotto of the Redemption, and other 20th century divine labors). He directed volunteers who built hundreds of structures, grottos and educational dioramas, using discarded plywood, tin siding, chicken wire, cement and fragments of religious statuary.

Holy Land USA was a legitimate vacation destination for families in the 1960s and ’70s, drawing as many as 44,000 visitors a year. It was a must-see stop for church groups and pilgrimage busses. Today, evidence can be found of a large parking lot, remnants of a gift shop, and assorted outbuildings.

Frankly folks, this place is creepy to the extreme. Even on its best day it doesn’t seem like it would have been very interesting to anyone but the nuttiest religious zealots. Unless they had donkey rides back in the day, I just can’t imagine anyone ever paying to visit this place. But I trust RoadsideAmerica so I assume what they say is true, and that this place was once a thriving tourist trap.

Today all you have to do is walk past what passes for a gate and head on over to Bethlehem. Now, I may not know much, but I’m pretty sure Bethlehem doesn’t actually look anything like this.

But Bethlehem isn’t the only sight to see. Nope, I’m not that lucky. There is a creepy hand-less Jesus statue, some random sayings inscribed into tablets, and a very large section devoted to the sanctity of marriage. I found that a bit odd, but hoped it meant that somewhere there would be “Abortion Land.”

Again, I’m not that lucky.

At the very top of this abomination is the cross you can see from miles and miles away…and a really old ladder from SNET, which just goes to show you how long it’s been since anyone has tended to the place. In any case, you should probably visit the Holy Land if you get the chance because a few more years in the rain, sun, and snow may do away with some of the most interesting parts — or the bushes may finally just swallow the structures once and for all.

But here’s my thought: we may have the secret to peace in the Middle East right under our noses…or looming over I-84 as the case may be. We’ve got our forsaken Holy Land, with no one but a few squirrels and maybe a meth addict or two calling it home. Why not offer it up to the Israelis and Palestinians? Even Waterbury is safer than the Gaza Strip.