Holy Land USA, Waterbury

July, 2016 by Ray Bendici

The Damned Story: We've all seen it while driving along either Route 8 or I-84 through Waterbury: the huge cross high atop Pine Hill. Many already know about it, but the 50-foot high cross marks the spot that was once was—and once again may be—Holy Land USA.

Like a biblical epic, there have been times of triumph and times of despair for this destination. Even though more recently the 18-acre park has suffered through decades of disrepair, there was a time in the 1960s and 70s when the attraction drew 40,000 visitors per year—picture a Wally World for the religious faithful, without a Tilt-a-Whirl. After receiving a message from his god in the 1950s, local attorney John Greco singlehandedly created the park as an homage to the Holy Land in Israel, fashioning miniature versions of Bethlehem and Jerusalem from chicken wire, plywood, fiberglass and plaster as well as adding dioramas of other key biblical locales. By the time he was done, he had created over 200 unique structures.

Holy Land USA officially closed in 1984. ("Sorry kids, Holy Land is closed. The messiah out front should have told you.") The park, left by Greco in his will to an order of nuns (the Religious Teachers Fillipini), was officially closed to the public, but the curious—and the vandals—still made pilgrimages. When we visited in 2009, most of the displays and exhibits were either crumbling or in complete ruin, yet there was something about the slow decline of the place that continues to make it compelling.

In April 2008, the old iconic neon cross was taken down and replaced with a shorter, more durable one, although it didn't light up quite like the old one. I guess you could say the spirit had gone out of the place.

Tragically in July 2010, a 16-year-old girl was raped and murdered on the grounds, prompting tighter security.

In June 2013, former Waterbury mayor Neil O'Leary and car dealer Fred "Fritz" Blasius purchased the property from the Filippini Sisters for $350,000. The pair announced that they were going refurbish the park and run it once again as a tourist attraction. To that end, a new illuminated cross was erected in November 2013, and the grounds were spruced up a bit.

As it turns, the effort to officially re-open Holy Land USA has fallen by the wayside in recent years, so the parks still sits empty.

However, the giant cross continues to light the darkness of the valley each night, standing silent vigil to one man's grand dream.

 

Advertisement

hl1

Our Damned Experience: As mentioned, we made the pilgrimage to Holy Land USA in April 2009, and after getting permission to visit from the nuns of the order who owned the property at the time, were able to roam about freely and take as many pictures as we like. And being photo freaks, we snapped away to our hearts’ content—see the gallery below. 

As we expected, Holy Land was in a state of great disrepair. Many of the faded structures were either crumbling or had been destroyed by vandals, creating an almost literal post-apocalyptic feel, what with the religious overtones and all. Broken mortar, splintered beams, smashed walls and exposed chicken wire littered the site—along with a lot of actual litter. Seeing the site was a bit of a disjointed shamble to start with, the ensuing deterioration hadn’t helped any.

Despite how decrepit it was, it was hard to not be impressed at the fevered effort Greco must have expended bringing his religious vision to life. Many of the small-scale buildings and shrines were randomly grouped together, and it was clear he gave a lot of attention to detail. With how many structures there were and how much of the hillside it encompasses, it was sort of amazing and weird at the same time to consider that it was all the work of one person. 

dsc00914

At the top of the hill to north were three crosses representing Cavalry Hill, while a short distance to the south and looming over all of Holy Land was the aforementioned second shiny cross. It wasn't as big as the original, and it was a bit harder to see from various points down in the valley (such as Route 8 or I-84). It was still impressive in its own right. The view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill was also impressive.

As you might think, it was bittersweet to see such a wonderfully weird place as Holy Land USA in that state of ruin—without a doubt, it must’ve been quite a moving sight in its heyday.

If You Go: Holy Land is on Slocum Road in Waterbury. Even with the recent redemption effort, it's still not open to the public. 

 

View Holy Land Convent in a larger map

Comment with Facebook

Comments

Submitted by April (not verified) on
Sorry, but I still don't find it "disrespectful" that I want to photograph an area just because someone died there. I'm sure she was great, but people die everywhere all the time…If I go with your logic, then I would never take photos in my house because someone died here. Really?!

Submitted by April (not verified) on
Oh, and theses paranormal groups usually want to give the wandering soul peace. That's not disrespectful either...

Submitted by Kina (not verified) on
I just don't know how someone could think that it isn't disrespectful to sneak into this place and to stand in the spot that a 16 year old girl was killed, investigating paranormal activity or to photograph the area. This tragedy happened recently..not 10 years ago or even 5 years ago..Think of the Ottman family...Think of how they must feel; their daughter's death becoming an investigation into the paranormal. This is too fresh a wound. Give it time before you start your investigations. Let them grieve the loss of their daughter and respect and honor a violent crime scene. And for clarification purposes: Chloe was killed beneath the cross. Strangled to unconsciousness because she denied her "friend's" advances, violently raped, strangled till death when she started gasping during the rape, and then stabbed in the neck until her "friend" was sure she was dead. Then her body was taken to the woods and left there. I apologize for being so graphic but sometimes I think if y'all knew the real details of this case, you wouldn't be so pushy and interested in investigating it. And remember Chloe...she put up a fight and that what agitated her killer. The more she fought back the more vicious he became. Honor her memory and her bravery. She was an incredible human being.

Submitted by PAul (not verified) on
Have there been any recent attempts at going up there. I have always been facinated with the place and just never made it up there before the horrible tragedy. I however love photography to no end and i love ruins so this place would be perfect, is there a phone number to contact the nuns. No disrespect just want some pictures and if you have info contact me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/randyrhoads3

you guys know?! i went up there hundreds of times, before it got vandalized, what a beautifull peacefull place to be!!!!! went there after it was all ruinsand very sad!!!! but it was still a very a verry peacefull place.. just very sad... i live in townplot right across the city from holyland... i don't see the cross at night any more........sad!!! the day the girl got killed both my husband and i saw smoke coming fron ther and the next day we heard what happened i feel so bad for her and her family and friends..... why does every one want to go up there after this tragedy??????? you people should went there when it was beautiful or even when it wasen't because of some jurks that distroid the place. there is no evil up there!!!!!only that evil goes up there!!! that is itthe place didn't do it!!!!! a evil person did it!!!! so u people stop being sooooo interested going up there now just because a girl lost her life there realy!!!! for GOD saks!!!! cut it out and for the paranormal groups.. there is nothing paranormal up there, go in some street corner where someone got murder..it's the same thing nothinging paranormal there either let everything rest in peace!!!!!!

to everybody that is coming on a trip to new ingland to investigate paranormal stuff , you guys have to go to dudley town!!!! that place is definatly hunted!!!!!! i've been there once and beleve me!!! i will not go back!!!! the cripiest and weird place i have ever been!!!!! and i grew up in a hunted house!!!! we saw and heard ghoasts all the time!! nothing conpared to duddly town!! not sure if i am spelling it right!!!! good luck!!!!

Submitted by Victoria M (not verified) on
In all fairness I had NO idea anyone had been murdered when I went up there, I actually found out from my mum right after my friend and I had left. Ana could you possibly describe what you experienced at Dudley Town? If not I understand completely.

Submitted by PAL (not verified) on
As a kid I lived next to Holy Land and used to go up there all the time. It was a peaceful place. I remember going with my grandfather one day and just before it got dark he sat and started praying I walked up further and saw a little red tricycle riding on it's own, I ran back to my grandfather and didn't say a word. The next day I went back with my cousins and we walked to the cross and the little red bike was locked in it. I honestly hope they rebuild it to what it used to be, but I doubt that will ever happen since the last time they tried it just got vandalized as soon as something was fixed.

Submitted by joshua (not verified) on
i live in vernon, ct and pass it twice a week...i always wondered what that cross was from the highway...my father told me about it and ever since i would love to visit and dudleytown???? THAT PLACE IS CREEPY but they cracked down on security hardcore on that abandoned town so i dont suggest going there, check out the abandoned insane asylum in norwich, CT there tunnels that connect all the buildings underground, its about 10 minutes away from the casinos

Submitted by britt (not verified) on
Hey April, I'm not sure if you are still reading this page since your trip is coming up soon (hopefully!) but if you are interested in abandoned places, check out the Hearthstone Castle in Danbury CT, you can find it on this site. It is beautiful and only about 30-45 minutes from Holy Land, and very easy to get to. I wish I could be in CT again, I miss the weird stuff. Also check out Fairfield Hills, it is still being used I think for administrative buildings, but its weird. Hope you have fun!

Submitted by April (not verified) on
Hey! Yeah actually I wanna ask more about it if that's cool. Find me on FB: www.facebook.com/Aprylred

Submitted by marct (not verified) on
Holy land is up for sale, 775.000 will get you 18 acres, and a spokie (I don't believe that) I have lived here my whole life have no idea where you people are getting that info. lived born and raised 1 second from the entrance Never heard it is spokie except for you people on here..as for the little red wagon or bike you must have been dreaming, http://www.wfsb.com/story/15256508/for-sale-holy-land call the nuns tell them you are interested in buying it..

Submitted by marct (not verified) on
http://www.friendsoftarrywilepark.org/the-manson

Submitted by bella (not verified) on
HOLYLAND HAS ALOT OF NEGATIVE ENERGY IN IT ,IM A PSYCHIC AND I HAVE MANY GIFT AND ABILITIES , AND I ALSO HELP SPIRITS COSSOVER INTO PEACE . I HELPED CHLOE CROSS SHE IS AT PEACE AT LAST,SHE WAS ONE OF THE SWEETEST SPIRITS IV'E MET SO FAR SHE EVEN GUIDED ME TO WHERE EVERYTHING TOOK PLACE THAT WAS HEARTBREAKING I COULD FEEL HER PAIN THROUGH ME,I'M ALSO AN EMPATH, BUT THERE ARE SOOOO MANY GOOD AND BAD SPIRITS THERE! I WOULD HAVE TO SAY HOLYLAND IS CURSED!!! BUT IT WON'T STOP ME FROM HELPING SPIRITS LIKE CHLOE THAT NEED ME.

Submitted by Sarah (not verified) on
Hi all, I went up there one night last weekend with a couple of friends. We parked on the side of the road near the gates, and snuck up the path. We only got a little ways up the path - through the trees - before I started to get a very unsettling feeling. As we walked further, we started to hear little rustling noises in the trees and so we ducked off to the side of the path and waited a few minutes. Then all of a sudden we heard a loud bang, just like a door being slammed shut. We waited a few more minutes and then snuck back out. I wasn't expecting to feel such negative energy there, but I really did! Was planning on going back during the day to ask the nuns if I could take some photos but it sounds like they are no longer giving permission. :( Would love to go back sometime though - before it's sold... There were realtor signs posted across the gates.

I have a beautiful pic of the old cross check it out http://www.cafepress.com/_cross_ I went there with my ex-wife and step daughter ... It may have been before we were married so Im guessing 1999 .. saw an old mattress in a manger with some canned food .. guessing a homeless person at the time ... yes I felt the presence of both Good and evil there. It was awesome at the foot of the cross .. walking through the paths definately felt an uneasy presense felt like someone was watching closely, for all I know it may have been the homeless person. But it felt deeper than that. I prayed hard for the city of Waterbury. It was like the battle of good and evil that was going on in the city was of the same magnitude that was present in Holy Land. I believe it to be more of demonic presence than that of a soul that needs to find its way. That big ole Cross touched a lot of people, not just the people in Waterbury, but the thousands who used to drive by on 84 wether by themselves or with families all acknowledging the Big ole Cross on the Hill! Check it out .. http://www.cafepress.com/_cross_

Submitted by Bird (not verified) on
Please read the posts before asking the same questions over, and over, and over, and over...... Oh and the "psychic", Bella? Bringing up Chloe to try to better your ridiculous nonsense, was very disrespectful. Spirits don't need you, an English professor needs you. As for the Dudley Town comments, I live about 10 minutes away. I have been going there since I was an early teen, and my parents went before me. Everyone I know had gone at least once in their lives. No one ever saw anything, ever, at all. Creepy there? Yes. Of course. It's a very dark forest that you expect to be haunted. Thanks to trespassers setting it on fire years back, it is now closed (because it's private property), and if caught you will be prosecuted. There are a few ways in, but all heavily watched, and heavily posted, and gated. Don't get the impression I am a skeptic. I have witnessed several paranormal phenomenon. You are barking up the wrong tree with these places though.

I was at the site an immeasurable number of times in the 50's and 60's. I wrote about the site in my book series American Wop. http://www.AmericanWop.com My Grandfather and others helped build the edifice for the purpose of good and to show the importance of working together to promote good things in the community. His ideals were squashed by big business and drug addiction that started to afflict Waterbury and the surrounds starting in the 1960's. He even stressed the importance of the message that this Holy Site was supposed to impart on our community and the world. He even threw in some measure of his own sin to demonstrate some of the pitfalls of his life so others would beware. He even said that I should do my part to keep it open. The big purpose - the community service that I have not completed yet. The money from this place was supposed to go to helping needy children. It was never properly finished and was designed to be a work in progress. I remember pulling garbage and others stuff out of the park when I was very little. I also remember never paying to get in. I met met Greco a few times at some events in the area and was saddened when the infirmities of these older religious people thwarted their message delivery. I could not do them justice and free the area of as much pain as they did. Please feel free to ask for a free book.

Submitted by Paul MacLellan (not verified) on
Jack Tar i would love a free book. get a hold of me at my email. its musikjunkie4life@yahoo.com

Submitted by Maui (not verified) on
Not much to say, but been here, the nuns would not permit me even though they know my affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church as a past altar girl not too far from the town. I heard of the murder, but I did not think it had anything to do with trespassers. Something told me it was nothing about stupid teenagers, something was planned. The nuns have no other person to blame other than the trespassers because to their knowledge, no one else has been a problem for them other than the trespassers. They live on the convent, and if you speak to the right nun, please call her "Sister" out of respect, some will tell you it is not a good place to be at the moment, though the repeatedly say that because of the trespassing laws. Some sisters say that they would not like to further a conversation about anything to do with the theme park itself. It depends on the sister you speak to, really. I had my first driving test in this town and couldn't help but look at the cross and stop by.

Submitted by Yolanda (not verified) on
It is really sad that the holy land is destroy. I was just looking at some old photo albums and saw some pics of my family when I was little girl my Grandma took me there. I had mention to my mom if she remember where it was located that I wanted to go visit. I am saddend to know what it has become. I remember feeling the peace as a child visiting there.

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
HOLY LAND MUST BE REDONE AND RECONSTRUCTED AS ORIGINALY FINISHED BY JOHN!!THERE IS NO MORE TIME LEFT TO DELAY AND PLAY WITH GOD'S HOLY LAND. EVERY0NE IN THE CITY ,STATE AND RELIGIOUS NEEDS TO PUT THEIR EGOS ASIDE AND GET CHRISTIAN AGAIN. THE TIME WE ALL SPEND ON FOOLISH THINGS CAN BE SPENT BY KEEPING THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN WATERBURY ALIVE FOR ALL CHRISTIANS TO ENJOY . WE NEED HOLY LAND ,NOW!!! IT IS A SIN OF THE HIGHEST ORDER THAT THIS SACRED GROUND GOES THE WAY OF EVIL AND DECAY. SHAME ON ALL OF US , WE NEED TO STAND READY TO FIGHT AND SAVE HOLY LAND AND THE SHRINE OF THE "VERGIN OF REVELATION!!! GOD NOR ANY ONE IS HAPPY OVER THIS MESS. I AM READY AGAIN TO HELP ARE YOU ALL???

Submitted by Yolanda (not verified) on
I am willing to volunteer time to help build holy land again. Keep me posted.

My Grandfather Frank Rocco helped to build the Holy Land. He was born in Waterbury at the turn of the century during the 1890's and had great stories once. I wrote about his life ... If anyone is interested go to my site http://www.AmericanWop.com and send me an email. The Holy Land was never finished and it's purpose was to supply work for kids... to get them off the streets. Anyway drop me a line.

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
I KNEW YOUR GRANDFATHER , GREAT GUY, AS WERE THEY ALL WHO HELPED , WORKED AND PRAYER FOR HOLY LAND AND WATERBURY. THEY CAN NEVER BE REPLACED. WE MUST FINISH HOLY LAND AND SECURE THE SHRINE OF THE VERGIN. I ONLY HOPE AND PRAY THAT THE SHRINE IS STILL THERE? THE SHRINE IS THE KEY TO IT ALL. MAYBE SOME DAY WE CAN ALL GET TOGETHER AND DISCUSS WHERE TO GO FROM HERE, IAM READY!!

Hello Frank AS YOU KNOW THIS SIDE OF THE FAMILY ARENT PRACTICING CATHOLICS BUT THE FACT THAT I AM TALKING TO YOU IS MIRACLE ENOUGH! PLEASE EMAIL Wop@AmericanWop.com

Submitted by Deborah (not verified) on
There is no such thing as a holy land. The only Holy place on earth is in your own mind. When your mind is Holy, everything you see will reflect that Holiness. Tear everything down and make a nice quiet park with trees and gardens and benches so one can sit, contemplate, and look out over the city.

Deborah I can't agree less of course unless you meant the big Holy Land Experience in Orlando. We need small local parks and the Holy Land Waterbury should be rebuilt and also returned back to nature as much as possible. Let's bring visitors back to Waterbury and put the kids hanging out on the streets to work repairing it as it was designed for. The land is mostly rocky and is dry. I don't know how green the top of this mountain could be. If we restored and grew interest in this antique maybe we could green it up also with a few windmills and ponds. Let's hope for the best. Other parks I remember in the area have nearly been destroyed lacking all of their former glory. Something is wrong!

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
DEAR DEBORAH , THERE IS AND WILL CONTINUE TO BE ' HOLY LANDS' IN EVERY PART OF THE WORLD . THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IN ONES MIND GOD , OR HOLY LAND CAN NOT EXIST. THESE HL ARE WHERE JESUS WAS BORN AND DIED FOR ASLL MANKINDS SINS , WHERE THE POPE LIVES , AND WHERE ALL PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD PRAY EVERY DAY IN THE HOLY CITY, OF COURSE BELIEVING IN GOD IS GOOD BUT THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO NEED TO ASSEMBLE AND PRAY WITH SUPPORT FROM WE WHO ARE STRONGER, CHILDREN NEED FAITH AND WE ALL NO MATTER WHO WE THINK WE ARE NEED GOD AND A HOLY PLACE , CHURCH, LAND OR WHAT EVER TO FEEL WE BELONG AND ARE DOING GODS WORK TO SERVE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO PRAY. I UNDERSTAND , BUT WOULD LOVE YOUR HELP IF WE GO FOWARD WITH HOLY LAND.

Frank ... Please send me a note. Hope your project proceeds.

Submitted by Maui (not verified) on
Actually, my mother told me she heard it was rebuilt... It might have changed since then because we talked about 5 months ago about it. My mother believes it is in tact, she was there last year... How do we all know it's destroyed?

It has been i bad shape for a long time. The last time I went with my Grandfather was in the late 60's and various part were still in process. I remember my Grandfather coming back with the cement he called stucco all over him. I also remember carrying garbage from construction from inside to the the street.

Submitted by Maui (not verified) on
I might take a look myself from afar... Or ask my mom where she had gotten that piece of information.

Submitted by KJ (not verified) on
I was there almost 2 years ago & took photos the place was in great disrepair while somethings are still intact but many have been destroyed, some by vandals while other structures are decaying & crumbling from neglect along with the elements of weather & time. Many statues are missing heads & or limbs ect. I was there in middle of a snow storm & didn't see the catacombs but understand alot of that area is ruined. It's kinda sad actually and forgive me to those this may offend but I am not a "religious" person but maybe more of a spiritual one yet I found this place quite impressive even in it's poor state of disrepair. I do have to say how much I admire Mr. Greco's determination & dedication, it's quite remarkable what he created using a lot of recycled materials to boot... I wish I had the opportunity to see it in it's prior state. It's too bad that the area is off limits It would be great if maybe trails on the walking paths already there could be updated with some benches added as it's quite nice up there with a beautiful overlook of the city despite my limited view that day in the snow. It would be nice to keep some of the remaining structures intact that dont pose a safety risk & have a nice park so some of the history stays while people can enjoy a nice park with a great overlook. Whatever ends up happening with the land there will be people that wont be happy as there's no way to please everyone unfortunately that's the case more often then not.

Submitted by Dawn Muzyka (not verified) on
i was just at holy land in august. it was in very bad shape, and at the base of the cross is a memorial for Chloe Ottman where she was raped and murdered. she was only 16. there also a lot of broken bottles beside other things.

I hope something is done to make this site a wonderful place to worship or meditate. The trees look far bigger now and it looks much greener than I remember from the early 60's. I would feel honored to be able to do something with this site for reasons other making a tourist trap or other glorified shopping ground. I am sure the Holy Land could and should be put to good use.

Submitted by marla aponte (not verified) on
i heard alot of stories about holy land and other "haunted" places i walked threw holy land plenty of times took pictures n never felt any bad energy n i am a huge fan of paranormal things holy land is not haunted... as for the shape its horrible.... the guy that killed the girl according to the news he was drunk n high off of something so how is it holy lands fault he was a dick nwanted to kill her bcuz she didnt want him??? they need to stop all the lies n stories it isnt haunted ... i went there last night at dead time n felt nothing it was another story that states they seen a woman in a blk drss at the gates... another lie... im gona look into buyin it n fixing it n maken it a place ppl can visit to learn about wtby n its tails

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
JUST TO LET EVERYONE KNOW THERE IS A GROUP THAT HAS BEEN NEGO. FOR THE LAST 5 WKS. TO PURCHASE HOLY LAND AND DEVELOPMENT IT ASIT WAS ADDING MANY MORE GOOD AND HOLY USES TO IT. WE CAN NOT LET HOLY LAND GO TO A DEVELOPER WHO WILL CHANGE THE EXISTING USE. HOLY LAND MUST REMAIN HOLY LAND AND I WILL DO WHAT EVER IT TAKES TO MAKE SURE OF THAT.

HELLO FRANK: THIS IS VERY GOOD TO HEAR. I AM SURE YOU WILL DO IT PROPERLY. IS IT GOING TO BE A COMMERCIAL ATTRACTION. IT WOULD BE NICE IF YOU COULD TEAM WITH THE NATURE CONSERVANCY OR SIERRA CLUB TO MAKE IT PART OF A GREENWAY. I HOPE FOR THE BEST FRANK!!

A STORY OF CONNECTICUT coming soon at: http://www.AmericanWop.com..

Submitted by rlc (not verified) on
if anyones interested, ive been up there enough times to know there isnt anything paranormal at the site. i used to live there and spent time on the hill day and night, alone and with friends. its kind of spooky because of all the crosses and statues, but nothing paranormal. obv wont stop anyone from going and bullshitting around with cameras, catching fuzzy floaty things on video, but just keep in mind you're just being paranoid mellow dramatic turds.

Submitted by April (not verified) on
LMAO @ Ric and Frank…WHAT'S WITH THE CRAZY ALL CAPS?! Your religious…we got it…don't scream it.

IT IS NOT JUST THAT WE ARE RELIGIOUS BUT RATHER THAT WE ARE OLD AND IN THE WAY AS MANY WOULD SAY. MY EYES AFTER YEARS OF HAZARDOUS WORK ARE NOT TOO GOOD AND BECAUSE OF OUR INFIRMITIES and THE DESECRATION AND CRAP SPREAD ABOUT THE HOLY LAND OUR TEXT's MUST PREVAIL....IT IS TO SEPARATE GERBIL FROM POETRY. LETS SAVE THE HOLY LAND... HORAY FOR HOLYLAND 2013....

Submitted by April (not verified) on
Wow.

I'll simmer down. What is your thought of the Holy Land...What should it become?

I heard something hasjust happened with the Holy Land! Does anyone have any information?

Submitted by Cyn (not verified) on
Just curious if anyone knows how to get permission to explore the site? I want to visit and see it but trespassing (even though apparently easy) makes me terrified. Can I email the sisters? Do they really let you in if you knock and ask? I just don't want to drive all the way out only to turn back...

Submitted by FRANK DAVINO (not verified) on
CAPS AGAIN EASER FOR ME TOTYPE FAST. THE OFFER I PUT IN WAS REFUSED AS OF LAST WEEK . I HAD OFFERED TO PURCHASE HOLY LAD AND MOVE ON TO REDO AS IT WAS BUT MUCH BETTER . I WILL CHECK WITH MY PEOPLE TO SEE IF ANYTHING ELSE HAPPENED.

Pages