Battle Hill 1919

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The highest spot in Brooklyn NY is the top of Battle Hill, within the boundaries of Green-Wood Cemetery, but in 1776 it was the site of the Battle of Brooklyn. A history buff may look at this from all sides…

A monument portraying Minerva holding a wreath over a pedestal was erected here in 1919, with Minerva oriented to face the Statue of Liberty across the harbor to the northwest, commemorating historic patriotic events as well as enshrining then-current sentiments — a 3D snapshot from 1919, so soon after the end of World War 1 and so soon before Prohibition (to offer just two possible bookends to that moment in American time). Plaques on each side of the pedestal tell parts of the story. The four texts are transcribed, below.

On the northwest-facing side:

Altar to Liberty

1776-1919

On this Battle Hill, facing the Statue of Liberty, this altar is erected to commemorate the battle of Long Island, the first engagement of which was fought on this site, August 27, 1776, between General Lord Stirling with 2000 Americans and General Grant with 6000 British. This was the first battle of the nation and the first stroke for our great American charter of the rights and liberties.

Erected 1919

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The Statue of Liberty as seen from the Altar to Liberty on Battle Hill.

On the southwest-facing side:

Declaration of Independence.

July 4, 1776

The wisest document ever written, of human rights and liberties, basic ethics, civil religion and democratic government. All these are expressed in this one essential paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Equality – Liberty – Human Rights

On the southeast-facing side:

The Place Where Thou Standest Is Holy Ground

Glory to the memory of our first national heroes who fought and fell on this battle ground to win our liberty and independence!

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, glory and patriotism, here salutes the goddess of Liberty and enwreathes this altar in tribute to the heroes of American liberty and to the wisdom of American institutions.

On the northeast-facing side:

Stirling’s Vow

Here and along the slopes of Green Wood’s hills our patriots for the first time faced their foe in open field, and well we stood the test. ‘Men!’ cried Lord Stirling as we formed our line. ‘This Grant who comes against us once declared in England’s House of Commons—I sat there and heard—that given him five thousand men he’d cross our continent from end to end! He has his number now, I doubt not. We a fourth as many, yet I promise you he’ll march no farther through our continent than Brower’s mill pond yonder.’

Minerva's wreath
Minerva’s wreath.

Frozen in time and space, whether Wisdom is setting her laurel wreath down, or taking it up, here at this Altar to Liberty, is a mystery. Was she gauging the status of powers derived from the consent of the governed?

Incidentally, in the overview of the Altar and Minerva, at the top of this page, note in the background on the left side: the pair of gum-drop shaped yews and two rhododendrons, which mark the burial plot of Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia. Those yews could outlive every other tree in the cemetery.

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