November 10, 2008 -
Fort Green Park in Brooklyn is a small, hilly park designed by Olmstead and Vaux. Underneath this park lies a crypt with bones from 11,500 prisoners-of-war: men, women and children who died onboard British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Their bodies were thrown overboard into the East River or buried on its sandy banks, on ground that would become the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For decades after the war, Brooklyn residents would collect their bones as they washed up on shore. Human remains were being discovered in the Navy Yard up until 1900.
Above this crypt is the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. Designed by famed architects McKim, Meade and White, it was dedicated in 1908 by President-elect William Howard Taft. The monument and crypt are considered sacred ground, and have been closed to the public for over 70 years. They have had a difficult history, including a 1914 eagle theft, the crypt vandals of 1923, an ongoing four-decade-long borough feud over missing eagles, and park restorations in 1937, 1949, 1973 and 1995 to recover from vandalism and neglect. By the year 2000 the monument was missing plaques, the crypt had a plywood door, and the eternal flame had long been extinguished.
On November 15th, the Fort Greene Park Conservancy will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument with a day of celebration. This will mark the end of the latest restoration period, the eternal flame will be relighted, and Brooklyn's missing eagles will be rededicated. There will be Revolutionary War re-enactments, a parade and 21-gun salute, a choral work called "Brooklyn Bones." (Update: Photos of the celebration can be seen here)