Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brooklyn War Memorials IV and Cypress Hills

Highland Park - Cypress Hills

Our old friend Pietro Montana who was so busy in the early 1920s producing monuments in Bushwick, later in the decade moved further out into Cypress Hills to create “Dawn of Glory” in Highland Park said, by my historical society’s booklet, to represent “a soldier’s dream.” I presume it means the figure represents a soldier dreaming, not the dream of the soldier, or they were more broadminded than I thought in 1925.

So, an unseasonably warm November Sunday called for a walk out Broadway to Highland Park and Cypress Hills. Below, the descent into Highland Park from Highland Blvd.

The booklet also says that there should be a bronze tablet on the back listing the names of 108 young men from the Cypress Hills section who died in the army and the navy from 1917-1918. That is no longer there; no doubt filched at some point for the price of the bronze. The monument was dedicated in July 1925.

The statue is striking but just as striking is the setting. Highland Park lies along the border between the Bushwick and Cypress Hills neighborhoods and tumbles down that great glacial ridge that forms the east-west spine of Brooklyn, from the cemeteries in Bushwick down into Cypress Hills. The statue is located in the lower portion of the park along Jamaica Avenue with a broad hillside of foliage forming the backdrop.

Besides the actual park of that name, there is an area called Highland Park that is part of Cypress Hills but my impression is that they may feel as much a part of Cypress Hills as Riverdale feels a part of the Bronx. Along Highland Blvd. at the top of the hill looking down on the park are large comfortable looking homes while Cypress Hills itself at the base of Hillside Park is a neighborhood of row houses and small homes.

Highland Blvd. (above), Richmond St. (below)

This is definitely New York’s cemetery land. Surrounding Highland Park are around fifteen different cemeteries. The only one I visited was Cypress Hills National Cemetery (Brooklyn’s own little Arlington) that lies along Jamaica Avenue next to Highland Park.

There was supposed to be another memorial dating from World War I there. It’s a very peaceful place (not that you find many really noisy cemeteries), just row on row of small white grave markers, each itself marked with a small flag, broken here and there by a more individual stone. It was declared a national cemetery during the Civil War and some of the earliest grave sites are of Confederate and Union soldiers.

The memorial to the “twenty-five sailors of the French fleet who died while on duty in American waters during the World War 1914-1918” is a large cross on the hillside near the back of the cemetery.

It was dedicated by the France American Society. So, I suppose Justice Scalia finally got his cross, though one memorializing only twenty-five specific French citizens who were probably Catholics anyway.

Also said to be buried in Cypress Hills, among others, are Mae West, Edward G. Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, and Harry Houdini. Emma Lazarus, the author of the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty is buried there as is Sholom Aleichem. For an amplification and correction of this information please see the posting of Nov. 16.

There was also supposed to be a small memorial in Salem Field Cemetery, which is next to Cypress Hills National Cemetery on Jamaica Avenue, but the gates of that cemetery were firmly locked and the cemetery is well fenced in. However, near the front is an enormous column topped by an eagle in flight, a memorial to the soldiers of the Civil War.

And in front of that is a marker that looks suspiciously like what my historical society booklet describes as “a bronze tablet on a low slanting granite base . . .” erected by the Veteran Corps in memory of soldiers of the Hebrew faith who served in the World War, 1917-1918.

Cypress Hills, like Bushwick, forms one part of the far eastern edge of Brooklyn. Eldert Lane is the border between Brooklyn and Queens in that area. On the edge of Brooklyn that's Eldert Lane below seen from Ridgewood Avenue; Queens is on the other side of the traffic lights.

Having gotten all the way out there, I decided to walk over to Eldert Lane so I could say I had walked to the edge of the borough. I wandered back along Atlantic Avenue, the border between Cypress Hills and East New York (below).

Click on this link to map these memorials.