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Altar to Liberty, Green-Wood Cemetery

By Dan Brenner

Posted on September 19, 2019

Altar to Liberty, Green-Wood Cemetery, August 27, 1920, V1973.5.1005: Brooklyn Historical Society.

Situated on Brooklyn’s highest point, Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery, stands the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, Minerva. Designed as an altar to independence, the bronze Minerva appears to be waving to the Statue of Liberty which is clearly visible from her vantage point.

Charles Higgins, the creator of Higgins India Ink, led the charge on this project. He considered the Battle of Brooklyn, fought on August 27, 1776, to be an overlooked event of historic significance in the American Revolutionary War. The battle was the first to follow the signing of the Declaration of Independence and although the British emerged victorious that day, early historians spun the battle as an American victory, albeit a small one. In the dead of night, General George Washington and his troops crossed the East River into Manhattan, thus narrowly escaping capture and living to fight another day.

Higgins purchased ten plots of land in Green-Wood Cemetery intending to build a family mausoleum. In the end, he decided to also commemorate the battle with an altar to honor those fallen on the site.

The statue of Minerva was sculpted by Frederick Wellington Ruckstull and unveiled to the public on August 27, 1920 in the ceremony seen above. The unveiling brought out the likes of then governor of New York Al Smith, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was then the assistant secretary of the Navy.

This image comes from the Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection (ARC.202). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this collection please visit our image gallery here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected].

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