The city has had 100 years to prepare for next month’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument centennial, but workers are still racing to restore the centerpiece of Fort Greene Park to its former glory in time for the big day.
The Parks Department says it is trying to complete electrical work and restorations to the memorial’s façade, as well as landscaping improvements, by the Nov. 15 100-year anniversary of the cenotaph, which was erected to honor prisoners of war who died aboard British ships during the American Revolution.
The centennial’s organizers are worried that delays this year stemming from the arrest of the previous contractor may mar their carefully planned ceremonies, which will include a keynote address from Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David McCullough and the relighting of an eternal flame atop the memorial.
“I’m frantic,” said Ruth Goldstein of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy. “They assure me it’s getting done, but I’ve been planning for this since 1999, so this is the 11th hour.”
The Parks Department has tried to calm these nerves, but does not make any guarantees the work will be finished.
“We are diligently moving forward with this project and intend to complete it in time for the monument’s centennial in November,” Parks Department spokeswoman Jesslyn Moser told The Brooklyn Paper in an e-mail.
The renovations include reattaching a bronze door to a crypt that contains the remains of 11,000 Americans, plus the re-installation of the original sculpted eagles near the base of memorial. But the work ground to a halt after Queens District Attorney Richard Brown indicted the original contractor, Arie Bar of Brooklyn, in May for defrauding his employees out of $650,000 in unpaid wages.
The creation of the monument was such a crucial historic event in 1908 that then–President-elect William Howard Taft — all 300 pounds of him — attended the ceremony.
Goldstein told The Brooklyn Paper she holds out hope that the President-elect will be there too.
“That would be the icing on the cake,” she said.
A full day of events are scheduled for the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument on Nov. 15. Call (718) 596-0899 or visit www.centennial2008.org.