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It’s lights out at Prison Ships memorial

The Brooklyn Paper
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The eternal flame is not living up to its name — again.

The Prison Ships Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park, a tribute to the nearly 12,000 prisoners of war who died on British ships in the East River during the Revolutionary War, has dimmed — and residents’ tempers are burning bright.

“The monument is not getting the justice it deserves,” said Michael Molfetas, a Clinton Hill resident who was appalled that it had taken less than a year since the November, 2008 rededication ceremony for the supposedly eternal flame to go out. “It is here to show America’s strength and to give thanks to people who helped make America what it is today. It’s just not right.”

Last fall, more than 500 people gathered in the park to take part in a relighting ceremony to mark the memorial’s 100th anniversary. But this week, a fact-finding mission by The Brooklyn Paper revealed that three sides of the granite plinth, which sits atop the largest crypt of Revolutionary War remains in the US, are in darkness — and a fourth side is only dimly lit because one of its two spotlights is out.

The Parks Department said that the floodlights are working fine — they’re just a victim of modern technology.

“The lights work, but there is a programming issue with the timer,” said Phil Abramson, an agency spokesman. “We are working on correcting the condition.”

Of course, it’s not the first time that the 101-year-old Doric column and crypt — considered by many to be the most significant war memorial in the country — have been neglected. For decades after the eternal flame was darkened in 1921, the monument was allowed to fall into disrepair. In the 1930s, the elevator that took people to the top was dismantled, and the decay continued until just a few years ago, when the Fort Greene Park Conservancy demanded — and got — repairs.

Updated 5:18 pm, November 19, 2009
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Reasonable discourse

Maka from Renia says:
How sad that Brooklyn continues to downplay its own history. All the "eternal" flames in the borough should be lit : at Grand Army Plaza and at the southwestern entrance to Prospect Park. As an aside: why are most Prospect Park entrances blocked from immediate pedestrian access, especially the entrance from Coney Island Avenue?
Nov. 18, 2009, 11:40 am
Barbara from Clinton Hill says:
Once again, The NYC Parks Dept shows neglect. The excuse, always, no money. Let the US gov't take over this hallowed ground and monument. There are more dead here than any battle during the Am. Revolution. More than 2X all the war-dead, yet no eternal flame, no 24-hour guard, hardly anyone to cut the grass. If these martryrs hadn't fought and suffered so, Washington's army would have lost, and no USA...yet, forgotten in Bklyn by NYC. 100 yrs ago there were 40,000 attendees to the dedication, with the President of the US giving the oration. 200 yrs later, 500 people and we don't even get the Mayor of NY, but the borough Pres. of Bklyn. They signed in ink in Phila, in Bklyn we signed the Constitution in our blood - but who remembers and further who cares? Certainly NOT NYC. This Monument belongs to the entire country for its importance. It should be a National Shrine and NYC should fight to make it so and admit that they can not adequately care for this as it so deserves and demands.
Nov. 19, 2009, 9:25 pm
Mike from bay Ridge says:
Is it such a bad thing? What good would a 24-hour gaurd or eternal flame do Barbara? Really, it's a waste of moeny and energy. No one will even notice if they were there.
"martyrs"? Perhaps that's a bit over the top. ANyway, no one even knows who they are. Get out of the past, get into the present.
And let these people rest in peace, don't stand around making a big, over-done fuss on the surface, let them just lie and become ashes.
Nov. 20, 2009, 3:33 am
fuchs holly from prospect hts, bklyn hts says:
to Mr. Yakowitz
1. nice article
2. better to include Parks Department as hosting part of the centennial celebration in 2008 for the prison ship martyrs monument. The Conservancy may have demanded its renovation, but also add that its renovation was funded by the Conservancy, the Ft. Greene Councilwoman, the Borough President, the City of New York...and the rededication celebrations were attended by parks department officials, political representatives, and various historical societies including the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Society of Old Brooklynites (SOBs) who helped raise the money to build the monument, dedicated originally in 1908.
Nov. 20, 2009, 1:07 pm
Barbara from Clinton Hill says:
In response to Mike from Bay Ridge:
Your response illustrates the total lack of knowledge about why this site is SO important: They were called Martyrs because they chose to die as AMERICAN POWs. Enduring the most horrid circumstances of suffering such as: small pox, starvation, dysentery and countless other diseases they still would not relinquish their cause for our new country and did not give up. They could have walked off these prison ships had they agreed to switch sides and fight for King George of England. Instead, they remained courageous to fight for OUR freedom from which we reap the benefit and that is why they are our MARTYRS. You are quite wrong that nobody knows who they were - we have a partial list of 8,000 names on the prison ship Jersey alone. Would you have the same feeling re: the military MIAs, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?? I can only hope that as an American (if you are an American, but even if you are not) you will instead try to learn something further about this site in order to better appreciate why it must NOT be forgotten, why in the words of David McCullough, every American should visit this site, as it is hallowed ground and remember how these brave men suffered for our liberty, which so many people take for granted, forgetting the terrible sacrifices endured.
Nov. 20, 2009, 7:59 pm
Alfred Kohler from Brooklyn Heights says:
The Fort Greene Park Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument memorializes the thousands of POWs (between 11,000 and 13,000 they say) who died in British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Compare this number to the about 4500 men who lost their lives in Washington's Army. The site deserves to be a national cemetery or at least a national shrine, and deserves to have a 24:7 honor guard as befits the nation's first significant mass burial site of POWs. What a disgrace to Brooklyn, New York City, and New York State, that so few students and citizens know about the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn (Battle of Long Island), so few know about the terrible ratio of battlefield dead to POW dead, and that its own Congressional representatives do not feel driven to support an honor guard to this burial site much less maintenance for the monument and the park itself. Perhaps this will change...
Nov. 21, 2009, 4:05 pm

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