Holy Land USA
This series of photographs was published in the Canadian magazine "The Bagel Digest" in 2004. Someone has since stolen the name of my article grr. The following text accompanied the 15 page spread. (Bagel Digest - Spring 2004 - Onward Christian Tourist - pages 46-61.)
"Onward Christian Tourists"
Although growing up without being forced into a religion, I've always been fascinated with other people's faith. When a friend and I stumbled upon Holy Land USA, we knew we had to make a pilgrimage. It was the perfect combination of modern ruins and weird religion. And it didn't disappoint.
Holy Land USA is located on the side of a mini-mountain in the North Eastern United States. John Greco, a lawyer and evangelist, responding to a message from God in the early 1950s, built a fantasy park depicting Bethlehem Village. It included buildings, grottos, crucifixes, catacombs and a fifty-foot neon cross - still faithfully electrified each night.
Sadly, Holy Land USA slid into disrepair following its glory days after Greco died in 1986. Currently owned by an order of nuns, they are resisting help from preservation groups and the park remains in its tattered state.
The surrounding area seems to be in a similar state of disrepair. Driving around at night, in an attempt to get closer to the glowing cross, we drove through the Holy Land's neighboring ghetto. Aside from the obvious vandalism at the hands of local youth who, as the joke says, grow up believing Christ was electrocuted on the cross, stories fly about murders and gang rapes in the mini Jerusalem.
Walking around the park illegally (it is private property, after all) I half expected to get struck down by a bolt of lightning. God must have been busy smoting someone else that day.
As Lycos.org I puts it, "the utter ruin should certainly appeal to anyone with a dark, well-honed sense of irony and metaphor."…You'd better believe it.
It's in an immensely deteriorated state, and some of us wouldn't have it any other way.