The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park is one of the nation’s most important war memorials.
Here, in an underground crypt, are the remains of 11,500 American soldiers who died on British prison ships moored during the Revolutionary War in what is now the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Many historians believe that the horrifying deaths of those prisoners of war was America’s true baptism of fire — more so than the Boston Massacre or the shots fired at Lexington and Concord.
The Stanford White–designed monument will celebrate its 100th anniversary in November. The commemoration will recall the 1908 dedication of the site, which was an event so important that president-elect Taft, all 320 pounds of him, attended.
So why is the site — which is nothing less than the repository of the American soul — in such lousy shape today?
Fenced off from the rest of the park, the memorial has been left to decay and become overwhelmed by weeds.
It looks more like a vacant lot, not a hallowed site.
For the better part of a year, the Parks Department has promised that the hilltop memorial would be in ship-shape condition in time for the Nov. 15 and 16 centennial events.
But in May, the agency fired an allegedly corrupt contractor — and no work has been done since.
It’s bad enough that the Parks Department feels it needs an outside contractor to repair a site that is under its own jurisdiction. What’s worse here is that the $2.3-million restoration project is $600,000 over budget, as The Brooklyn Paper reported on its Web site on Wednesday.
Yet the Parks Department has so very little to show for it.
And veterans groups, Revolutionary War buffs and patriots are horrified that it has come to this.
“They don’t seem to understand [that the November centennial] is a very significant event,” Ted General, a member of the Society of Old Brooklynites, told The Brooklyn Paper this week. His group, which is hosting its own ceremony on Saturday, is trying to shine a light on this darkest of city failures.
“If this was the battlefields of Gettysburg, it would get a lot of attention,” he added. “But for some reason it doesn’t.”
And that is America’s — and the Parks Department’s — shame.