Liberty Weekend brings history to life at Bensonhurst church

June 5, 2019 Paula Katinas
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The Revolutionary War jumped out of the pages of history books and came to glorious life on the lawn of a Bensonhurst church during the weekend of June 2-3 as visitors were invited to take part in Liberty Weekend, a two-day celebration of the nation’s colonial past.

Sponsored by the group Friends of Historic New Utrecht, Liberty Weekend took place on the grounds of the New Utrecht Reformed Church at 18th Avenue and 84th Street, and featured re-enactors dressed in Revolutionary War costumes, a military-style encampment, guided tours of the church building, lectures on history and dioramas depicting Bensonhurst at various points throughout history.

“We love doing it because it’s a good way to bring the neighborhood’s attention to the history of the area. There is a lot of history here,” Friends of Historic New Utrecht President David Elligers said.

Re-enactor Mike Grillo impersonated George Washington, roaming around the church grounds and answering questions from visitors about the life of the first U.S. president.

“It’s wonderful to be here,”’ Grillo told the Home Reporter. Grillo, who has been portraying Washington for more than 20 years, said what he enjoys most is educating people on the role Brooklyn played in early U.S. history.

The first great battle of the Revolutionary War took place in Brooklyn. During the Battle of Brooklyn, British troops set up an encampment on what is now the front lawn of the New Utrecht Reformed Church.

Elligers conducted tours of the New Utrecht Reformed Church cemetery, located two blocks from the church, at 16th Avenue and 84th Street. “I personally enjoyed giving tours of the cemetery. There is so much history there,” he said.

The cemetery was originally established for the Town of New Utrecht in the 1660s. In addition to its historical significance, the cemetery is filled with fascinating personal stories, according to Elligers. Among the people buried there are murder victims and saloon-keepers, he said.

New Utrecht Reformed Church, which was established in 1677, was originally located next to the cemetery. The current church on 18th Avenue was constructed in 1828.

Friends of Historic New Utrecht, a group dedicated to promoting the history of the New Utrecht Reformed Church and the surrounding neighborhood, has been hosting Liberty Weekend for several years.

The two-day event is called Liberty Weekend in honor of the Liberty Pole that graces the church’s front lawn, Elligers said.

The area that is now the church’s front lawn also has historic significance. It was one of the original sites where early Americans raised a Liberty Pole. Liberty Poles were erected at several locations throughout the 13 colonies in 1783 to fly the American flag in celebration of the victory over the British. The flagpole now standing is a replica of the original Liberty Pole.

Susan Hanyen, a member of the consistory of the New Utrecht Reformed Church, said members of the congregation enjoy Liberty Weekend as much as the public does.

“It shines a light on history. It highlights it,” she told the Home Reporter. “We’re glad people have an interest.” she said.

Liberty Weekend excitement actually began before the weekend started, Hanyen said. “On Friday, we hosted fourth and fifth graders from our local public schools. They received instruction on the Liberty Pole. We had re-enactors who were British. They talked to the children from the British soldier’s point of view. And another man spoke as a colonial,” she said.

The students also enjoyed looking at dioramas in the Parish House depicting the neighborhood at several points during the 18th, 19 and 20th centuries, Hanyen said.

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