Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

by Don Friedman on February 16, 2018


If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass.

Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the American Revolution, and a bad loss for the colonists that was almost an army-destroying disaster. The loss of New York to the British forces was, at that point in the war, pretty much inevitable because of the British naval superiority; but only the emergency ferrying of the colonists’ army across the East River allowed the fight to continue. Battle Pass, one of the key locations of the fighting, is located within the boundaries of Prospect Park, which was built nearly 100 years after the fighting.

As Nadler and Mironova, the authors of the article, describe, the original subtle reminders have been added to and become more obvious over the years. That phenomenon has occurred at other sites of remembrance, most famously the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where traditional statues were added to the original wall of remembrance.

I’m trying very hard to keep a neutral tone here because I’m quite ambivalent about the process. As I’ve described before, preservation of a physical artifact without context qualifies as preservation but barely so. Preservation of the landscape of Battle Pass, including the old line of Flatbush Avenue as the East Drive of the park, is great, but I doubt one person in a thousand who passes by there could place that local chunk of landscape in its historical context. Two hundred and forty years is a very long time, and a losing battle at the beginning of the seven-year-long Revolutionary War is, perhaps, not the highest priority in memory.

Obviously (I hope), I do not recommend forgetting about the few physical remnants of the Battle of Long Island. I guess I’m not bothered by the change in forms of remembrance because I’m happy there are any at all.

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