With the help of some stepladders, local historian Rob Greenberg stepped up his efforts to bring attention to the danger of losing colonial artifacts that might be unearthed at a downtown construction site.
Greenberg and some supporters descended on the construction site at the corner of College and George Thursday afternoon armed with brightly colored stepladders. Perched atop the ladders, they held up letters forming a three-word sentence: “SAVE OUR HISTORY.”
Greenberg has made that plea for weeks. Greenberg believes that the construction site—the $50 million future of home of new luxury apartments—is also the place where historic homes once stood, and their outhouses. Those ancient privies and garbage dumps are likely a motherlode of colonial artifacts, Greenberg said.
His efforts to bring attention to the site led to the intervention of state archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, who has been on-site to inspect the work and salvage any relics of bygone New Haven. Bob Landino, the site’s developer, declined to let Greenberg himself on the site, citing safety and legal risks.
Greenberg has complained that the construction site still doesn’t have enough archaeological supervision. Bellantoni isn’t able to be there every day, so important artifacts are being lost, Greenberg said. His “human sculpture” Thursday was part of an effort to bring more supervision to the site.
The event kicked off shortly after 1 p.m. Greenberg mustered with supporters and ladders at a parking lot across from BAR on Crown Street. Several of his helpers are members of the ironworkers union.
“Who else would have ladders?” Greenberg said. He said he called an ironworker buddy looking for ladders and got some manpower, too.
Greenberg led the group to College Street.
There, the group spaced out the ladders along the fenced-off construction site.
Greenberg hung signs he’d made on the ladders, warning of the dangers of destroying New Haven history.
Greenberg’s crew peeked over the fence to see the work in progress.
Greenberg handed out letters to his volunteers, spelling out “SAVE OUR HISTORY.”
The message was aimed at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, across College Street. “This is all about the students of that school,” said Greenberg. “I want kids to see!”
Greenberg said his goal all along has been educational. He wants to salvage artifacts from the site and make an education exhibit.
“I feel like this is my last big action,” he said. “To let the students know.”
Greenberg’s “human sculpture” served as a conversation starter for passersby.
“It’s very interesting way to grab attention,” said Yuri Lazebnik (at bottom in photo), a cancer researcher at Yale.
On the other side of the fence, workers were busy digging up the very area where Greenberg says ancient privies lie.
Down the block, David Maiden, the project manager for the construction site, snapped pictures with a point-and-shoot camera.
“We had Nick [Bellantoni] here all morning today,” Maiden said. The archaeologist and his assistants have spent “multiple days” on the site, Maiden said.
Of people on the ladder, Maiden said, “They’re not misguided in their intent. Their heart is in the right place.” The construction company, Centerplan, is just as concerned about preserving history, Maiden said. That’s why the company is working with Bellantoni, he said.
Asked if any relics may have been lost, Maiden said, “Everything we’ve seen and he’s seen, we’ve recovered.” Maiden said his workers are on the look out for any kind of artifacts and always recover them, catalog them, and record where they were found, information that’s given to Bellantoni.
“We’ve gone out of our way to save even shards of glass,” Maiden said.
“We think along the same lines as these guys,” Maiden said, gesturing to Greenberg and his supporters.
“I’ve never had 12 ladders along my construction site,” Maiden said. That’s why he had been taking pictures, to preserve the scene—for history.