BY MIKE PATRICK REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
WATERBURY — Ralph Giuliano was only 5 or 6 years old when he watched his father, also named Ralph, create and install Holy Land’s first glowing cross. But as he grew up, he joined his father’s passionate efforts to keep it lit.
His father, longtime owner of the Modern Sign Co. and friend of Holy Land developer John Greco, passed away Saturday at 98.
“I hung around his sign shop all the time; that’s what I learned. I could have gone into that business because I loved it,” said Giuliano, a dentist in Southbury, Tuesday. “He had a very good relationship with Mr. Greco, who I became friends with as I got older.”
Greco was a local lawyer who had a dream of building a religious theme park on the city’s Pine Hill. He approached the elder Giuliano about creating a large, illuminated cross to serve as its beacon.
A Catholic, Giuliano made the request his mission. A skilled metal worker and glass blower, he created a stainless steel cross onto which was affixed glowing pink neon tubes.
When the steel reflected the neon glow, his son said, it created an otherworldly halo effect.
Meanwhile, when his son got older, Giuliano assigned him his own task.
“I built those letters on the hill,” he said, referring to the eight-foot-tall “Holy Land U.S.A.” sign. “I spent the whole summer. My father told me to build it. I welded all the steel on the side of the mountain.”
It wasn’t long before the neighborhood kids made it a sport to smash the pink neon with rocks. Giuliano said his father patiently and for no cost would just go back to his workshop, create a new set of neon tubes and reattach them to the cross.
This went on for years, he said, until Greco himself said it just couldn’t continue that way. He requested the cross be transformed into a “symbol of peace” instead.
“What my father did was put a circle in the crux of the cross, and there was a dove with a palm branch in its mouth,” he said. “He wrote, ‘Peace through love and law.'”
That stood until another vandal used a bolt cutter to snap the steel cables that held the cross in place. In the next storm, he said, the cross fell.
There have been a succession of crosses since, the most recent a 52-foot-tall, inner-glowing symbol of faith installed in 2014.
His father’s cross, Giuliano said, is only his most famous legacy.
“He was an unbelievable guy,” he said, tearfully. “He didn’t care about money at all. He helped a lot of people, but no one knows about the things that he did.”
The son recalled watching his father help the neighborhood kids fix their bicycles and teaching them how to weld, and asking him why he did these things when sign-making work in the shop was piling up.
“His big thing was giving the children a sense of worth,” he said. “He said, ‘You already have that instilled in you, but these kids don’t and that’s what these kids need in life, a sense of worth and value. The signs can wait.'”
Contact Mike Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @RA_MikePatrick or on Facebook at RA.Mike. Patrick.