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Animal Sculptures Beheaded in Bellevue Hospital's Sobriety Garden

By Heather Holland | March 10, 2014 6:36am | Updated on March 10, 2014 8:40am
 A dozen ram sculptures, a smiling pig and a dog were found with snouts or heads crushed or missing.
Bellevue Sobriety Garden Vandalism
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KIPS BAY — Stone animal sculptures made by recovering addicts at Bellevue Hospital were found beheaded and smashed in the hospital's Sobriety Garden, officials said.

Nearly every animal sculpture — a collection of rams, dogs and pigs made of concrete and chicken wire — were smashed, pulverized or beheaded in a bizarre discovery in the small green space behind the hospital near the FDR Drive, hospital officials confirmed.

"Bellevue Hospital Center is disheartened that a person or persons might engage in such an act," Bellevue spokeswoman Evelyn Hernandez said. “It’s a place our patients and visitors go to find solace and serenity."

Handcrafted stone rams, a green-eyed dog and a lioness had their snouts or faces cut off, or were left with their heads dangling from their necks. A 6-foot statue of a man had its nose lopped off and its fingers crushed. Some of the statues had stood for more than a decade in the garden, which was created by patients in 1989, officials said.

“That’s crazy,” said Bellevue employee Derek Josey, when he saw the damage on a recent afternoon. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Who would do that?”

Bellevue officials initially said they had just become aware of the damage last week but subsequently said an employee had reported the destroyed sculptures to the hospital on Jan. 17. 

No police report was made, according to the NYPD.

Hernandez added that the hospital was trying to determine whether the damage to the sculptures could have been caused or exacerbated by the recent cold weather.

“We are exploring ways to repair the sculptures as soon as possible,” she added.

The Sobriety Garden was created in 1989 and has for decades served as a refuge for patients in the hospital's Chemical Dependency Program. Hospital officials had tried to bulldoze it in 2006 to make room for a parking lot, but community members and local officials fought successfully to keep the green space open. The garden remains unlocked during the day.

"A lot of the patients said that the only happy times they had in their difficult lives was in a garden somewhere," said Dr. Annatina Miescher, who was head of the program and who founded the garden. "So we found some land that was unused at the time and started a garden."

Miescher founded the garden to give patients a place to till the soil in the warmer months. The sculpture project kicked off a decade after its launch.

The sculptures were made of concrete as well as found items, including chicken wire, plastic and clothing, said Miescher, who is also an artist and worked for Bellevue until 2010. Several patients made sheep, each depicting a different personality, she said.

"One patient really wanted to do a border collie," Miescher recalled. "So we got some black and white cement, and got a fork and made the fur."

Miescher said last week's damage may have happened earlier this year, adding that the last time she was at the hospital in January, she saw many damaged statues, including her former patient's border collie statue with its snout snapped off.

"I was accompanying a patient to the hospital and stopped in the garden to get cheered up," Miescher said. "I was in shock. Everything was knocked out. It looked gruesome."

She said she reported the damage to the hospital at the time.

One of the many locals with a deep connection to the garden is Carol Schachter, who visited it frequently with her husband when they were members of the Bellevue Community Advisory Board. Her husband died at the hospital in 2009.

“I am personally devastated,” Schachter said of the damage to the Sobriety Garden's sculptures, which she noticed during a visit last week after an appointment at Bellevue. “My husband loved this garden... It was [where] I made phone calls the morning he died.”