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Piece of history hides out in Syracuse's Armory Square

Ellen Abbott
A piece of the Berlin Wall has been standing along the rear wall of Syracuse's Museum of Science and Technology since about 1990.

Twenty-five years ago last weekend, the Berlin Wall came crashing down, a key event that led to the end of the Cold War. The anniversary is also shining a light on a piece of the historic wall that ended up in Syracuse, a fact many central New Yorkers aren’t aware of.

At first glance, it almost looks like construction debris. It's a 12-foot high slab of concrete, painted white with faded flowers and letters on it, leaning against the back of Syracuse’s Museum of Science and Technology. It’s along a strip of West Jefferson Street amidst overgrown vegetation, where people generally park when visiting Armory Square.

From afar, visitors can only see one side of the wall, as it sits against the rear wall of the MOST.

"What is visible to you is the west facing side of the wall," says BettyAnn Kram, who was on the founding board of the Museum of Science and Technology. "It is covered with graffiti. Much of the wall was covered with graffiti, there’s a message there, we can’t determine all of it. And the east side of the wall is bare.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Michael John Heagerty touches a piece of the Berlin Wall on display in Syracuse's Armory Square.

And if you look closely, you see the telltale signs of a piece of the Berlin Wall.

“It has the defining mark which is the curved bottom, and then also the two center holes, which they all have basically, which is how they dismantled it,” says Michael John Heagerty, who runs a business that offers historic walking tours in Syracuse.

He says he learned about the wall a few years ago, and always brings his customers there to see just what a hidden treasure it is.

“Never once have I had someone go, 'I knew this was back here,'" Heagerty said. "They’re are all flabbergasted."

But word of the wall has gotten around to some people who live and work in Armory Square.

"Did you know this is part of the Berlin Wall?" I asked.

"Yeah, we did. We walk by it every day," two people said. "Are you guys going to put up a little placard or something?”

The section of the wall has been in Syracuse since about 1990, and is still a mystery to many. It arrived after Kram, who had ties with a German company, accepted an invitation to take three pieces. She donated them to the museum, and one stayed intact.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Fragments from the Berlin Wall are on display inside the museum.

"The reason it is outside at the MOST, is that we wanted it to be as visible as possible to as many people as possible,” Kram said.

There is also a display in the IMAX lobby at the MOST, that includes some pieces of the wall.

But Heagerty believes there should be at least more signage near the big piece of the wall itself.

"I want the community as the whole to understand that something like this needs to be, we need to show it off, like we need to show off other history in Onondaga County,” Heagerty explained.

He would like to see the concrete slab get more attention.

"It doesn’t look like a structure that you would go, 'Oh, look at that,'" Heagerty explained. "So that’s why I just want a little something. Some sort of plaque, some sort of monument, even if it’s just a marker on the telephone pole over here or on the sidewalk, some sort of acknowledgement.”

Kram, who’s still on the board of the MOST, agrees bringing more attention to the wall, perhaps with a plaque, is a good idea because it’s a piece of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

"To me it’s a very impactful illustration of life at that time, and it also is a significant piece of history because that can happen again,” Kram said.

It’s one of only four pieces of the wall that can be found in New York state.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.