Bounded by South 2nd Street, Hewes Street, and Union Avenue, this triangular patch of land is dedicated to the memory of two Lithuanian-Americans, Steponas “Stephen” Darius (1896-1933) and Stasys “Stanley” Girenas (1894-1933), who attempted to fly nonstop from New York to Lithuania in 1933. The two men immigrated to the United States as children in the early 1900s. In 1932, they pooled their resources and purchased an airplane, a Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker, in the hopes of completing a transatlantic flight. In the early 1930s, the Pacemaker was the most popular aircraft model for long distance flights. After Charles Lindbergh’s first-ever non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, the world was fascinated with what was called “Atlantic fever.” Between 1919 and 1932, 84 pilots attempted flights across the Atlantic and 26 perished in the attempt. Darius and Girenas sought to draw international attention to their homeland by flying nonstop from the New York to Kaunas, Lithuania.
Flying across the Atlantic, however, was an expensive venture in a world racked by the Great Depression (1929-1941). Darius and Girenas did not have the resources to finance their journey by themselves. Lithuanian-American communities from Brooklyn to Chicago organized Flight Sponsoring Committees in order to raise money for their trip. The groups sent proceeds from air-shows, parachute jumps, and passenger rides to the two enterprising pilots who used the money to prepare their plane, the Lituanica, for flight. Because of financial considerations, however, neither parachutes nor radios were installed in the plane.
In the early morning of July 15, 1933, the two men—Darius, 37, and Girenas, 39—began their journey from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, their transatlantic adventure met with disaster. Thirty-seven hours and eleven minutes after leaving Brooklyn, and less than three hours from their destination of Kaunas, Lithuania, the Lituanica plunged into a forest near Soldin, Germany. Darius and Girenas were killed instantly.
More than half a century later, the cause of the crash remains unknown. A special Lithuanian board of investigation concluded that unfavorable weather conditions, combined with defects in engine operation, were likely to have contributed to the crash. Another, less plausible, theory contends that Nazi Germany, which would go to war with Lithuania in World War II, shot down the plane.
This plot of land was originally under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn Borough President. In 1935, it was named Lituanica Square, although it is more commonly known as Lithuania Square. Twelve years later, the New York Lithuanian community erected the monument in the middle of the park to honor the two Lithuanian pilots. It is one of several memorials to Darius and Girenas; others stand in Chicago, Lithuania, and Poland. The Lithuanian government has issued commemorative postage stamps and currency, and renamed streets, bridges, schools, and town squares in recognition of the two intrepid flyers.
A 1961 provision to the city charter transferred all triangles, including Lithuania Square, formally under the jurisdiction of the Borough Presidents to Parks. In 1998, mayoral funds were used to pay for an $8,288 renovation of the park’s sidewalks and pavement. Today, with its surrounding trees and inherent tranquility, Lithuania Square is not only a soothing oasis in the midst of several major thoroughfares, but also a tribute to two determined individuals who perished while trying to realize their dream.