On the evening of October 29, 1945, 9-year-old Joseph Vitolo saw a vision of the Virgin Mary hovering above this rocky outcropping on the Grand Concourse. She instructed him to return to this spot for 16 consecutive nights to say the rosary. He did as he was told, and, as word began to spread, bigger and bigger crowds showed up for the service each evening. On the 16th night, more than 25,000 people arrived to watch little Joseph, each perhaps hoping for a miracle in his or her own life. (Check out these incredible photos of the throngs of spectators!)
As time went on, the crowds dwindled, but Joseph continued making his nightly pilgrimage on and off for years as he searched for his life's direction. In the '60s, he married a woman he met at the shrine, and another worshiper bought the house next to the shrine and became its caretaker, sprucing things up a bit with statues, signs (one of which reads, "This place is for praying only!"), plantings, and walkways. These days, Joseph's body is failing him, and he can only make it up the stairs to the shrine every once in a while. With his wife now deceased, he has considered moving out of New York, but he just can't bring himself to leave the shrine, so integral is its presence in his life.