U.S. TRIBUTES TO CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS|
The strong American interest in Christopher Columbus has produced the largest number of Columbus monuments of any nation in the world, according to The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia (Editor: Silvio A. Bedini; Simon & Schuster, 1992).
Other countries that also pay tribute to the 15th century Italian explorer are Mexico, nations in Central and South America, Spain, Italy, and several islands in the Caribbean.
- The first mention of a Columbus monument in the United States was during the Revolutionary War. In 1782, Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, an officer with the French forces aiding the colonists, noted in his journal that he saw a statue of Columbus in Philadelphia's Independence Hall
- In New York City, the local Tammany Society in 1792 raised a Columbus monument to celebrate the tricentennial of his first voyage to the New World. It was a 14-foot obelisk of black marble and bore scenes from Columbus's life.
- The oldest tribute to Columbus still standing is in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a stone obelisk, erected in 1792 on his estate by Chevalier Charles D'Annemour, the French Consul to the city. In the 1960s, however, the monument was moved to the Samuel Ready Institute on North Avenue and Harford Road.
- Boston has the oldest statue of Columbus. It was raised in 1849 (circa) and believed to be sponsored by Marquis Niccolo Reggio, an Italian businessman and consul in Boston for the Papal States, Spain, and the kingdoms of Sardinia and of the Two Sicilies. It stands in Louisburg Square.
- Philadelphia claims the first monument to Columbus entirely funded by public donations. The statue was erected in 1876 by Italian Americans in the city to celebrate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence.
- The oldest monument to Columbus in the western states is in California. It is a marble statue group of Columbus explaining his theory to Queen Isabella while a page looks on. It was donated in 1883 by a wealthy businessman to the Sacramento State Capitol where it still stands today.
- The largest and most imposing monument to Columbus stands in New York City's Columbus Circle at 59th Street. The 14-foot marble statue of Columbus rests on a granite column 61 feet high (total: 75 feet). It was erected in 1892 from contributions by Italian Americans across the country, led by the Italian American newspaper, Il Progresso
Among the most singular monuments are:
- the Columbus Doors on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, which were cast in 1860 and modeled after Lorenzo Ghiberti's doors to the baptistry in Florence. Made of bronze, they show scenes from Columbus's life.
- the Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which has many Columbus relics, including his desk and the cross he used to claim the New World for Spain.
- the Columbus statue in The Bronx, New York, which was created by Attilio Piccirilli, one of six Italian American brothers who carved the Lincoln Memorial.
- the statue of Columbus in Providence, Rhode Island, which was cast by Frederic Auguste Bertholdi, the French artist who also created the Statue of Liberty.
Most of the monuments to Columbus have been sponsored by Italian American groups and private individuals, usually with the help of Italian American newspapers. Many were erected in the late 19th century to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's first voyage. They were generally commissioned from Italian sculptors working in Italy.
Many American monuments to Columbus share stylistic traits and represent Columbus as young, with shoulder-length hair; wearing a short tabard, or sleeveless coat; holding a globe or a map and standing near an anchor.
The most unusual portrayal of Columbus is the gilt bronze larger-than-life statue of him with a beard in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the first bronze statue of Columbus in the US and was commissioned in 1886 by a wealthy businessman, who insisted on the facial hair. Objecting, the sculptor carved on the statue: "I knew he didn't have a beard."
Prepared by: The National Italian American Foundation
Suggested Bibliography on Italian American History
Amfitheatrof, Erik. The Children of Columbus. Boston: Little Brown, 1973. 360-page study, intelligently written study on what Italian immigrants found in "la Merica."
Handlin, Oscar. The Uprooted. Boston: Little Brown, 1951. Seminal work on immigration history in U.S.
Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood. New York: Anchor Books, 1975. Landmark study on what it means to be Italian American.
Iorizzo, Luciano J., and Mondello, Salvatore. The Italian Americans. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
LaGumina, Salvatore J., and Frank J. Cavaioli, Salvatore Primeggia, Joseph Varacalli, eds. The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1999.
Mangione, Jerre and Ben Morreale. La Storia. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 500-page study of Italians in US; excellent and comprehensive bibliography.
Carl Pescosolido and Pamela Gleason. The Proud Italians. 193 pages with photographs on what world owes the Romans and Italians. (Available exclusively through the NIAF. $19.95 hardcover; $13.00 paperback.
Schiavo, Giovanni. Four Centuries of Italian American History. 328-page history of Italians in America from Christopher Columbus through WW II. (Available through Center for Migration Studies: 718/351-8800.)
Talese, Gay. Unto the Sons. Knopf, 1982. A comprehensive history of the conditions that prompted the author's family, along with millions of other Italians to emigrate to America as well as a personal memoir of what is meant to grow up Italian in America.