After fifteen months outside of the public eye, the magnificent statue of Christopher Columbus was unveiled on Sunday, October 10th at its new home in Skylands Stadium, right outside of Sparta in Augusta, New Jersey. The wet weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds. A resiliency of spirit and pride was evident in the faces of all, as the statue, which represents so much to the Italian American community, was ceremoniously displayed amid fanfare and speeches.
The story began on Thursday, June 26, 2020, when a secret plot by the City of Newark, New Jersey unfolded. An order had been given to take the statue that for 50 years, had graced the plaza adjacent to the Italian Tribune building on Bloomfield Avenue and North 8th Street in Newark.
The beautiful statue, carved from Vermont granite, was handpicked by legendary former Italian Tribune Publisher Ace Alagna. For days preceding the incident, Buddy Fortunato, longtime Publisher of the Italian Tribune and son-in-law of the late Ace Alagna, had heard rumblings from friends in the Newark City government that there was going to be an attempt to remove the statue. Late one evening, he received a call from a friend that an order had been issued by the Mayor’s office for the statue to come down during the cover of darkness at midnight. It took a monumental effort with both negotiations and logistics to save the statue from destruction. In moving the statue, base and dedication monuments, not one chip was sustained and thanks to Al Dorso, President and CEO of State Fair Group, which owns Skylands Stadium, a new permanent home for “Chris” has been found. The impressive statue stands mightily at the entrance to the ball park, which has now been named Skyland Stadium and Columbus Field in honor of the Great Navigator.
Cav. Pat O’Boyle served as the Master of Ceremonies for the rededication and greeted the crowd of supporters of Columbus and subscribers of the Italian Tribune. An honor guard from the Knights of Columbus stood proudly at attention next to the stage.
An invocation and prayer was offered by Father Louis Scurti, reminding everyone of the importance that Columbus played in the lives of Italian American families, inspiring many from the ‘Old World’ to make their own voyage into the unknown of the ‘New World’ as immigrants.
Al Dorso’s words resonated with the assembled crowd when he spoke of craziness prevailing in some quarters within this country and the need to get back to our roots, where the love of family, God and country were coupled with respect and moral values.
Buddy Fortunato described the long journey, risks and hardships aboard ship faced by Christopher Columbus and his crew and reflected on how the rainy weather of the day was a perfect reminder of those difficulties. He then recalled all of the difficulties that our ancestors faced when they came to America. Buddy made everyone’s chest swell with pride as he talked of the perseverance of our own families of Italian immigrants who rose above the barriers placed before them through the sweat on their brow, without any coddling entitlement programs, such as those presently in vogue. Many names of immigrants are inscribed on the Tribune statue as families put them on with pride in 1971. It was a very rainy day but enjoyed by all who braved the weather.
Monday, Columbus Day, with the fine autumn weather, saw a steady stream of visitors to Skylands Stadium, paying respect to the Great Navigator in his new home in Augusta, New Jersey.