On the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and 8th Street in North Newark, New Jersey, stands a statue of Christopher Columbus proudly gazing to the future. The sculpture graces a small park in the plaza where the Italian Tribune offices once stood. The statue is a legacy, not only to the great Italian explorer and discoverer of America, but also to the state’s large Italian American community.
The imposing granite Christopher Columbus statue was erected in 1972 by the Italian Tribune and its then-Publisher, the late Ace Alagna. It was designed and sculpted in Barre, Vermont and proudly stands 25 feet tall.
The statue bears the inscription of members of the first Italian Tribune Christopher Columbus Parade Committee. At its base are the names of many Italian American families who proudly inscribed the names of the Italian immigrants who came here in the early 1900s, many of which are family members. They are inscribed as a testament to the once predominately Italian American neighborhood and thanks to the Italian Tribune and Ace Alagna it became the stomping grounds of the Newark Columbus Day Parade for over 30 years.
In 1969, the Italian Tribune received the Presidential Pen which signed the bill making Columbus Day a National Holiday from Congressman Peter W. Rodino Jr., who was the sponsor of the legislation, as a thank you for the Tribune’s active role in lobbying for the national holiday.
Prior to 1971, the annual Columbus Day Parade was held in Military Park in downtown Newark. By the late 1960s, many Italian American families had moved out of the downtown area and up to the North Ward. Ace Alagna noticed the change and arranged for the parade to be moved to the North Ward, in the area that the Columbus statue now stands. Each year before the parade began, a wreath was placed at the base of the statue in remembrance of the Great Navigator.
During his tenure as Parade Chairman, Ace Alagna organized numerous celebrity Grand Marshals, such as Joe Di Maggio, Tony Bennett, Joe Piscopo, Bob Hope, Pat Cooper, Danny Aiello, Tommy Lasorda, Vic Damone, Dom DeLuise and many more. Throughout the years, many Presidential candidates and politicians marched in the parade including Vice President Walter Mondale, First Lady Roselyn Carter, Senator Bob Dole, Senator George McGovern and the then-Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.
After the passing of Ace Alagna in 2000, new Tribune publisher Buddy Fortunato paid tribute to him in the 2000 parade. That year, the parade honored its Man of the Year Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devil’s GM and the Stanley Cup was featured in the parade. In 2001, Mr. Fortunato decided to discontinue the parade due to the rising costs and a climate change to the neighborhood. In its place, Mr. Fortunato established the Christopher Columbus Awards dinner where he honors many outstanding Italian Americans.
Though the Italian Tribune’s Newark offices, the Columbus Day Parade and former Tribune Publisher Ace Alagna are long gone, his legacy is forever remembered by this prominent statue of Christopher Columbus.