The American interest in Christopher Columbus has produced more monuments to the man than in any nation in the world. 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 tri-centennial of his first voyage to the New World. It was a 14-foot obelisk of black marble and bore scenes from Columbus’ life. The oldest tribute to Columbus still standing is in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a stone obelisk, erected in 1792, now situated on North Avenue and Harford Road. The newest monument to Columbus overlooks New York Harbor in Liberty State Park, New Jersey. Dedicated October 9, 1998, it is a three-story sail of Columbus with bas-reliefs of scenes from his life. Made of travertine marble and bronze, it was erected by the National Italian American Foundation and the Columbus Citizens Foundation.
In contrast, the city of Boston has the oldest statue of Columbus. It was raised in 1849 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.
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.
Among the most singular tributes are: The Columbus Doors on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which were cast in 1860 and modeled after Lorenzo Ghiberti’s doors to the Baptistery in Florence. Made of bronze, they show scenes from Columbus’ life.
The Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, contains many possessions of the great explorer, including his desk and the cross that he used to claim the New World for Spain.
The Columbus statue in The Bronx, New York, was created by Attilio Piccirilli, who, along with his brothers, was featured on the cover of the August 16 edition of this year’s Italian Tribune.
The statue of Columbus in Providence, Rhode Island was cast by Frederic Auguste Bertholdi, the Italian/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, often with the help of Italian American newspapers. Many were erected in the late 19th century to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage. They were generally commissioned from Italian sculptors working in Italy.
The most unusual portrayal of Columbus is the gilt bronze larger-than-life statue of him with a beard located in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the first bronze statue of Columbus in the U.S. and was commissioned in 1886 by a wealthy businessmen, who insisted on the facial hair. Objecting, the sculptor carved on the statue: “I knew he didn’t have a beard.”