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History Lesson: Happy Columbus Day

Doug Motz Doug Motz History Lesson: Happy Columbus Day
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Happy Columbus Day! As the largest city in the United States named after Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, it should come as no surprise that our city is dotted with statues of him. There is a statue of him on the Statehouse grounds, one at Columbus State Community College, and the largest statue in our city looks south on the grounds of Columbus City Hall facing Broad Street.

The first statue has a history forever tied with Monsignor Joseph Jessing who is best known as the founder of the Josephinum Pontifical College located just North of Interstate 270 on North High Street. According to the Josephinum, Joseph traveled to the United States in 1867 at the age of 30 from Munster, Westphalia. With a dream of joining the priesthood, he attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati and was ordained by Columbus’ first Bishop the Right Reverend Sylvester Horton Rosencrans.

Postcard courtesy WOSU, left. Joseph Jessing, right, courtesy Alfred Lee, "History of Columbus."

He was sent to Pomeroy, Ohio and while there, founded a Catholic Boy’s Orphanage. In 1877 he moved the orphanage to Columbus, Ohio and when 4 of the boys asked to study for the priesthood, the school opened its’ doors on September 1, 1888. To make certain that the Josephinum would continue to operate even after his demise, Father Jessing asked the Holy See to place it under its protection and in 1892, Pope Leo XIII granted the request making the Pontifical College Josephinum the only pontifical seminary outside of Italy.

"Italy" float, sponsored by the Hill Distributing Co. Author's collection.

It was also in 1892 that Monsignor Jessing installed a statue of Christopher Columbus, constructed of hand-hammered copper plates on the grounds of the College to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the Western Hemisphere. It was constructed by the W.H. Mullins Company of Salem Ohio and is likely based on the work of American Sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens.

The statue on the Ohio Statehouse grounds. Courtesy author.

At the time, the Josephinum was located at Main and 18th street. When a new home was found along North High in 1932, the college donated the statue to the State of Ohio and it has been located on the Statehouse grounds ever since.

In 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ journey, a new and much larger marble base was crafted for the statue. According to Randall Edwards of the Columbus Dispatch:

Frederick Hauck, a Cincinnati philanthropist, led an effort to preserve the statue after he noticed its decrepit condition during a 1977 visit to Columbus. “He looked like he was going to fall down,” Hauck said. “I didn’t want Christopher Columbus to fall down after all the work he’d done.”

Hauck led the effort to clean the statue and raise money for the new base. It was re-dedicated by then Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka. Governor Voinovich and the mayor of Genoa Italy.

The second statue is mounted at Columbus State Community College. According to Columbus Dispatch Writer Gerald Tebben:

The massive marble statue was commissioned by Anthony De Tomasi in the 1950s and offered to San Francisco, which declined the gift. In 1966, De Tomasi installed it in a park in a subdivision he was developing in Barrington, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
Over the years, it fell into disrepair, losing, among other things, an eye to a vandal’s gunshot.

It was offered to Columbus in the mid-1980s. The statue was shipped in three pieces and was stored outside the Columbus Parks and Recreation office on Whittier Street until a permanent location could be determined.

The Columbus statue at CSCC. Author's collection.

Richard Sorenson, a real-estate broker from Columbus was instrumental in bringing it from Barrington to Columbus suggested that it be mounted at a proposed New World Center. He stated. “Since Columbus discovered the New World, how about the New World Center for a home?” It was a proposed indoor football stadium and convention center that Columbus residents voted down just a month following the arrival of the statue.

To add insult to injury, this statue had a flat top and when Columbus sculptor Alfred Tibor was hired to make repairs to the long-neglected statue he said, “He doesn’t have a brain. He has a flat head. It hurts my eye.” Tibor ultimately added stone as part of his restoration work that gave the statue a more “rounded” shape.

The restored statue of Columbus was placed on the grounds of Columbus State Community College on May 12, 1988 as the city of Columbus’ gift to CSCC where it remains today.

The final major Christopher Columbus statue is located on the grounds of City Hall. It was the idea of Columbus attorney Salvatore Spalla. In an interview with Barbara Carmen for the Columbus Dispatch in 1992, he recounted the following:

It was Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1950, I attended a wreath-laying ceremony at a small downtown statue of Christopher Columbus. It was a very small statue, about a fourth of the size of the current one.

Columbus was always my hero. I thought certainly the largest city in the world named for Columbus ought to have more than that.

To make his dream of an impressive statue of Columbus a reality, he then wrote letters. “Pounds of them,” he said.

The Genoa letter and an address by Mayor Sensenbrenner. Courtesy author.

He wrote letters to his congressmen, the U.S. State Department, Italian Ambassadors, the mayor of Columbus and even one to the mayor of Genoa, Italy. He says:

It was a hunch, I told him, ‘Mr. Mayor, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the birthplace of this great Genoese admiral could do something about this?’

Friends said, ‘Spalla, why don’t you forget about this idea? You know nothing will ever come of it.’

Ultimately, his perseverance paid off and the City of Genoa Italy did make a gift of a statue to the City of Columbus. (Many credit that initial offering as the unofficial beginning of our sister cities program that today includes 8 cities in Asia, Europe and the Middle East).

Sculptor Edoardo Alfieri was tapped for the job. At the time, he had already represented Italy three times in the prestigious Venice Biennale (1940, 1948 and 1950). Born in southern Italy in the town of Foggia, his family soon moved to Genoa where he studied art.

In the Christopher Columbus Memorial Souvenir program of October 12, 1955 he states, “There were no particular books or paintings from which I drew inspiration. Rather, I undertook profound studies before attempting it (the statue) I worked with many ideas and made many studies before deciding to concentrate on one date: 1492.”

The unveiling at City Hall, courtesy the AP. The statue with the LeVeque Tower in the background, Author's collection.

According to the program “Christopher Columbus, as expressed by Alfieri, is a man who has conquered but has also paid for his victory. He is a man who has learned more from his long struggle and from his suffering than from his victory. There is in his face, in fact, a shadow which increases the strength of his features and the firm decisiveness of his glance. This is a Christopher Columbus who is completely human.”

The statue was shipped from Italy to the United States and a week of festivities preceded the dedication at City Hall. It included a crowning of “Queen Isabella” on Sunday, October 2, transport by the Pennsylvania Railroad in a freight car named “the Santa Maria” on October 5th, and boat races along the Scioto of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

On Wednesday, October 12, a night parade including 14 floats, 8 bands, 7 Drum & Bugle corps, the USS Columbus Drill team and an Historical Calliope drew the 100,000 plus spectators to City Hall to watch the unveiling of the statue by Ohio Governor Frank Lausche, Senator John Bricker, Congressman John Vorys and the honorable M.E. Sensenbrenner – mayor of Columbus. This was followed by a Banquet held at the Grand Ball Room of the Neil House that went until the wee hours of the following day.

The dedication wasn’t the final celebration. In true Columbus Style, the Ohio State University Marching Band spelled out “Thanks, Genoa” in both English and Italian during their performance at the Duke – Ohio State Football game held on Saturday, October 15.
So the next time you visit the Statehouse, Columbus State or City Hall, please take a moment to visit and reflect upon the statues dedicated to our city’s name-sake: Christopher Columbus.

Visit the Columbus Historical Society at COSI, 333 West Broad St., Columbus, Ohio. Their upcoming bus tour, Vintage + Vision is Saturday, October 19th, 2013. Go on a journey through the past, present, and future of Columbus. Private tours also available. More information at www.columbushistory.org.

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2 Responses to History Lesson: Happy Columbus Day

  1. Walker Evans
    Walker October 14, 2013 3:05 pm at 3:05 pm

    I like that this article is more about the statues themselves, the artists behind them, and their place in the history of our city — and less about the actual man, who seems to grow less and less popular each year (for good reason).

    I wonder if we’ll see the national holiday dropped in our lifetime or completely renamed. I’m already in favor of local celebrations that make it more about our own city and less about the namesake. ;)

  2. Michael Bongiorno
    Michael Bongiorno October 18, 2013 6:42 am at 6:42 am

    Great article Doug!

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