Columbus Day: 5 Things You Didn’t Know
As today’s Columbus Day celebrations begin, marking Columbus’ 1492 arrival in the New World, here are some little-known facts about the explorer celebrated by Italian-Americans across the United States.
1. When the Columbus Day Holiday Began
In the U.S., it’s sometimes reported that the national holiday began in 1971, but that’s actually the date when Congress changed Columbus Day to the second Monday of October. In reality, Columbus Day became a national holiday much earlier, in 1937. At that time, President Franklin Roosevelt declared the holiday would take place on Oct. 12 (the date Columbus first landed in the Bahamas). But the first known Columbus Day celebration in the U.S. took place in New York City in 1792, long before it became a national holiday.
2. Columbus’ Journal Was Intended for an Audience
When historians examine primary sources from Columbus’ voyages, they aren’t reading private diaries. They’re evaluating correspondence intended for the explorer’s sponsors, those he refers to as the “Most Christian, High, Excellent, and Powerful Princes, King and Queen of Spain.” In that sense, it’s entirely possible that these journals were embellished, with some facts manipulated in Columbus’ favor.
3. Columbus’ Bones Are Still Shrouded in Mystery
It’s still unclear where Columbus’ bones were finally laid to rest.
When Columbus died in 1506 his remains were taken to a family mausoleum in Seville, Spain. But nearly 40 years later his son requested that the remains be placed in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in the capital of the Dominican Republic, where he intended to be buried. In the late 1700s the bones moved to Cuba, and 100 year later they returned to Seville. But in 1877 bones marked as those of Columbus were found by cathedral workers in the Dominican Republic. Those bones have since been interred in the Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo.
In 2006, the year of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ death, a forensic team found DNA from bones buried in a cathedral in Seville matched the DNA from Columbus’ brother, Diego. But at the time, the director of the Columbus Lighthouse insisted Columbus’ remains had never left the Dominican Republic.
4. Pope Rejected Bid for Columbus’ Sainthood
In 1882 the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s fraternity, supported Italian Americans who rallied for Columbus to be recognized as a saint because they said he had brought Christianity to the Indians. Pope Leo XIII, however, rejected that request because Columbus had an illegitimate son with Beatriz Enríquez de Harana, his mistress.
5. Columbus Brought Citrus to the New World
The history books note Columbus forcibly scored a lot of loot from the islands he visited, making off with gold, parrots, spices, and human captives from Haiti, an island he later named Hispaniola. The “riches” pleased his Spanish sponsors, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, who were funding the voyage. During the process, Columbus also carried European items to the New World. In 1493, the year of Columbus’s second voyage, he brought citrus fruit seeds to the West Indies and the trees ended up in the West Indies, Mexico, and Florida.