From time to time, I am asked to talk briefly about this town and its history to groups visiting Columbus from places far from here. At one recent gathering, I was asked whether the capital city had any statues of Christopher Columbus.
And I told them that we certainly do.
There are three statues of Christopher Columbus in the largest city in America that bears his name. I always mention it this way because there are several other towns named for the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea." For a number of years, when celebrating Columbus Day in October meant pageants and parades, our capital city would send a Miss Columbus to the Miss Columbus Beauty Pageant. And often our contestant would win.
Two of the three statues of Christopher Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, served as a focal point for those celebrations here. The third one has a story all its own.
But first a little history.
Columbus, like many American cities, did not have all that much public art or public sculpture through most of its early history. Founded in 1812, Columbus was carved from the wilderness to be the new capital city of Ohio "opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto" and Olentangy Rivers.
The new capital city was created from scratch in this place because a number of people in northern Ohio were increasingly annoyed that Ohio's capital was in the southern part of the state. They wanted a capital city that was more centrally located. It took nine years, but they finally got what they wanted.
It should be noted that legislators originally thought the new town should be named "Ohio City." Joseph Foos begged to differ. Usually referred to as "General Joseph Foos" because of his militia rank, Foos operated the only ferry service across the Scioto, managed one of the better taverns in town and represented central Ohio in the Ohio General Assembly. Undertaking a rather alcoholic lobbying campaign, Foos convinced his colleagues to name the new town for one of his favorite people -- Christopher Columbus.
People in many Midwestern cities did not seem to be all that interested in public art in general or statues in particular for most of the Nineteenth Century. In Columbus, there were some exceptions to that rule. Lincoln Goodale gave the city its first park -- Goodale Park -- in 1851. Grateful residents later erected a bronze bust of him at the entrance to the park. At the end of the Civil War, there was something of a movement to remember in marble President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War he presided over. Those memorials to him and that war can still be found in the Ohio Statehouse.
But generally speaking, there were not all that many public statues in Columbus, Ohio. That changed a bit in 1892.
1892 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere. A number of people -- including a large number of recent immigrants from Italy where Columbus was born -- thought he should be well remembered in this Quatrocentennial Year.
And they did just that. On Oct. 12, 1892, a life-size statue of Columbus by Joseph Pelzer was dedicated on the grounds of Pontifical College Josephinum. The college was then located at 821 E. Main St. The college is located today along Route 23 north of Interstate 270. But long before the college moved to that location, efforts were made to move the statue to a more prominent place. That struggle was successful and the statue was rededicated on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse on Oct. 12, 1932.
Over the years since 1892, Columbus acquired some other examples of public art. A lot of it -- like the statue of Roman matron Cornelia and her Jewels with life-size statues of several notable people from Ohio -- ended up on the Statehouse grounds.
But another location was picked in 1955. In that year, the citizens of Genoa, Italy -- the birthplace of Columbus -- donated a larger than life statue of Columbus to the city. Created by artist Edoardo Alfieri, the statue was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1955, on the south plaza of Columbus City Hall.
The third statue of Christopher Columbus took a while to arrive. In the 1950s, Anthony de Tomasi commissioned a much larger than life statue for San Francisco. The city however declined the statue. It ended up in Barrington, Ill., for a number of years. Originally created by sculptor Alfred Solari, the statue was renovated by local sculptor Alfred Tibor after it was given to Columbus in 1986. The statue was moved to the campus of Columbus State Community College on May 12, 1988.
In the years since 1892, Columbus and most of America has become much more interested in finding and placing public art in the city. Along the way, as we seek new artistic visions for public art in Columbus, we thankfully have not forgotten our past -- and our three statues of Christopher Columbus.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.