Columbus Day – Top 5 Myths About The Explorer Debunked
When the famous explorer was born in 1451, his parents named him “Cristoforo Columbo,” not “Christopher Columbus.” The Columbo family were among the middle class in bustling Genoa, Italy. At age 10, Columbus wrote that he went to sea. When he turned 22, he apprenticed with a leading Genoa trading family and sailed to various cities in Europe.
In 1485, Columbus asked Portugal’s King John II about funding his voyage. He thought he’d found a new, overseas trading route to the Orient. The rise of the Ottoman Empire had blocked the old trade routes by land. Portugal had no interest in Columbus’ plan, nor did Genoa, Venice, or England. Columbus then took his proposal to Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella in 1486. While the royal pair mulled things over, Christopher Columbus’ name changed to Cristobal Colon, which has a more Spanish ring to it.
As Italians became more “American,” so did Columbus’ name.
So why do we observe this holiday every year? And why do we call it “Columbus Day,” and not “Columbo Day?” It all started with our wave of Italian immigrants in the 19th century. New York City’s Italian-Americans first celebrated Columbus Day in 1866. The yearly event spread to other U.S. cities, including San Francisco, CA and Denver, CO. In 1892, Columbus was honored with a statue on New York City’s Columbus Ave., and an exhibition with replicas of his three ships in Chicago, IL.
Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day an official holiday in 1906, due to the efforts of Angelo Noce. More states followed suit, then the Knights of Columbus pushed for a U.S. holiday, and won it in 1934. As the Italians became more “American,” so did Columbus’ name.
2. Columbus didn’t really discover America.
Most won’t feel surprised to see this myth hit the road. Since Columbus found people were already living here, he clearly hadn’t arrived first. While academics hash out the details, most agree that humans came from Asia to the Americas across the Bering Straits. This land bridge between Russia and Alaska was above water at times during the Ice Age. Evidence also supports that Polynesians may have visited South America between 500 and 700 CE. How else could sweet potatoes from South America turn up thousands of miles away in remote Oceania?
Columbus wasn’t even the first European to set foot on the new world. We’ve all heard about the Viking explorer Leif Erikson founding Greenland in 986 CE. He then discovered Vinland, where the Vikings built a short-lived colony. Now, a newly discovered map shows Portuguese ships visited the new world in 1424. Sorry, Columbus. You didn’t really discover America. Not by a long shot.
3. Columbus didn’t prove the world was round.
Columbus came down in history as a pioneer who stuck to his guns, and proved the world was round, when others thought it was flat. But, this isn’t true. Educated folks in Europe already knew the world was round, and had known that for some time. Pythagoras and Aristotle from Ancient Greece knew the Earth was round. So did known western scientists like Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus.
Columbus wasn’t even so great at navigation. His planned voyage kept getting shot down because the royal experts thought his proposed distances to Asia were too short. And they were right. Columbus thought Spain’s Canary Islands were 3,000 from Japan. Oops, the real distance is 12,200 miles. When Central and South America got in Columbus’ way, he staunchly claimed he’d reached “the Indies,” despite the evidence right in front of his eyes. Columbus then oddly decided the earth was shaped like a pear.
Was Columbus our first “fundie?”
History records that Columbus was a very pious man. He believed that God singled him out to explore the new world. When he sailed along the upper East coast of South America, and saw the Orinoco River emptying into the ocean, Columbus thought he’d seen the Garden of Eden. And when facts went against his beliefs, he clung harder to his beliefs. Our hero may not have discovered America, but he may have been our first evangelical Christian.
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