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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!

PHOTO CAP: First landing of Columbus on the shores of the New World: at San Salvador, W.I., Oct. 12th 1492. Library of Congress. Currier and Ives (publisher)

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!
By William L. Bulla

"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!" I remember those words from a song I sang as a kid. Years later, I sang them with my children, and many years later with my grandchildren. As school children, we were taught Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. He didn't really "discover" North America, and the regions he did explore were already inhabited. He only "discovered" them from the viewpoint of the Europeans. He did discover that the earth was round and much bigger than he had thought.
Columbus Day is a United States holiday commemorating the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. It was unofficially celebrated in a number of cities and states since the 18th century, but didn't become a federal holiday until the 1930s. For many, the holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October is a way of both honoring Columbus' achievements and celebrating Italian-American heritage.
However, not all parts of the United States celebrate Columbus Day. It is not a public holiday in California, Nevada, Hawaii and South Dakota. On that same date, Berkeley, California celebrates Columbus Day as "Indigenous People's Day"; Hawaii celebrates "Discoverers Day"; South Dakota celebrates "Native American Day; and Nevada does not celebrate October 12 as any type of legal holiday.
Christopher Columbus' adventure began with a quest for a simpler spice route to Asia. Columbus sought Queen Isabella's backing for years before he set sail with a promise of the potential title of "Admiral of All the Oceans" as well as one tenth of the riches reaped from his discoveries. He sailed with a 90-man crew on three ships (the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta) for two long months filled with sickness, famine and exhaustion.
On October 12, 1492 he landed at what is now the Caribbean Islands; called Guanahani by the Indians and deemed San Salvador by Columbus. Swirls of controversy surround the quest to pinpoint Columbus's landing location even today, with a group from Miami, Florida, believing he landed on Conception Island. He made three additional voyages before his death in 1506 at the age of 55.
The first celebration of Columbus' landing was officially held in New York City in 1792 with a monument dedicated to his discoveries. On October 12, 1866 the Italian population in New York City celebrated Columbus, the word spread and celebrations started across the country. The Italians in San Francisco were the first to call it "Columbus Day". Another statue of Columbus was raised in New York City at the beginning of Columbus Avenue in 1892.
Colorado was the first state to observe Columbus Day in 1905. Over thirty more years elapsed before President Roosevelt deemed that "Columbus Day" would be a federal holiday held on October 12. It was during President Nixon's presidency, in 1971, that the celebration was changed to be observed on the second Monday in October.
While Columbus' voyages across the Atlantic did not find a route to Asia, they led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere, and initiated the process of Spanish colonization in the New World.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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