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Christopher Columbus: Immortal Genoese


The latest in my series on Newark's great statuary is the Christopher Columbus monument in Washington Park. The gift of Newark's Italian community, this monument offers historical and artistic rewards to anyone who takes the time to stop and look. This Columbus is not the only Columbus in Newark, as there is another statue on Bloomfield Avenue by St. Rocco's St Francis' Church, but this is the only Columbus to ever appear on an episode of The Sopranos.

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As mentioned before, Christopher Columbus is the gift of Newark's Italian community. Across the country, Italian-Americans richly endowed their cities with statues and monuments like this one. Italian prominenti favored noble artistic gestures like this one, sometimes to the detriment of regular Italians, who did not benefit from as many social welfare agencies as other ethnic groups. (see Beyond the Melting Pot, pg 193)
Starting from a tiny population of 500 souls in 1880, Italians were Newark's largest ethnic group in the 1940s, forming a community 100,000 strong. One associates Italians with the old First Ward (roughly, today's Seventh Avenue), but there were also Italians in the Ironbound, Silver Lake, and 14th Avenue in the Central Ward.

More than the neighborhoods of other ethnic groups, Italian neighborhoods were enduring. Despite the 1950s' urban renewal and the turmoil of the 1960s, there are still signs of Italy to be found in the North Ward and the Ironbound. If not for that neighborhood's extreme poverty, there would probably be Italians in the Central Ward too.

The idea for a Newark Columbus statue came from Mr. John Di Biase, a member of the Giuseppe Verdi Society. From 1924 to 1927, $25,000 came in from all over "Nevarca," and the statue was erected under the auspices of the Columbus Monument Committee, a wing of the Verdi Society.

The Catholic Church also contributed to the statue effort. Monsignor Giuseppe Bellino, of Naples, Italy, did all the contracting work for the Monument Committee in his free time. It was Monsignor Bellino who commissioned Giuseppe Ciocchetti, a Roman sculptor, to actually create the statue.

Ciocchetti executed four finely detailed panels on the sides of the alabaster base. This panel shows Columbus bowing before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Sadly, one of these plaques fell off in 1973. It was not restored to the monument for several years.

Newark's Christopher Columbus was unveiled on Columbus Day, 1927, in front of a crowd of 30,000 to 50,000. Before the unveiling of the statue there was a parade where Italian Newarkers in costume and on floats enacted events from Columbus' life.

The guests of honor in the unveiling ceremonies were Governor Moore, Italian Vice-Consul Mario Vittani, and Judge Walter D. Van Riper.

 

 

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