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Christopher Columbus Statue Beheaded in Boston’s North End

Statue of Christopher Columbus after vandals cut off the head.

The head of Christopher Columbus was torn off overnight Tuesday from the statue in the namesake park on the waterfront in Boston’s North End. Officials are investigating but do not have any suspects at this time. With the likelihood of additional vandalism, Mayor Walsh announced at a press conference that the remaining body will be removed from the foundation and placed in a city warehouse, subject to a public discussion regarding the statue’s future.

The Christopher Columbus statue has been repeatedly defaced over the years. Most recently, it was doused with red paint and the text “Black Lives Matter” in 2015. The head was last cut off in 2006.

Across the country, several controversial statues have been removed by protesters in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A statue of Robert E. Lee was ordered taken down in Richmond, Virginia. In Philadephia, a statue of former mayor and police commissioner, Frank Rizzo, was set on fire and brought down with ropes. European statues have also been torn down including those of colonial figures tied to slavery and racism. Here in Boston as part of protests, rioters have defaced 16 Boston memorials and statues. Activists have also advocated for renaming Faneuil Hall because of Peter Faneuil’s history as a slave trader.

Protests in Christopher Columbus Park have been consistently held by groups supporting Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day in October. The city of Cambridge changed its municipal holiday in 2016.

The statue was placed in 1979 by the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park Committee when the park was renamed. The large foundation block commemorates donors and the mostly Italian American families in the North End at the time.

The removal of the statue begs the question regarding the name of the Christopher Columbus Park. Before the statue was installed in 1979, the public space was referred to as the “Waterfront” park. After his passing, some suggested it be named in honor of former Mayor Menino before the inclusive Charlestown playground was established in his honor.

Sicilian fishing fleet at T-wharf, site of what is now Christopher Columbus Park, Leslie Jones (1917-1934 approximate). Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Fisherman’s Park is a name that been more recently advocated by some in the North End feast societies. The park’s location is where the Italian / Sicilian immigrant fisherman’s fleet was docked at T-wharf in the early 1900’s. The North End’s Fisherman’s Club continues to perform an annual blessing of the waters at the park to kick off its annual feast.

Ed. note: This post has been updated with follow on comments from Mayor Walsh and history of the park site.

11 Replies to “Christopher Columbus Statue Beheaded in Boston’s North End

  1. JC, Walsh just announced that the statue will be placed in storage ” temporarily “. So your right, If they remove the statue will they rename the park as well?

    1. There’s nothing temporary about this. This is Walsh’s way of avoiding the issue, caving to activists, and hoping people forget it was there in the first place.
      Walsh is a disgrace and so are the people who did this.

  2. It is a very, very sad day when statues that have significant cultural and historical value are vandalized, removed and or destroyed. Many of the statues erected tell a story and have some historical value. Some of these stories make us very proud and not so proud, it’s our history. Statues should not be randomly removed because it is the popular thing to do. Remember behind each statue, there is some history and when you start destroying your history, you may be doomed to relive some of those dark days. It is important to remember that many ethnic groups ( Jewish, Irish, Italians etc.) have also been discriminated when they first arrived in this great country. Having said that, it doesn’t justify discrimination against any racial or ethnic group. We are all Americans and must reflect on that and get back to being proud Americans. As a Vietnam era war veteran, I am proud to have served my country and will never tolerate the discrimination against any people regardless of their ethnic or racial background. Equally as important to me is that I will never tolerate the disrespecting of our American Flag. Be proud that you are an American and live in one of the greatest democracies to exist. Don’t let that be taken from you.

    Domenic Piso

    1. Our democracy is in danger as large city mayors succum to mob rule. Unlike yourself, many have never fought for this country or put their lives on the line. They wilt under the pressure of these large mobs even though most of the mob aren’t their constituents and will leave once the damage is done. Their loyalty to the residents is tenuous and only important to them at election time when they fear ending up without a job.

  3. Now that the Mayor is removing the statue, we should take this opportunity to have a discussion, as a neighborhood, about whether it should be removed permanently, and what would be more appropriate to put in its place.

    When we reference Columbus or celebrate Columbus Day in America, what we’re really trying to do is pay our respects to the fortitude and sacrifice of our ancestors who came to this country and laid the groundwork for the success that Italian-Americans enjoy today. We are & should be proud of them. So why continue to overshadow them with a symbol that harms our reputation by association?

    As an Italian-American, I know it doesn’t align with the stories we heard growing up—but there’s little doubt about the true nature of Columbus in the year 2020. In the 500+ years since he sailed the ocean blue, historical evidence shows that Columbus wrote about taking slaves on the very first day he set foot in what is now Haiti in December 1492–eventually kidnapping and enslaving over a thousand men and women there. We know that he once kidnapped a woman so his crew could rape her, and that he inspired mass suicides of the Arawak tribes in what many consider a genocide.

    Is this someone we should be teaching our children to honor when we enjoy our beautiful park?

    Along with statues of Confederate generals, cities across the country are reconsidering Columbus. Whether it’s replacing statues or renaming parks, there’s a long list of Italians and Italian-Americans who will now have the public’s attention and celebration instead of Columbus. There’s Marconi, LaGuardia, DaVinci, Gallileo, etc.

    Meanwhile, right here in our own neighborhood, we have two potent symbols of the Italian American experience: Sacco & Vanzetti. Executed after a controversial trial in a biased criminal justice system amidst a wave of anti-Italian, anti-immigrant sentiment in the early 20th century. Their story resonates now more than ever.

    A century ago our Italian-American ancestors were also targets of white supremacy. While Sacco & Vanzetti were conferred with many of the privileges of whiteness—like all our immigrant ancestors, they were still routinely the target of bias & discrimination for a number of reasons: their Catholic faith, their dark complexions and the widespread nativist belief that immigrants from all around the world were stealing jobs. Sound familiar?

    At the time, Catholic charities and churches were vandalized and burned and Italians were attacked by lynch mobs. In New Orleans in 1891, 11 Italians were killed in one of the largest documented mass lynchings in U.S. history.

    It was in response to anti-Italian incidents like those surrounding the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, that Italian Americans adopted Columbus as their symbol. After 100 years, why don’t we cut out the middleman & commemorate Sacco & Vanzetti directly in our beloved North End park?

    By commemorating Sacco & Vanzetti, we’d be giving Italian-Americans in the US & right here in the North End a touchpoint to reflect on how bias & discrimination harmed our ancestors & continue to cause harm in the US today. Sacco & Vanzetti Day has been a holiday in the state of Massachusetts since 1977 and is Celebrated on August 23rd—right in the middle of the feast season. There’s even a mold for a statue ready to go in the archives of the Boston Public Library.

    As an Italian American living in the North End, I call on the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park, our neighborhood associations NEWRA & NEWNC, and the leaders of all the Italian American organizations in the North End to gather together to discuss how we can honor our Italian American ancestors in a better way. One that, instead of bringing us shame by association, places us in solidarity with those who are the targets of bias & discrimination today.

    Please sign this petition today to add your voice to this call: https://www.change.org/NorthEndColumbusConvo

  4. State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz statement:

    Vandalism to private or public property is a completely wrong way to go about making a case for change, and that holds true on the vandalism that took place overnight at Columbus Park.
    While Christopher Columbus has a complex history and symbolizes many different things to different people, there is a lot more to the history of the park then just the naming of it.
    That park was built in the late 1960s under Mayor Kevin White and designed by his Parks Director Tony Forgione. It was fought for by the North End people, who were at risk of watching their entire waterfront turn into development.
    The statue was placed later on as a celebration of Italian heritage and was paid for by the families that surround the base of the statue. Some of those families were original North End immigrant families and their memory to this community will not be removed.
    If the City wants to have a dialogue about the future of the statue and the park, I ask that the North End Community and the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park are the ones that lead the process on how to move forward.
    I ask that the celebration of Italian Heritage, which built this community to its strength of today, be the focus of any discussion.

  5. We have to teach our children history- good, bad and the ugly, learn from it and do better. Removing statues and re-naming streets, parks, military bases does not make history “pretty”. 41 of 56 of founding fathers owned slaves, so perhaps we should re-name Washington DC, remove the carvings of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from Mount Rushmore, disregard the constitution, cancel Independence Day? Will this change out nation’s history? Children should be taught to respect each other regardless of race, religion, sexual preference. Destroying historical monuments does not teach them that.

  6. Of course, none of us condone vandalism and destruction of public art. That goes without saying. All of us have a choice of what public art should be displayed, however, and the statue of Christopher Columbus is, upon reflection, a choice that really does not honor Italian heritage.
    Thank you, Lisa Green, for a wonderful explanation of why it dishonors Italian-Americans to lionize Christopher Columbus. As you note, he was a mere mercenary, not a hero, and he treated the indigenous people of the Americas with great cruelty. We have far better examples of great Italians and Italian-Americans to honor and we should work together to choose a person or a theme more suitable for honoring in our lovely Waterfront Park (maybe just keep the name at that, Waterfront Park).

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