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.
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.