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Columbus Day seen by some as significant, by others as 'a mistake'

October 05, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — On Monday, Federal Employees will be off work and other U.S. citizens will have the day free as well, all because of an accident.

“When I was in school, Columbus Day was a day off,” Hagerstown resident Emily Ricketts, 23, said. “Schools should give a little more history on the holiday. It established the country, even though he landed in the Bahamas.”

Columbus Day, which is Monday, does indeed commemorate when Christopher Columbus landed in the New World, at San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. He landed there on Oct. 12, 1492, ending a voyage that began nearly 10 weeks prior to that in Palos, Spain, according to information from the Federal Government’s website.

However, Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas was not planned, as he was actually looking to find a western route to countries in Asia.

“He didn’t even get it right, so I don’t think we should celebrate a mistake,” Hagerstown resident Jessamy Mandell, 21, said. “I really don’t see the point in celebrating it.”

Hagerstown resident Jammie Shanholtz, 40, said that he always knew it was a holiday but never wondered or cared why. He did add, however, that it should still be celebrated.

“I think it’s a significant part of history,” he said. “Holidays are good for the people. They get you away from work a little bit, and you can spend time with the family.”

Shanholtz said that he is not off work for it, though.

Columbus Day first became a national holiday in 1934, designated by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and celebrated on Oct. 12, according to the American Memory section of the Library of Congress’s website. The first recorded celebration of the holiday in the United States took place on Oct. 12, 1792 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. Exactly 100 years later U.S. President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation recommending that all U.S. citizens observe the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. In 1907 and 1909, Colorado and New York, respectively, declared it a holiday.

Since 1971, it has been celebrated on the second Monday in October.

Hagerstown resident Aaron Hennessy, 35, said that he thinks the holiday has become less popular in recent years.

“When I was in school we got the day off, but over the years it’s become an irrelevant holiday,” he said. “People don’t think much of it.”

Hennessy added that he thinks some of the reason for the holiday becoming less popular is political.

“People are realizing that when he came here he didn’t do such nice things,” he said. “It’s just celebrating the bad treatment he inflicted on the natives.”

The natives of the island were the Taino people, and according to documents from the Library of Congress’s website, Columbus sent a letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in Latin claiming to have “taken possession” of the locals by April in 1493 with the “royal standard unfurled.”

Despite the controversy on how Columbus treated the people in the New World, Tony King, 63, of Hagerstown said that it is still important to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s part of history, and you can’t re-write or change it,” he said. “It’s part of our heritage that we’re celebrating. This is the discovery of America.”

After his first voyage, Columbus made three more voyages to the New World, with his final voyage occurring in 1502. Other places he landed included Hispaniola (which eventually became Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Trinidad, the Canary Islands, Jamaica and Cuba.

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