October 21: Connecticans Celebrate 400th Anniversary of Columbus’ Arrival

 

At a time when immigrants – many from Italy – were pouring into America in numbers that seriously alarmed the “old stock” descendants of the original Puritan settlers, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s even-then-disputed “discovery” of America proved an ideal time for Connecticans to assess the contributions of newcomers while expressing a common patriotism. So, on October 21st, 1892 (more about that date shortly), tens of thousands of Connecticans gathered – in schools, churches, town greens and city parades all across the state – to celebrate Columbus’s arrival in the Americas 400 years earlier with over-the-top expressions of ethnic inclusion and American patriotism.

In Hartford, a thousand children jammed into the Governor’s Foot Guard armory, while thousands more sought entrance, to sing patriotic songs while waving American flags, a sight and sound that thrilled “every heart in that immense crowd.”

Columbian Coin Bridgeport
Bridgeport produced a quasi-dollar commemorative coin of its October 21st, 1892 celebration of the Columbian quadricentennial.

A century bicycle race, a twelve mile foot race, harness racing, evening socials and fireworks also marked the occasion, and of course there was a mind-numbing profusion of oratory, some, no doubt, inspiring. Elaborate patriotic programs were held in schools throughout the state. Businesses closed so parades featuring Italian-American and other ethnic groups could march through bunting-lined streets in full ethnic regalia in most of the state’s cities. Bridgeport’s celebration was called “the greatest and best affair of its kind ever held” there. The town fathers even went so far as to produce a commemorative Quadricentennial coin marking the day.

In New Haven and Willimantic, statues of Columbus, paid for through the voluntary contributions of members of Italian fraternal organizations, were unveiled and dedicated with pomp and politicians. Even small towns joined in the celebration. In Rockville, the Methodist church ladies society celebrated the occasion with an afternoon Columbian tea. Ansonia, too, conducted a range of festivities, noting at their conclusion that “not an arrest was made for disturbance or drunkenness.”

So, why the October 21st celebration of Columbus Day instead of the traditional October 12? Striving for accuracy, officials planning the national celebration of the event had taken into account the post-Columbus era switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar system of date recording. That change required adding nine days to the calendar date of Columbus’s arrival to make sure it was celebrated on the true 400th anniversary of his achievement. Not every one agreed with the change – New York held its Columbus Day Parade on October 12th and the 5000 members of the Knights of Columbus marched in New Haven on that day – but for most Americans, old guard and newcomers, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America took place on October 21st. A date to remember – sort of.

Further Reading:

William Cockerham, “When Two Worlds Met,Hartford Courant

Grand Army of the Republic, Civil War Veterans Prepare for the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’s Arrival

Bernard Kavaler, “Goodbye Columbus? Indigenous Peoples Day Gains Another Connecticut School District,” Connecticut By the Numbers blog

Matt Dillane, “Columbus Statue Vandalized at New Haven,” WTNH-TV