It’s time for Christopher Columbus to make one more voyage:
Out of Bradley Park.
The final destination? Somewhere out of sight.
Let’s hope the third time’s the charm to get rid of this disgraced eyesore.
What’s that? You didn’t know that the statue had been at risk twice before?
That’s because we’re not talking about a beloved or important piece of Peoria. We’re talking about a forgettable footnote that needs to hit the road — for good, finally.
During World War II, it was almost claimed during a scrap-metal drive. In 1983, vandals tried to saw off a leg.
Too bad it survived both times. Now, the Peoria Park District has to deal with the lingering blight.
Before making a decision, the park board will hold a public forum Wednesday regarding the fate of the statue. There are multiple possibilities, ranging from letting it be to selling it off.
Look, I realize that many of us were taught all sorts of happy things about Columbus, who especially has been venerated by Italian-Americans. But not this one.
To be honest, even as a kid I didn’t understand our fascination with Columbus. It’s not as if he ever set foot on what would become America.
To be sure, his voyages prompted further exploration and the settling of the New Word. Was that a good thing? Native Americans would disagree, as would indigenous peoples he wiped out in the West Indies via mistreatment, subjugation, enslavement and disease.
His basic backstory isn’t a matter of belief. That’s just how he rolled. Bad guy. Period.
In the Peoria statue, he is holding a compass in one hand and an orb in the other. From today’s keener lens of history, he might as well be holding a knife and a skull.
In advance of the park board’s forum, there’s already been predictable blowback. After a Journal Star story last week, social-media warriors attacked, especially lamenting the potential loss of "history."
"If you erase history," one commentator posted, "what will keep people from making the same mistake?"
Making the same mistake? As far as Columbus’ mistakes, it’s probably fair to guess that the statue’s removal wouldn’t lead the way to any future Peorian sailing across the sea and launching a campaign of genocide.
More importantly, no one is erasing history. The statue should go away, but history is going nowhere.
How many times have you learned much history from a statue? Lifelong, maybe a fact or two? You don’t get even that from the Columbus statue. There is no history provided, not even on a nearby plaque.
Further, there’s nothing important regarding the statue’s history in Peoria. It debuted in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. In 1902, it arrived in the new Uplands subdivision as a gift of the developers, then moved to Bradley Park in 1947.
But over the years, it has been vandalized repeatedly, sometimes with graffiti, sometimes with bullets. To be sure, all those attacks were not at the hands of civil protesters. Still, this statute is clearly no beloved civic artwork or community touchpoint.
So what are we left with? Statues are intended to honor an individual and inspire the viewer. Change can be hard, but the change in retrospect is clear. There are no valid grounds to look up to Columbus.
Of the options for the statue, it could be left standing but with the addition of "interpretive signage." But would that add any value or legitimacy? What would we do, hang a sign around his neck saying, "This guy was a real S.O.B."?
That’d be accurate, but pointless. If you want a true history of Columbus, go online or pick up a book.
And let’s not get into a drawn-out debate about picking and funding a replacement. Making public statues of people is always dicey, as no one is perfect. If Peoria were to try to come up with a perfect replacement, it will fail.
Sell the statue for scrap and give the money to a food pantry. Then remove the concrete patio around the statue and plant flowers.
It’s a park. It makes sense to plant flowers.
It does not make sense to continue to honor a cruel tyrant. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
The park board will make a decision in September. Let’s hope that’ll leave enough time to remove the statue by Columbus Day.
Then let’s get rid of that too.
PHIL LUCIANO is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.
via Journal Star
August 4, 2020 at 08:08PM