Today, the Columbian Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the unveiling of the Columbus Monument during a large celebration 124 years ago on the 400th anniversary.
First, the King’s Handbook of New York by Moses King, published in 1893, provided information about the monument and a portion of its inscriptions:
The Christopher Columbus Monument stands on the Circle, where Eighth Avenue, Broadway, the Boulevard and West 59th Street meet, at the southwestern corner of Central Park. It is a tall column, ornamented with bronze reliefs, anchors, and ships’ prows, and crowned with a statue of the great discoverer. One inscription attributes its erection: “By the initiative of Il Progresso Italo-Americano, the first Italian daily newspaper in the United States, Cav. Carlo Barsotti, editor and proprietor.”
Another inscription reads thus: “To Christopher Columbus, the Italians resident in America,
“Scoffed at before, during the voyage menaced, after it chained, as generous as oppressed, to the world he gave a world.
“Joy and glory never uttered a more thrilling call than that which resounded from the conquered ocean, at sight of the first American island. ‘Land! Land!’
“On the 12th of October, 1892, the fourth centenary of the discovery of America, an imperishable remembrance.”
Similarly, The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, edited by Herbert Baxter Adams and published monthly in 1892, provided details of the monument’s artistry, size and cost:
1892. New York. Italian Monument. The most important memorial to Columbus yet raised in the United States is the one which was presented to the City of New York by the Italians of the New World, and unveiled with appropriate ceremonies, on October 12, 1892, in the southwest corner of Central Park.
The monument was the work of Professor Gaetano Russo, of Rome, whose competitive design was selected by a committee of fifteen, appointed by the Italian government.
From the square base, of Boveno granite, on which are bronze bas-reliefs representing the first sight of land and the actual landing, a circular column of granite, rises to the height of sixty-one feet.
This, in turn, is surmounted by a statue of Columbus, in Carrara marble, fourteen feet high, making a total height of seventy-five feet.
Towards the base of the granite column, on opposite sides, are two groups, the one in marble representing the Genius of Geography, the other a bronze eagle holding in its claws the shields of the United States and Genoa.
Six rostra, also of bronze, project from opposite sides of the column.
The cost of the memorial was $35,000. The money was collected from Italians resident in North America, with liberal aid also from the Italian government.
The subscription was begun and carried through by Chevalier Barsotti, the proprietor of the Italian paper published in New York, Progresso Italo-Americano.
It was brought to this country in an official transport of the Italian government, which also displayed its interest in the monument by ordering several men-of-war here for the dedication ceremonies.
As for the celebration, it was huge.
The Newburgh Daily Journal of October 12, 1892 provided a description of the day’s festivities in New York:
Celebration in New York
A Brilliant Success
Splendid Military Parade
Vast Crowds of Spectators
Columbus Monument Unveiled
New York, Oct 12. —Notwithstanding the fact that today is a legal holiday in New York and business is practically suspended, the city was astir earlier than usual. The early morning was cloudy, and many predicted rain, but by 10 o’clock the sun was shining brightly and scarcely a cloud was to be seen in the sky.
At sunrise salutes were fired and flags hoisted over the buildings where the visiting military is quartered. As early as 7 o’clock lower Broadway was crowded with a host of uniformed men, soldiers, sailors, firemen, G.A.R. veterans and civilians hurrying to the side streets where their various companies were already forming in line waiting for the word which should put in motion the grandest pageant that ever passed through the streets of an American city.
At 9 o’clock every foot of land along the long line of march from where even infrequent glimpses of the marching thousands could be had, held a human face.
A million people were packed and jammed together in one continuous mass, from the Battery up Broadway to 4th Street, then west around Washington Square, to 5th Avenue, to 14th Street, to 4th Avenue, to 17th Street, to 5th Avenue and to 59th Street, where the procession was eventually disbanded.
The sidewalks were impassable, every window, even up in the tenth and twelfth story windows of towering buildings, was crowded by those who could afford to pay the fabulous prices demanded by the owners.
Thousands at extortionate rates obtained seats on stands, varying in size from the tiers upon tiers of seats erected by the city on the public squares to a pile of dry goods boxes on a dray wagon drawn up at a corner.
Two dollars was cheerfully pad for a small box on the curbstone.
The more agile spectators fought for points of vantage on lamp posts and telegraph poles, and a string of humanity on every fire escape led to a crowd on the housetops trying to get a glimpse of the passing show.
But the crowd was as good natured as it was cosmopolitan, and petty indifferences were passed off good-naturedly and one seemed to vie with another in making the best of cramped positions from which there was no escape after the people had once gotten into them.
At 10 o’clock Grand Marshal Gen. Martin T. McMahon, U. S. V. gave the command forward march, and the mounted platoon of the flower of New York City’s “finest” which formed the vanguard of the procession moved slowly up Broadway.
There was a blare of trumpets, the shrill notes of fifes and the roar of a thousand drums, as one after another, the gallant companies swung into the main line from the side streets, until 50,000 men were marshaled into an almost unbroken column, and the ground fairly trembled with the tramp of their many feet keeping time, with faultless step, to the music of band and drum corps.
Following the police, staff officers and aides, came the first division, 2000 sturdy troops of the United States regular army in three brigades, and a fine appearance they made, the monotony of the regulation dress being broken by the bright uniforms of the officers.
The second division was composed of the U. S. Naval Brigade, 380 men,
The National Guardsmen constituted the third division, with the first and second brigades, N. Y., acting as escort to those of other States.
The fourth division was made up of Grand Army Posts of this and other cities, numbering 6000 men.
In the fifth division the U. S. letter carriers were represented.
Sixth division, New York Fire Department. Seventh division, exempt volunteers and veteran firemen, in fifteen brigades. Eighth division, Italian military organizations. Ninth division, German American societies, and 10th division, independent organizations.
Everything tendered to make the Columbus military parade as grand a success as it was possible to be.
One could not dream of better weather, of brighter scenes of more numerous and joyous crowds, or of a more attractive and soldierly body of men than New York witnessed today.
But, New Yorkers were not alone in the enjoyment of the pageant. Fully 250,000 strangers it is estimated witnessed the parade, as well as probably an equal number of people from Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Westchester and other counties, and other surrounding points.
This afternoon the imposing ceremonies of the unveiling of the Columbus monument drew thousands to the park.
Vice President Morton, Governor Flower and staff, Mayor Grant, other city officials, Archbishop Corrigan, Italian Minister Baron Fava, Consuls, all the Italian societies and officers of the Italian cruiser Bauson were officially present.
The following made addresses: Carlo Barsotti, President of the Columbus Executive Committee, General Luigi Palma D’Cesnola, in behalf of the Italian residents of America, Di Liugi Reveral, in behalf of the Progresso Italo-Americano, His Excellency Baron Saverlo Fava, Italian Minister, in behalf of the Italian Government, His Honor Mayor Hugh J. Grant, His Excellency Roswell P. Flower, Governor of New York, and Chas. G. F. Wahle, Jr., Secretary of Committee of One Hundred.
Archbishop Corrigan blessed the monument, and it was unveiled by Annie Barsotti, daughter of the President of the Columbus Monument Executive Committee.
During the ceremonies the Italian bands played Italian and American hymns and the artillery fired the national salute.
The Columbian Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the Columbus Monument in New York, circa 1903.