As boy of 7 I learned in school (Glenside Elementary) that Columbus discovered America. “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; through storm and strife he found his way; to what is now the U S A.” I wrote that poem, based on what I learned in school, and it was published in a local newspaper “The Easton Road Guide.” My lifelong writing career was launched. Thanks, Mr. Columbus.
Apparently Columbus didn’t discover the USA at all. And a growing number of “get it right’ers” have working hard to do away with Columbus Day, his statues and everything else named for the man. People who, on their own, probably have trouble changing a light bulb or finding their way to the store discredit a great explorer.
Okay didn’t discover what is now the United States, I’ll give you that, but he did discover the Americas. Okay, so he was totally lost. He was seeking Asia (on Queen Isabella’s dime), but what he did was brave, daring and, yes, a little foolish. He actually ended up in the Bahamas and claimed them for Spain. No one in Europe even knew there was such a place.
Continuing on his voyage he left the Bahamas and landed on Cuba – which he though was mainland China. Lost? He was writing the book. He still found no Asians so he sailed south and explored Haiti and then the Dominican Republic – which he figured must be Japan. Still lost, still without a clue. There were no maps.
During that voyage south he lost one of his ships. When he got there he met with the native leaders, built a settlement with the salvaged lumber from the wrecked ship (called it Christmas Town) and left 39 of his men there. Pleased that he had found a short route to Asia he headed back to Spain to spread the news of his discoveries. He never did explain why the people he met with didn’t seem to be Japanese.
When returned to Christmas Town, a year later, he found that all his men had been killed by the natives. Unfazed, he kept on going, ending up in what is now Venezuela. When he had returned home from previous journeys he encouraged people to go there, to live in this wonderful paradise. When he later returned he found that the settlers he had encouraged found none of the riches he had promised and eventually mutinied against the governor that Columbus had appointed and chased him away.
His exploits in later trips didn’t sit well with the Spanish government and he was jailed for a while, lost his titles and wealth. He was eventually pardoned and tried two more trips still looking for the Indian Ocean, once again ending up stranded in Cuba. And, later, frustrated and broke, he returned to Spain where he died. So, technically, he didn’t discover the United States, but he discovered a lot of other places in the Americas.
What learning about Columbus did teach us, back in the day, was that he made and lost fortunes and titles, but what he did inspired other explorers, many of whom fared better and helped open up the new world to exploration. As a kid, stories of those explorers fascinated me, made me want to learn more. Nothing wrong with that.
Other things I believed as a kid – now shot down by do-gooders – is that George Washington probably didn’t chop down a cherry tree, nor did he ever toss a silver dollar across the Potomac. So what? They were stories that spoke to the character of a man who was exactly the right person to lead the colonists to form a new nation. He risked much, could have sat on the sidelines and enjoyed life as British plantation owner, but that was not in his DNA. Maybe he chopped down the cherry tree. Who really knows?
They tell is now that though John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln that it was not he the soldiers killed in Virginia after all. In fact they say he lived to a ripe old age under a new identity. Little matters now, does it? I like the story where they killed Booth right after he shot the President. They now also suggest that legendary outlaw Jesse James, likewise, lived to a ripe old age. That he wasn’t killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett after all. In fact he apparently lived on working carnivals and similar venues.
There are people that will tell you that Americans never walked on the Moon. They have written books, shot movies, all showing how the whole thing was cleverly done in a TV studio simply to ensure that American beat Russia in the Space Race. Public Relations? I get it, but I watched the moon landing on TV and was content to believe that it happened. I still do.
There exists a book that speculates that the world famous big band leader Major Glenn Miller did not die – and his body or plane wreckage was never recovered – in a crash over the English Channel near the end of WWII. The book states that Major Miller was on an espionage assignment in to Nazi occupied France, was caught and killed and the US disposed of the body, planted the plane crash story so that the German’s could not exploit his death. Interesting story; makes sense to me.
And, finally, did little green men crash their flying saucer near Roswell, New Mexico, in the late ’40s? Did the government really cover it up? I believe both. I am not so naïve to believe in this vast universe we are the only intelligent beings. It makes sense that there are others. Who knows, maybe spacemen came here, observed us and decided they wanted no part of this planet or the people in it. That I can believe too.