Rose Garden’s Columbus statue sets sail for Allentown Diocese
The Christopher Columbus memorial in Bethlehem’s Rose Garden is getting a new home. City council voted 6-1 June 15 to approve an agreement to lease the memorial to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown, which will place the monument at the Holy Savior Cemetery at 2575 Linden St. in Bethlehem.
The terms of the lease, according to a Bethlehem spokesperson, is $1 per year for a 20-year lease with an option to extend terms for an additional 20 years.
Councilperson Bryan Callahan voted against the move.
“I voted against the move because my Italian-American father-in-law would have rolled over in his grave,” said Callahan in an interview.
The move was recommended by a task force appointed by Mayor Robert Donchez to recommend “what to do with the monument,” according to Alex Karras, who spoke to council via an internet meeting platform on June 15.
“This has been an arduous process,” said Karras. “Some have called for the destruction of the monument, some have called for putting it in storage, others have called for just leaving it where it is.
“We had reached out to a number of places such as DeSales [University], Notre Dame Church, St. Francis Retreat and a number of other cemeteries and churches and nobody wanted to touch it.”
When asked why the Allentown Diocese accepted the memorial when other organizations had declined, Diocese spokesperson Paul Wirth sent the Press a statement:
“While the history of Columbus the man is being debated, the history of the Columbus monument in the Bethlehem Rose Garden is clear. It was presented to the citizens of the city by Italian Americans – many of whom belonged to parishes in Bethlehem – who are proud of their heritage and of their contributions to the community and the nation. The city requested that we provide an alternative location, and we agreed.”
Wirth said site preparation in the form of a suitable base will need to be made prior to the memorial being moved from the Bethlehem Rose Garden.
He said there are no plans at this time for a ceremony in connection with reinstalling the memorial.
Michelle Pelozoto, the former president of the Bethlehem Chapter of UNICO, was happy with the decision. She said the memorial will be safer on private property.
UNICO is a national Italian-American service organization.
The memorial was dedicated in 1992 to commemorate the “500th Anniversary of the discovery of America.”
It was presented to the City of Bethlehem by the Bethlehem Chapter of UNICO, which has now been deactivated, according to a UNICO member.
The inscription reads: “Admiral Christopher Columbus 1446 - 1506 presented to the citizens of Bethlehem to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.”
The issue with the Christopher Columbus memorial is that Columbus’ history has been reinterpreted by many from a traditional, Eurocentric view that he was a hero who discovered America, to one where he and his colonial administration held slaves and otherwise abused, mutilated and raped the indigenous peoples he came in contact with when and after he accidentally arrived in the Western Hemisphere on his way to the archipelagos off the east coast of India.
In a related matter, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed earlier this year by the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, Philadelphia Councilmember Mark F. Squilla, and the 1492 Society against Mayor James F. Kenney and the City of Philadelphia.
According to the Pennsylvania Record, the suit accuses the city and Kenney as having engaged in continued, unrelenting, and intentionally discriminatory acts against Italian-Americans as evidenced by Kenney’s Executive Order 2-21, which replaced Columbus Day as an official City holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day.
The suit has been filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.