In 1492: 25 facts about Christopher Columbus and his disputed holiday

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 8:02 p.m. MDT

For schoolchildren, Columbus Day likely means revisiting the old rhyme, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," and discussing the role the explorer played in the discovery of the New World.

Beyond the grade-school classroom, however, Columbus Day is a holiday despised by some, celebrated by others and a hot topic of debate for many.

Was Columbus a bad person? Was he responsible for the decimation of the natives in the lands he discovered, both through disease and warfare? Did he discover America? Is his place in history that of a man of myth or a man of legend?

Here's a look at the famed navigator, the voyage to the New World, the history of today's holiday and other interesting facts that have helped drive the conversations and controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus.
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Chandler, AZ

From the article: "Columbus did not believe the world was flat; rather he believed its circumference was much smaller than it actually is..."

The misconception you're trying to correct is that everyone else thought the world was flat, not that Columbus thought it was flat.

Mike Johnson
Stafford, VA

It also helped that Marco Polo's map, that Columbus had, had Asia extending 4000 miles further to the east than it does. The combination of believing a smaller earth and the Polo map led Columbus to believe that Asia was only 2500 miles to the west, instead of 12,500 miles.

Cedar Hills, UT

It's a good thing we have citations of reputable websites to confirm that Washington, District of Columbia, was named after George Washington and Christopher Columbus. I don't think any of us would likely have believed that connection without the backup sources.

one old man
Ogden, UT

But the Norse beat Columbus to America by a mile. The first known European child born in North America (in Newfoundland at a place now called LaAinse La Meadows) was a little boy named Snorri Thorfinnsson. He was born between 1004 and 1013 (uncertain) and died about 1090.

Here is a clip from Wikipedia:

There is speculation about the birthdate of Snorri Thorfinnsson. Birth years such as 1005, 1009, and 1012 have been postulated, but all agree that he was born between 1005 and 1013. According to the Vinland sagas, when Snorri was 3 years old, his family left Vinland because of hostilities with indigenous peoples (called Skrælings by the settlers, which is the Old Norse equivalent of the English term "barbarians"). The family returned to the Glaumbær farm in Seyluhreppur.

Snorri Thorfinnsson had two children; a daughter named Hallfrid, and a son named Thorgeir.

Salt Lake City, Utah

@ JP: Actually, very few educated people thought the world was flat by 1942 - the ancient Greeks proved the world was round 2000 years before Columbus was born.

Bountiful, UT

What? The earth is not flat? Whoda guessed?

Howard Beal
Provo, UT

The fact that Columbus' model for the size of the Earth being off was significant. It was one of the reasons the Portuguese were disinterested in his plan because they still preferred going around Africa, which was based on a more accurate model. However, Columbus' "discovery" put Spain in a much better position, but this would come later after Columbus' death when Cortez conquered the Aztec making the Spanish rich.

Lindon, UT

So what if some Scandinavians discovered America long before Columbus? What did they do to advance planetary exploration, mapping, circumnavigation, colonization, trade, etc.? Why didn't Columbus know about their discoveries?

What difference does it make if I discover a new plant, animal, or land mass, and never share my knowledge with the world? If someone finds it later and makes it known to the world, should I get credit?

American Fork, UT

Mr. Plate...I think it's worth recognising that the Vikings where here prior to columbus, whether he knew of it or not. The achievements of columbus notwithstanding, it is truly amazing to appreciate the achievement of the vikings to cross the north atlantic and settle what is now the northern peninsula of Newfoundland in the early middle ages. They did make a difference in their day, which was prior to the printing press and renaissance. It is true, however, that no one has a Viking day mattress sale, so that's one for Columbus.

Cedar Hills, UT

@Kalindra - that's exactly JP's point. The misconception is not that Columbus thought the world was flat. It makes no sense for the article's author to even suggest it. Nobody thinks Columbus believed that. The misconception that needs correcting is that everyone else in Columbus' day thought the world was flat.

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