A Controversial Obelisk on Harford Road
The Columbus Monument is a forty-four foot tall brick and cement obelisk standing in a small park at Harford Road and Walther Boulevard. The monument to Christopher Columbus was erected by French consul, Charles Francis Adrian le Paulmier Chevalier d'Anmour, in 1792, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival to the Americas.
After discovering that the newly created United States had no monuments dedicated to Columbus, the Chevalier decided to erect a monument to commemorate the Italian explorer and colonizer. The base of the monument was incised with the words “Sacred to the memory of Chris. Columbus, Octob. XII, MDCCVIIIC.” The work was unveiled on August 3, 1792, to honor the date the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria set sail from Palos, Spain then more formally dedicated two months later on October 12th. It remained the only monument dedicated to Columbus in America for another sixty years.
225 years later, in the middle of the night in late August 2017, a small group of unnamed protestors smashed a sledgehammer into the base of the obelisk breaking the incised stone panels. The event was recorded and shared on YouTube on August 21, 2017. Coming less than a week after protestors poured paint over the Key Monument on Eutaw Place, the video explained that “tearing down monuments” is linked to “tearing down systems” that maintain white supremacy.
Historians, activists, and indigenous people in North and South America have long rejected efforts to honor Columbus as a national hero. As early as 1977, participants in a UN-sponsored conference on discrimination against indigenous peoples in the Americas discussed replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. A statue of Christopher Columbus statue outside Union Station in Washington, DC splashed with red paint in an act of protest back in 1991.
In Baltimore, the controversy was perhaps more unexpected. Perhaps because the monument was located on private property—Villa Belmont, located at the present-day intersection of Harford Road and North Avenue—it was half-forgotten more than once. In the 1880s, a local historian felt compelled to debunk a popular rumor that the obelisk memorialized a horse named “Columbus” instead of the man. When the monument was relocated to Harford Road in 1963 it was replaced by an expanded Sears Roebuck Company parking lot.
Soon after the monument moved to northeast Baltimore, the city’s Columbus Day Parade (an annual tradition since the erection of the 1892 Columbus Monument in Druid Hill Park) followed. But the parade moved again in 1977 first to East Baltimore and then to the Inner Harbor after a third monument to Christopher Columbus was erected on Eastern Avenue near Little Italy in 1984. Even if the parade has moved on, however, the complicated legacy of the monument and the commemoration of Christopher Columbus remains.