The National Columbus Memorial
The national Columbus Memorial Fountain opposite the U.S. Capitol in front of Union Station was dedicated on June 8, 1912, with President Taft, Cabinet Members, the Chief Justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, congressmen, and many other dignitaries in attendance. The ceremonies and parade were described as the most impressive program in Washington since the Union Army’s victory parade after the War Between the States, and the largest crowd ever in the city. (The entire elaborate celebration covered a four-day weekend, more fully described on pages 8-14 of the 1997 program booklet, and on p.14 of our 1998 booklet.)
The received tradition is that there has been a celebration at the Memorial each year since the 1912 unveiling. Without a systematic archival search, it is known that Lido Club records refer to a celebration in 1934, and perhaps to others as well. A clipping from The Washington Times of October 12, 1937 reports on a parade at 7:30 p.m. from the K. of C. Hall at 10th and K Sts., Northwest to the Memorial for the wreath laying. “It is anticipated that there will be more than 3,000 in the procession…. There will be six bands in line….”
More recent records of the Knights of Columbus indicate that on Sunday, October 11, 1953, the councils of D.C. joined together “at wreath laying ceremonies at the Columbus Statue in Union Station Plaza. The next day a gala five council celebration was held at the classical Pan American Union Building.” The same source reports, for the following year, participation in “the customary wreath laying ceremonies at the statue of Christopher Columbus,” with the Metropolitan Police Department Band furnishing the music. For 1956 it describes “a full week of activities,” including a religious celebration on Sunday, October 7, followed by a parade to the monument wreath-laying ceremonies [with the Italian and Spanish ambassadors participating], and a Columbus Day luncheon at the University Club on October 12.
Columbus Day 1963 is especially remembered for the White House Rose Garden reception (after the ceremonies at the national Memorial) which included persons of Italian and Spanish descent, and Knights of Columbus. A later product of that would be the National Columbus Day Committee to promote making Columbus Day a federal holiday, a prime mover of which was Mariano A. Lucca (memorialized in the 1994 program booklet of WCCA). The first ceremonies at the statue sponsored by the Committee were in 1966, with Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island as principal speaker, and music by the Marine Band.