On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in June 1912, the national Columbus Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated in a ceremony whose scale has rarely been matched except for the quadrennial presidential inaugural events.
President William Howard Taft was the principal speaker, and he was accompanied many of his cabinet secretaries, several Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Edward Douglass White, many members of Congress, and New York Supreme Court justice Victor Dowling. Secretary of State Knox presided over the unveiling of the statute.
An estimated 150,000 people gathered in Washington from all over the country for the event, which included a parade from the White House to the Memorial. It is situated in front of Union Station, which had opened just five years earlier, in 1907, the year in which Congress voted to approve the Columbus Memorial.
The annual Columbus Day ceremonies held at the site in modern times include the tradition of presenting commemorative wreaths which was begun at the 1912 event. And the U.S. Marine Corps Band is still often chosen to play during the ceremonies, just as it was 100 years ago.
The design and construction of the Memorial was supervised by a commission initially chaired by Taft, who was Secretary of War at the time. Proposals for the design were solicited from artists in the U.S., Italy and Spain, and twenty sculptors submitted proposals. The winner was Lorado Taft, a sculptor from Chicago who had written The History of American Sculpture, a text that was a standard reference book well into the 1960s.
This NCCA website includes a number of pages describing the statue and fountain, the address of President Taft, the festivities that accompanied the dedication, and the dedication ceremony itself – as well as the history of the NCCA and many of the milestone celebrations of Christopher Columbus in our nation’s capital.