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From the Publisher's Desk – Columbus sailed the ocean blue (Oct. 14, 2015 issue)

Three cruise ships are ready to leave port with limited navigation abilities, going to unknown territory. Would you like to go? Oh, I forgot to mention, there is a chance they will go too far and fall off the edge of the Earth. If interested, please contact Christopher at 1-800-NEW-WRLD.
I hope those of you who had Columbus Day enjoyed it. I was not one of them. While I enjoy any holiday as much as the next person, I just don’t understand why we celebrate Columbus Day or President’s Day. How about a Governor’s Day or Wright Brothers’ Day?
The truth is that Columbus first landed near the coast of what is today known as Watling Island in the Bahamas. Although he thought he was near China, Japan, and India, he was actually more than 8,000 miles away.
When Columbus landed in the New World, he believed that he had reached the Indies; thus, he thought, the people he met were Indians.
History reports that good ole’ Chris had pale skin that burned easily in the sun (oops, no sunscreen). He had a hooked nose, pale blue eyes, and reddish/blond hair that turned completely white by the time he was in his 30s.
Columbus was very religious and believed God had called him to make his voyages. When he saw the Orinoco River empty into the Atlantic off of northern South America, during his third voyage, he thought he had found the Garden of Eden.
Later in his life, he began to write a bizarre book titled “Book of Prophecies.” In this book, he insisted that all his voyages had been divine missions directed by God. Before he died, Columbus began requesting a new sort of voyage: a Christian crusade to Jerusalem to rescue it from the Muslims. He believed the world was coming to an end and that he, Columbus, was bringing it about.
Columbus was not the first European to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Some 500 years earlier, Norse Viking Leif Eriksson is believed to have landed in present-day Newfoundland, around A.D. 1000. Some historians believe that Ireland’s Saint Bernard or other Celtic people crossed the Atlantic even before Eriksson.
The crew of the first voyage consisted of 24 men for the Nina, 26 for the Pinta, and 40 for the Santa Maria. Most were common sailors, and no women were allowed. There was also a secretary and an interpreter who spoke Arabic so that they could communicate with Ghengis Kahn and his people when they reached the East. There were also barrel makers, caulkers, and carpenters to fix the ships, as well as a surgeon.
During the voyage, every person, including Columbus, had lice. Fleas and rats were everywhere. There was no plumbing and the ships were filthy. The first voyage took about 43 days.
Columbus and his men destroyed the Haiti’s natural, delicate ecosystem when they landed there. His ships brought sugar cane, wheat, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, dates, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, and grapes. These new species grew and spread, overwhelming the native plants that had lived on the continent for hundreds of thousands of years.
He then began shipping African slaves to the island. This move has had consequences reaching into modern day. The Taino population was completely extinct within 50 years of the Europeans’ first landfall. This was due to murder and desperate suicides, as well as a declining birth rate. However, disease was the most devastating factor in their demise. Columbus and the Spaniards unleashed a deadly cargo of dysentery, tuberculosis, and influenza. Settlers wrote home about the unbearable stench of rotting bodies that filled the air.
Not all of Columbus’ voyages were successful; in fact, half of them ended in disaster. On his first voyage in 1492, his fully outfitted flagship ran aground and sank. Columbus returned to Spain aboard the Nina, but he had to leave nearly 40 crew members behind to start the first European settlement in the Americas—La Navidad. When Columbus returned to the settlement in the fall of 1493, none of the crew were found alive. On his fourth trip, his ship rotted away and he spent a year with his men marooned on Jamaica.
On May 20, 1506, at the age of 55, Columbus died at the court in Valladolid, Spain. Until the day he died, Columbus did not believe he found a new world. He died believing he had found a new passage to India. To justify his position, he proposed that the Earth was actually shaped like a pear, which made him the laughingstock of Europe.
Though Columbus Day had been celebrated unofficially since Colonial days, it became an official holiday first in Colorado in 1906 and a federal holiday in 1937. In 1970, the holiday was moved to the second Monday of October.
I guess all chances of taking it off the calendar are gone. Obviously, that ship has sailed.