A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



OK, here's what we know: in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

What we don't know is this: was the man a hero or a scoundrel?

When I was growing up, Christopher Columbus was right up there with Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Willie Mays among the all-time greats. He was strong and courageous, faithful and true; a scholar, a statesman, a pioneer and, probably, a swell dancer.

In other words, First Class Hero. Larger-than-life.

But times -- and heroes -- have changed. Contemporary historians insist that Lincoln was moody, Washington was a philanderer and Willie Mays once promised a critically ill child that he'd hit a home run for him -- and then he struck out.

As for Columbus . . . well, is there a creepy, cruel thing that he hasn't been accused of? During the past decade alone, we've heard enough bad stuff about Captain Chris to make the good folks of Columbus, Ohio, seriously consider a name change to something more respectable. You know, like Hitlerville. Or maybe even (shudder!) Ann Arbor. Anything but Columbus.

In other words, First Class Jerk. Smaller-than-life.

Which sort of leaves us in a bind come Columbus Day. I mean, who wants to celebrate the life of a man whose life may have been so uncelebratory?

On the other hand, what if historians are wrong (hey, it could happen) and Columbus really is a hero? Do we want to dump an entire holiday just because a bunch of Ph.D.s don't like the view from 500 years away? What about Columbus Day parades and school programs? What, for Pete's sake, about Columbus Day furniture sales?

Thankfully, I have a solution (you knew this was coming, didn't you?). From now on, we don't celebrate the man on Columbus Day; we celebrate the notion. Think about it: what other day do we have to pay tribute to the bold, adventurous, pioneering spirit that led to America's emergence among the nation's of the world? And what better day than Columbus Day to honor the brave men and women throughout our history who dared to open exciting new doors by going places no one has ever gone and doing things no one has ever done before?

Sure, we could still call it Columbus Day. But it would also be Lewis and Clark Day. And Henry Ford Day. And Thomas Edison Day. And Susan B. Anthony Day. It could be Jackie Robinson Day. And Charles Lindburgh Day. And Neil Armstrong Day. And Chris Cooper Day.

What? You never heard of Chris? According to my crack research staff (which consists of a bored 10-year-old with an almanac and a bag of Doritos), Chris Cooper was the first person to wrap a bungee cord around his ankles and jump off a bridge. Some think of him as visionary, while others think of him as whacko. Regardless, you've got to admit that what Chris did was bold. Daring. Adventurous. And kind of exciting.

Which is not to say that I want my children to grow up to be just like Chris Cooper any more than I want them to grow up to be just like Christopher Columbus. But I find in both Chrises admirable traits and characteristics that are worthy of emulation: the faith to dream, the tenacity to plan and the courage to see the plan through to the end of the dream. And that's what I'm celebrating this Columbus Day: the notion, not the man. Because the notion was heroic.

Even if the man wasn't.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and