A more than century-old statue of Christopher Columbus inside Central Park was discovered defaced on Tuesday morning, its hands stained with red paint and its pedestal scrawled with graffiti including the hashtag “#somethingscoming.”
A parks worker alerted the police to the defacement of the 1892 bronze, which stands north of the 65th Street transverse, at 7 a.m., according to the New York Police Department. On the pedestal, the words “Hate will not be tolerated” had also been written in white spray paint.
Depictions of Columbus have been swept into a national conversation about the public veneration of historical figures with controversial pasts. That debate erupted in violence last month when white supremacists protested the removal of a statue of the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee, from Charlottesville, Va., a riot that resulted in one woman’s death.
Following the removals of such statues nationwide in the aftermath, Mayor Bill de Blasio convened a commission to review of the city’s iconography for possible removal, including images of Columbus, whose 1492 voyage to the Caribbean, historians say, was at the grave cost of the indigenous people there. Mr. de Blasio has since said that the commission may decide that some images, perhaps including those of Columbus, be retrofitted with plaques that explain issues surrounding them rather than be taken down.
“The mayor thinks vandalism is wrong and never the right approach to these conversations or monuments,” Eric Phillips, the mayor’s chief spokesman, said in an email. “There’s an important place for public dialogue and that’s why the mayor’s put together a panel of experts to thoughtfully and efficiently organize that process. Vandalism isn’t the answer.”Continue reading the main story
The police said they were seeking any surveillance video that may exist, and that no arrests had been made in continuing investigation.
On Tuesday morning, a worker from the Central Park Conservancy’s conservation team stood atop a ladder, methodically rubbing a solvent-soaked rag on Columbus’s right hand, which was stained bright red, a bronze flag in its grasp. A worker had draped a drop cloth over the statue’s base to keep drops of red paint from staining it.
Robrecht Cornelis, 50, a cargo ship captain visiting from Belgium, looked on with his family as the workers cleaned the 15-foot-tall statue.
“It’s good people are reminded of the other side of the story,” Mr. Cornelis said of the vandalism. “People need the full history to pay attention.”
The Central Park statue is about half a mile north of the more famous depiction of Columbus that towers over Columbus Circle at 59th Street. It was commissioned by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 voyage across the Atlantic from Spain and sculpted by Jeronimo Sunol, a Spanish sculptor.
Last month, another statue in Central Park, that of Dr. J. Marion Sims, a pioneering gynecologist who experimented on slaves, was vandalized. Mr. Phillips, the mayor’s spokesman, said there were no plans to add additional protections to the statues. “Police on the beat will be keeping an eye out, but there’s no plan or need at this point for any sort of additional large-scale law-enforcement deployment surrounding these sites,” he wrote in an email. “New Yorkers are by and large respectful of public property and we don’t see that changing in any meaningful way.”
“We’ve known for a long time that bigotry, slavery and racism are evil, but you can’t whitewash history,” said Mark Hollander, 42, a real estate developer from Miami who had come to New York to avoid the hurricane in Florida. “Maybe Christopher Columbus wasn’t the most ethical person or kind person, but his accomplishments stand for themselves.”
Angelina and Dylan Peace, who were visiting from California on their honeymoon, stood at the base as workers scrubbed at the red hands. “A lot of people think he’s given this false heroism,” said Ms. Peace, 25, an event planner. “We’re taught that he’s a founder.”
Her husband agreed. “It’s only when we are introduced to other cultures that we get the other side of the story,” said Mr. Peace. “Then we learn he’s not the person they say he was.”
An article on Wednesday about a resolution passed unanimously by Congress urging the president to denounce hate groups misidentified the location of a statue of the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee, that was at the center of controversy in Charlottesville, Va., last month, when violence erupted as white supremacists protested its removal. The error also appeared in the New York pages on Wednesday in an article about a statue of Christopher Columbus in Central Park that was vandalized. As previous corrections in this space have noted, the statue is in the City of Charlottesville, not on the University of Virginia campus there.