Baltimore's 200-year-old monument to Christopher Columbus the first of its kind in North America, is about to regain its status. Shoved into obscurity by the excitement over a new Columbus statue in Little Italy in 1984, the monument had been ignored in plans for this year's celebration of the 500th anniversary of the 1492 voyage of discovery.
But no longer, says former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro 3rd, general chairman of the Mayor's Columbus Day Parade. The obelisk, first erected in 1792 in the gardens of a then-Baltimore County estate, will regain the respect it once enjoyed, he vows.
Ann Hartman, executive director of the Governor's Commission for Maryland 1992, says she was unaware of the monument, and it is not included in commission plans.
"That's because they have the wrong people on the commission," chides Samuel A. Culotta, a lawyer who is past president of the Sons of Italy.
For many years, the monument was thought to have been built in honor of a horse. The error was repeated by J. Thomas Scharf in his 1881 history of the city and Baltimore County.
Baltimore has three Columbus monuments. In addition to the 1792 and 1984 monuments is the statue put up in 1892 and overlooking Druid Lake. Of the three the obelisk is the oldest. It was erected by a Frenchman, the Chevalier d'Anemours or d'Anmour, at Belmont, his estate near Harford Road and North Avenue.
The Chevalier was France's first post-Revolutionary representative in Baltimore. On Aug. 3, 1792, he unveiled the 44-foot obelisk, brick covered with stucco. It was dedicated on Oct. 12.
The monument remained out of the public eye for decades and, except for occasional sightings, was just about forgotten.
In 1887, Belmont became the Samuel B. Ready School. It moved to West Baltimore in 1938 to make way for Sears Roebuck's huge store, which is now the Eastside District Court.The obelisk, considered too fragile to be moved, was left behind on what became a Sears parking lot.
In 1963, however, the city moved it to its present location in a grove of maples, pines and arbor vitae on Harford Road at Parkside Drive. It was the focus of traditional Columbus Day ceremonies until 1977.
The old monument drifted farther from public consciousness after October 1984, when President Ronald Reagan dedicated a new statue of the Great Explorer in a plaza at the edge of Little Italy.
Now the obelisk has bobbed up again, during the 500th anniversary of Columbus' achievements, say Mr. D'Alesandro and Mr. Culotta. And very appropriately, they add.
After all, they say, the monument was North America's first recognition of Columbus' voyage, and another two centuries have elapsed since then.