Christopher Columbus has been through a lot since he came to Pittston in 1927. He’s been beheaded, thrown in a trash heap, attacked with a sledge hammer and knocked over by a car. But his friends in Pittston’s Italian-American community and city hall came to his rescue each time.
Pittston’s first Christopher Columbus statue — a different statue than the one that has greeted motorists on South Main Street for the past 50 years — was commissioned by Pittston’s Italian-American societies and sculpted in Italy with the names of the men who raised the money etched on the back — Salvatore Bufalino, Vito Bianco, Michael Loquasto, Joesph Guarniere, Rafael Antonello and Attilio Zamponi. When the statue arrived in Pittston in parts, contractor A.N. Russo put it together and erected it in 1926 in Broad Street Park, 12 years before city hall was built on the site. It was unveiled in May 1927 following a parade of the Italian-American societies and bands. There was a banquet in the evening, appropriately at the Columbus Hotel on South Main Street.
The first Columbus Day parade and celebration at the statue was that October. The tradition continued until 1938, when the city broke ground on a new city hall on the park site. The statue was moved and lost track of until it was found, headless, thrown on its side in the street department yard. The head was found later and in 1940, the city restored the statue and moved it to the front yard of the Roosevelt School at the forks of the road adjacent to where Jack Williams Tire & Auto is located today.
After the move, the Columbus Day parade tradition was broken, replaced by a simple procession from St. Rocco’s Church and a wreath laying.
After World War II, the Columbus Day celebration was taken over by the Luzerne County Columbus League. In 1947, the league’s celebration included a radio program.
In 1948, the Pittston Knights of Columbus Council revived the parade in conjunction with the Knights’ Golden Jubilee. School bands and the service organization marched in the parade.
The 1955 celebration was the biggest in the history of Pittston’s Columbus Day observances. The color guards of the Pittston, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Hazleton, Carbondale and Williamsport Knights councils and seven Italian-American societies led the march from New and North Main streets to the statue at Roosevelt School. Also in the parade line-up were bands and automobiles carrying clergy from every Catholic church in Greater Pittston. William Medico was grand marshal.
By 1968, the Roosevelt School, which would be demolished in 1975, was abandoned and the Knights decided to commission a new statue, rather than move the old one. Carved in Massa Carrara Italy of Italian white marble, the new Columbus statue cost $5,000. It was placed at the Columbus Avenue and South Main Street Circle, where it stands today and was dedicated on Columbus Day in 1969 at a ceremony following a parade featuring all three local high school bands. Joe Infantino was the program chairman and Leonard Valenti, the parade marshal. The evening banquet at the Mayflower featured entertainer Patrick Henry (Scarnato), a comedian who opened for Frank Sinatra for 25 years and appeared on the Tonight Show, Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and Hollywood Squares.
In 2000, the same night the Firefighters Memorial in Pittston was vandalized, the Columbus statue was hit with a sledge hammer in an unsuccessful attempt to knock the head off. In 2016, the statue was hit by a car. Columbus landed on the car and sustain heavy damage. The city repaired the statue in both cases.
Sunday, Oct. 13, is the 50th anniversary of the placement of the “new” Columbus statue. Just like old times, the anniversary celebration will feature a parade, program at the statue and dinner.
The parade will set off at Main and William streets at 2 p.m. with a rededication ceremony to follow at the circle. The Columbus Statue Committee is prepping the statue site with lighting, flags and a commemorative 50th anniversary plaque.
The finale is a celebration dinner and program at St. Barbara’s Hall in Exeter on Sunday evening.
In a press release, the committee wrote: “As much as the statue celebrates the journey of Columbus’ trek to America, it also celebrates the migration of hard-working Italians to America, moreover Pittston, Pennsylvania.”