By: Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA
The earliest Christopher Columbus Day event was held in 1892, as revealed by a review of The Plain Dealer archives. On the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 voyage, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation that the United States would mark the occasion as a holiday. Following this, cities across the country, including Cleveland, organized events and parades. Many scholars suggest that Harrison also used the anniversary celebration as a gesture to improve diplomatic relations with Italy and the Italian immigrants living in the U.S. after the horrific lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans in March 1891.
Not until the 1910s is there another mention in The Plain Dealer of a city-wide Columbus Day celebration in Cleveland. For a decade prior, however, Italian immigrants had observed Columbus Day on a smaller scale in their own neighborhoods. Echoes of the New Orleans lynching and the discrimination the Italian immigrants faced in their everyday lives inspired them to celebrate Columbus, who was one of their own countrymen. Expressing pride in Columbus allowed the Italian immigrants to publicly express pride in their culture, and served as a way to legitimize their presence in the U.S. to those who otherwise thought they did not belong in the country.
In 1910, Columbus Day was declared a legal holiday in the state of Ohio, primarily due to the efforts of Giuseppe Carabelli. Carabelli was a leader in Cleveland’s Italian immigrant community. He was the first Italian American to serve in the Ohio House of Representatives and was the proprietor of The Carabelli Co., a stone carving and sculpting firm located on Euclid Avenue, opposite Lake View Cemetery. On October 12, 1910, a grand celebration of Columbus Day was held in Cleveland, organized by a committee comprised of both Italian Americans and city leaders. The day was marked with a large parade on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland that ended with a grand banquet sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at the Hotel Hollenden.
The Columbus Day Parade continued to be held annually in downtown Cleveland until 2004 when the committee in charge decided to move it to Little Italy. After being cancelled last year due to the pandemic, the Columbus Day Parade will return to Cleveland’s Little Italy on October 11, 2021. The parade kicks off at Noon and will proceed down Murray Hill Road, turning onto Fairview Court, then onto E. 125th St. after which it will follow Mayfield Road west, and will end at Holy Rosary Church. It is sponsored by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.