February 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 2
But if devout dissent is what can be expected from associations given to the vindication of famous men who have long been considered cads, it is nothing to the fuss aroused when a veritable folk hero like Christopher Columbus is thought to have suddenly had his reputation dimmed. In our October issue we were proud to share with the Yale University Press the announcement of the finding of the now widely known Vinland Map of 1440, which furnishes indisputable evidence that the Norse discovery of America at the turn of the tenth and eleventh centuries was not (despite long belief to the contrary) unknown to pre-Columbian scholars. Public reaction to the announcement was quick and surprising. Every newspaper carried the story, many to the accompaniment of amusing cartoons (see opposite); but what astonished us was the roar of outrage that went up from partisans of Columbus all over the country, and particularly from many Italian-Americans. Now, this fascinating map, though it indirectly adds substance to the reputation of Leif Ericsson, certainly takes little from that of Columbus, whose rediscovery of America was an independent triumph and the beginning of the permanent development of the New World.
Yet all over the country, Italian-Americans hit the ceiling, shedding a tutti-frutti of charges against map, Yale, and the Norsemen themselves. On a wall in the Italian section of Boston someone scrawled, “Leif Ericsson is a fink.” Across the river in Cambridge a city councillor named Alfred E. Vellucci cried that Yale was making an attempt “to disgrace the Italian race of America,” and demanded that Harvard suspend all athletic contests with Yale until that institution apologized.
Down in New York, girding itself for the vast annual Columbus Day parade, the Vinland Map put a Yale man on the spot. Mayor (but then Candidate) John V. Lindsay, facing an Italian audience, shrugged off Alma Mater and declared, “Saying that Columbus did not discover America is as silly as saying that DiMaggio doesn’t know anything about baseball, or that Toscanini and Caruso were not great musicians.” Lindsay’s host at the rally, John Napoleon La Corte, general director of the Italian Historical Society of America, could not contain himself. He would not send his son to Yale, he announced. “Many good American families will not send their children to Yale,” he added. Having thus dashed the university’s hopes, Mr. La Corte said that he would enlist the help of “the Vatican, world historians, and the National Geographic Society” in proving that its new map meant nothing. “We’re going to put Yale University against the wall,” he said.
In Chicago, where putting people against the wall is more or less traditional, the chairman of the local Columbus Day parade, a lawyer named Victor Arrigo, called the map “a Communist plot.” Referring no doubt to The Tartar Relation , one of the manuscripts accompanying the map, he added that “You can almost see the Russian influence in the title.” How could Mr. Arrigo know that the Relation was written some six centuries before the birth of Karl Marx? How could Mr. La Corte know that the National Geographic Society sponsored the dig that recently found the archaeological evidence of Norse settlement in Newfoundland?
Well, one group concerned with the discovery of America remained magnificently calm, their claim to priority completely beyond contest. “You will forgive me for saying,” observed Mr. Richard Halfmoon, a chief of the Nez Perce Indians, “that this controversy does not interest me or my people.”