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How did we get here? Part 2

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Last week, I promised we would be jumping ahead about 236 years, and indeed we are. Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 and was followed immediately by Leonardo da Vinci, born in 1452.

Look up any website suggesting the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and you will find phrases such as “was believed to have been born in Genoa, Italy.”

I have been to Genoa, Italy, which I promptly and derogatorily captioned “Cleveland on the Mediterranean.”

Today, it is an industrial city, and not a very pretty one at that. There are other theories which suggest Columbus may have been born in Spain, Poland or Portugal. Hence, he is truly an “international man of mystery.”

He has other names as well. Other names, even used by him in some cases, include Christoual, Christovam, Christofferus de Colombo and others. Apparently, there is also a theory that the anglicized “Christopher Columbus” was adopted from a pirate.

Today, Christopher Columbus, the person, has fallen into disfavor being accused of unleashing the Europeans on the Western Hemisphere. Of course, as any school-age student knows, he was not looking for a new world, but attempting to get to India by traveling west. Regarding that thought, we will see next week that he was keeping up with current events, for the idea of traveling west to go east (that is, the planet Earth being a sphere) was a new idea in his day.

Regardless, Christopher Columbus, or whatever his name was, bumped into specks of the western hemisphere (islands) around 1492. And quite literally, he did bump into these places, a phenomenon we will clear up when we get to the 1700s and discuss John Harrison.

Despite the mystery of his birth, we know Christopher Columbus died in 1506 in Valladolid, Spain, where, in 1550-51 occurred the “Valladolid Debate” credited with being “the first moral debate in European history to discuss the rights and treatment of an indigenous people by conquerors” (Wikipedia). So perhaps arguing over the actions of Columbus and others of his era is not such a recent idea.

Of course, Leonardo da Vinci, or Lenny as I like to call him, is probably even more famous than Columbus. Born just a year after Columbus, he died in 1519, outliving Columbus by 13 years.

Lenny is credited with many interesting ideas and was apparently not too shabby as a portrait painter, either. I can’t vouch for that. I’ve been to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa twice over a span of about 25 years. It is encased in a glass or plexiglass structure, with large crowds about it snapping (first time, cameras, second time, iPhones) photos while the docents are yelling (in French, of course), “No photographs!” (Crowd control is not a French specialty.)

From all of Lenny’s accomplishments, the one I find most fascinating was one he never completed (actually, he had a lot he never completed, sort of like the 20 books I have started that, let’s face it, I’ll never finish writing).

The one I have in mind is Il Cavallo, commissioned by the Duke of Milan. Il Cavallo was planned to be a 24-foot-tall bronze horse, weighing 70 tons.

Lenny spent 17 years planning this project. One of the most innovative things about the plans for this sand casting were that it would be cast in a pit filled with sand, and it would be cast upside down.

Unfortunately, about the time of the planned pour, the French chose to invade and the bronze for the statue was diverted to make cannon. Sort of a “beating plow horses into swords” if I am allowed to butcher an old expression.

In recent times, experts have studied the plausibility of this casting scheme actually working and have concluded that it would.

To be continued.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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