By: Stephanie Longo
The National Columbus Education Foundation has condemned the alleged theft of a Christopher Columbus statue belonging to an elderly Upper West Side, New York City, resident.
According to a recent New York Post article, the purported incident took place in late June at a co-op on Riverside Drive owned by 91-year-old John Cartafalsa, who had placed the Columbus statue in an alcove in the building’s lobby 30 years prior. Dr. Sean Morrison, a palliative care specialist at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, was shown on closed-caption television tucking the statue under his arm and walking out into the street.
“Dr. Sean Morrison’s alleged appalling and selfish act is further proof that there is no safe venue for discussion about the true history of Christopher Columbus,” said John M. Viola, executive director, National Columbus Education Foundation. “These perceived juvenile and illegal behaviors are indicative of a segment of society that preaches the need for dialogue and understanding, yet practices the criminal destruction of history without concern for those who present any view that opposes their own. If we want to re-examine what America stands for, let’s start by establishing what it certainly does not stand for — the unilateral silencing of those with whom we do not agree.”
The statue in question was a gift to Mr. Cartafalsa from a Sicilian-born relative celebrating his graduation from New York University Law School in 1957. Dr. Morrison’s hospital identification was evident in the closed-caption television footage of the alleged incident. The New York Police Department has charged Dr. Morrison with petit larceny and a court date is set for Dec. 8.
“For a doctor who specializes in palliative care medicine to engage in what appears to be such mean-spirited conduct toward his 91-year-old neighbor is shameful,” said Basil Russo, vice president, National Columbus Education Foundation. “Mt. Sinai Hospital should consider taking immediate steps to suspend Dr. Morrison from his practice at the hospital, until such time as the pending criminal charges against him are resolved and a formal psychological evaluation has been completed.”
Per the New York Post, the day prior to the alleged theft, Mr. Cartafalsa chanced upon Dr. Morrison trying to steal the statue; however, the statue was returned to its original location by another building resident. The article also states that Mr. Cartafalsa is “devastated” by the theft and is currently at Mount Sinai Hospital with gall bladder problems, unable to speak. The current whereabouts of the statue are unknown.
For many Italian Americans, the act of vandalism toward a Columbus statue or other image of the famed explorer is considered an ethnic slur. While the overarching discussion of Columbus is an issue for all Americans, Italian Americans specifically have specifically celebrated the explorer as a sort of national hero for centuries; most notably with the construction of statues in his honor following the 1891 lynching of 11 Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans.
“For millions of immigrants and their descendants, the Christopher Columbus statue is a deep-rooted public expression of pride, culture and identity passed from generation to generation,” said Angelo Vivolo, president, National Columbus Education Foundation. “It seems that hate motivated Dr. Sean Morrison’s alleged theft of a Columbus statue owned by his frail and ailing 91-year-old Italian American neighbor. Dr. Morrison’s reported actions seem like hate crimes, pure and simple, and, if so, he must be held accountable.”
The National Columbus Education Foundation, in partnership with the Columbus Citizens Foundation, has also sent a bust of Columbus to Mr. Cartafalsa as an act of solidarity from the Italian American community as a whole.
“While this statue cannot replace the one that is now missing, we, as representatives of the Italian American community felt compelled to respond to this story in a tangible way,” Mr. Vivolo said. “This gift is made in solidarity with all Italian American organizations as a representation of the strong sense of pride we have in our heritage and in those who proudly remember and celebrate their immigrant ancestors.”
Link to New York Post Article: https://nypost.com/2020/09/13/columbus-statue-swiped-from-apartment-building/
About the National Columbus Education Foundation
The National Columbus Education Foundation was organized to conduct and distribute research, studies and analysis relating to Christopher Columbus. Comprised of members from all major national Italian American organizations — Columbus Citizens Foundation, the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA), the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA), and UNICO National– the Foundation intends to develop policy solutions and proposals to address the preservation of Columbus Day with an emphasis on correcting the false narrative surrounding the famed explorer. Resources will be directed towards educating the general public to promote an active discussion to verify the great accomplishment of Christopher Columbus and why Columbus Day should be preserved. For more information, visit www.knowcolumbus.org.