PITTSTON — This year, Columbus Day came early.
At noon on Oct. 8, a procession of social clubs, emergency service vehicles and Pittston City elected officials marched down South Main Street to its confluence with Kennedy Boulevard and East Columbus Avenue. A rededication ceremony was held there for the city’s statue of Christopher Columbus, which was reinstalled in August after a motorist toppled it in December 2016.
City Councilman Michael Lombardo, who served as the rededication’s master of ceremonies, said it was the first procession to travel to the statue since St. Rocco’s Roman Catholic Church closed in July 2012. The Luzerne County Italian American Association kept alive the tradition of wreath laying at the statue, but Lombardo said the usual ceremony is “probably a tenth” the size of Oct. 8’s celebration.
Lombardo said replacing the statue shows the importance the community places in the piece — and what it represents beyond the tangible.
“It’s important to many people here; it reminds them of their ancestors and their ancestors’ struggle,” Lombardo said. “For a lot of people, it’s not just an inanimate object; it’s symbolic of their families, their traditions and the pride they have in their families.”
Among those Lombardo referenced was Maria Capolorella Montane, who spoke about what Columbus means to her during the rededication ceremony. She remembered learning about the 15th century explorer from Italian American Pittstonians when she was a child.
“We learned the value of Columbus’ dedication, his will to discover and that he never, ever let go,” Capolorella Montane said during her remarks. “They were so proud that he was an Italian; he was their countryman, but they were prouder still that he discovered America, their new home, and they were adapting to it beautifully.”
In 1959, those Italian Americans decided to fund a statue of Columbus to be placed at the entrance of Pittston City. In 1969, the statue was placed and stood until its aforementioned toppling last December. After the incident, former Pittston City Mayor Mike Lombardo and volunteer Main Street manager Attorney Rose Randazzo went to work.
Randazzo made sure funds from the statue’s insurance policy were properly secured while Lombardo arranged the statue’s restoration at Scranton’s Pesavento Monuments. Lombardo said the entire project was completed without taxpayer dollars as the insurance claim covered approximately $60,000, while another $5,000 in donations were accrued and used for aesthetic site improvements, like lighting.
Lombardo pointed out a few differences in the statue — it sits about 22 inches higher than before, thanks to a granite base that was added below the artwork (it’s easy to spot, thanks to its rough look in comparison to the rest of the statue), Lombardo said.
Columbus’ growth spurt puts him at street level and further out of harm’s way should another stray vehicle come the explorer’s way.
The Pennsylvania flag was also added to the site and now flies alongside the already-installed Italian and United States banners.
Lombardo thinks the statue is as important to Pittston’s future as it is to the city’s past. The former mayor and current mayoral candidate likes to say that, in order to look forward, a community has to stand on the shoulders of its past. That’s also the lens through which he examines Columbus.
“Every part of our past isn’t perfect, none of us think that, so the reminders are reminders on both ends,” Lombardo said. “They’re not only reminders of the things we get right, of things that are positive and to stand for, but they’re also reminders of mistakes we need not make. Let’s be reminded of the good and bad and let’s try to create a place moving forward where we don’t make the same mistakes and celebrate the positive pieces.”
For Patrick Solano, who served on the statue’s initial fundraising committee in the mid-20th century, Lombardo, Randazzo and others responsible for the rededication are keeping the legacy of immigrant Pittston alive.
“I think for them to carry on the tradition is a great thing,” Solano said. “You go back to the history of the people that had it in their hearts, the first generation people that go back, it was more significant to them, and I think to have that kind of sentiment, I’m all for it.”
Mayor Jason Klush said the statue is emblematic of native Pittstonians then, now and in the future, regardless of background.
“It’s part of our history, not just the Italians; it’s everybody in this community,” Klush said. “When you stopped at these lights, it just looked bare when it wasn’t there. It wasn’t right — that’s part of our history and what we came from.”