The Columbus Monument and Fountain was erected in 1934. The monument centered on Columbus Circle was unveiled to a crowd of 40,000 people. The 11-foot bronze statue atop the monument was sculpted in Florence, Italy by Lorenzo Baldi and financed by Syracusans of Italian descent. It faces west since this is the direction in which Columbus sailed to America. The surrounding fountain is by James Dwight Baum, who supervised the entire project. A popular outdoor meeting and luncheon spot, the circle is surrounded by several of Syracuse’s architectural jewels. Columbus Circle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the buildings immediately surrounding the circle form one of Syracuse’s Preservation Districts.
A decades old mystery had its beginnings right here in Columbus Circle: THE CASE OF THE MISSING HEADS. The year was 1934. After a 25-year struggle, the 41-foot monument of the famous Italian explorer Christopher Columbus was erected here in what was known at the time as Saint Mary’s Circle.
Attached to the upper portion of each corner of the base, just below the statue were bronze faces of Native Americans, representing the “New World”. Within a few years the bronzes began to corrode and stain the base. The images were removed and placed in storage.
Columbus Monument in 1982 without the Native American Heads
In 1989, in preparation for a $450,000 fountain restoration project, the unique pieces could not be found. Ironically, it was at around the same time that newspaper columnist, Dick Case, received a phone call from a reader who had seen the heads…in Orlando, Florida. An investigation unearthed a twisted thread of criminal elements starting with those who removed the sculptures from storage in Syracuse. It led to those who placed the bronze heads on the auction block in Atlanta, Georgia. The journey ended with the rescued sculptures arriving back at the Public Safety Building in Syracuse, where they were properly treated and replaced on the monument as we see it today.
Columbus Monument with the Native American Heads restored and back in place