Christoforo Columbo, most of us learn only as adults, was not Spanish. He would have been Italian if Italy had existed at the time. As it was, he was Genoan, a citizen of the Republic of Genoa. Because he would have sailed under a Spanish flag if Spain had existed in 1492, we consider his quest for a western route to India a Spanish undertaking.
In fact, the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon to Isabella I of Castile had formed the political basis for the Spanish Empire and the Genoan hired hand known to them as Cristóbal Colón would provide the legal basis in “Christian discovery” of the “New World,” a concept the Roman Papacy would later wrap in moral authority.
The man we misidentify as Christopher Columbus set out for a land he misidentified as India under a flag commonly misidentified as Spanish and proceeded to terrorize the Taino people who discovered him in the Caribbean. He never realized the riches or the status he coveted and his later life was snake bitten, jinxed.
Whether Columbus was cursed literally by the Tainos he had wronged cannot be known—they certainly cursed him figuratively—but he lived out his years in poor health and poverty, his life as much a jinx as his voyages.
Some of the Columbus jinx recently rubbed off on the city of Corpus Christi in the state of Texas, which is still not a province of India.
To celebrate the 1992 quincentenary of Columbus getting lost looking for India, the Spanish government commissioned replicas of his vessels at a cost of over $6.5 million. The replicas sailed the ocean blue after a successful tour of Europe and attracted many tourists in those of the 1,500 Columbus celebrations that took place on the Atlantic or Gulf coasts.
A 10-day stand in Corpus Christi brought in 106,000 people, the largest U.S. crowd. Encouraged, the city formed the Columbus Fleet Association and began a campaign to bring the fleet to Texas permanently. Spain agreed to lend the ships for $1.6 million, and with much fanfare and financial finagling, the city of Corpus Christi won Spain’s approval to become the long-term home of the reconstructed Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History
This replica of the Niña was once moored in Corpus Christi, along with replicas of the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
It was all downhill from there. In 1994, an ocean barge collided with the Pinta, which smacked into the Santa Maria. Damage was estimated at over $1.5 million. The Texas Observer reported on the money pit and political poison pill the ships became, involving loss of public and private money and a complete hijacking of the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.
A coalition of city officials and the business community arranged a bailout of the Columbus project that included $2.9 million for a dry dock connected to the museum so the damaged Pinta and Santa Maria could attract visitors to help pay for their repair.
The Columbus money suck forced the Museum to raise admission fees above the ability of local families to pay. Prior to 1990, the museum had been free to the public. Several rate hikes brought the cost up to $8. As ticket prices went up, ticket sales went down. The Santa Maria and Pinta began to acquire dry rot and termites.
In 1999, the museum closed off access to the Columbus ships and rolled ticket prices back to $5. With the Spanish government threatening repossession, a creditor from the original transaction filed a lien on the ships to belatedly guarantee a million dollar loan that was not looking very safe.
In 2001, city government produced a new bailout from the hotel-motel tax, and the museum jacked the admission tickets back up to $8. After a short spike when the exhibition reopened, museum attendance continued to drop. By 2010, admission was up to $11.50.
Last year, there was no appetite for another bailout. The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History had changed its focus to the history of Corpus Christi. In August of 2014, the Pinta and Santa Maria were demolished without ever leaving dry dock. Sale of their ballast funded refurbishment of the Niña.
Corpus Christi has as much connection to the Columbus expeditions as the islands in the Caribbean where Columbus landed had to India. After a lot of money was spent, it could be said Corpus Christi had bought as much connection as Columbus had to Spain. So it was that the fake Spaniard who found a fake path to India and whose later years seemed jinxed, brought a project to a city in Texas that slowly bled until it finally expired from the Columbus jinx.