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About a decade ago, scholars, authors, film makers and marketing wizards began rubbing their hands in anticipation of the windfall they felt they would realize with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' 1492 landfall. It has turned out to be a bigger bust than the 1992 Los Angeles Dodgers.

On Monday, the official recognition of Columbus' stumbling onto the Western Hemisphere while he was looking for China and Japan will take place. Other than a couple of books, two movies and protests by American Indian activists, the event has been stripped of much of its grandeur.Ten years ago, Chicago was in a battle with Miami for rights to a 1992 World's Fair commemorating Columbus' feat, expected to be worth billions of dollars. Fiscal reality set in shortly thereafter, and Chicago abandoned the project.

The commemoration further deteriorated when the man appointed by President Ronald Reagan to chair the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Commission fell into financial disrepute. Not much has been heard about that commission other than through hearings on the alleged kickbacks.

Replicas of Columbus' three ships sailed for the United States amid great fanfare and hope for huge sponsorship payoffs. Not long ago, the Spanish foundation promoting the voyages called off visits to the West Coast and complained that U.S. sponsors had reneged on their commitments.

Scholarly issues probably have been suppressed by the more provocative allegations about slaving and destruction of an existing civilization.

Instead we get a couple of movies and a lot of protesting. The 500th anniversary of whatever it is Columbus did more likely will best be remembered as the day Toronto is at Oakland for the fifth game of the American League playoffs.


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