Myth Trivia: Christopher Columbus launches a capital idea

Myth Trivia: Christopher Columbus launches a capital idea

Since this week started out by celebrating the Columbus Day holiday, it's appropriate to focus this trivia column on the explorer who famously sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

Skyline of the City of Topeka, the State Capital of Kansas. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Topeka, CC. 3.0)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., October 12, 2016 – Since Monday was Columbus Day it seemed appropriate to focus this week’s trivia on the explorer who famously sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Oddly enough, our search took us in a different direction, so we begin today’s column with Mr. Columbus and conclude with facts about some of our state capitals.

1 – Two state capitals and the nation’s capital are named after Christopher Columbus: We learned in school that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, that Abraham Lincoln never told a lie and that Christopher Columbus was among the few people of his day who believed the world was round.

Not only did Columbus fail to prove his point about the world being round. Neither did he ever set foot in North America.

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And another tidbit: although the fabled explorer was financed by Spain, he was actually Italian by birth.

Speaking of names, at least one of Columbus’ ships, the on named Pinta might even make Donald Trump blush. The Nina and Pinta were merely nicknames for these ships. But while the Nina’s name was harmless, the name of the Pinta can be translated to mean “the painted one” or “the prostitute.”

The first celebration of Columbus Day in the United States came in 1937 thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but it did not become a national holiday until President Richard Nixon issued the proclamation in 1971.

Whether you revere Christopher Columbus or not, his name did inspire the naming of the District of Columbia and the Columbia River, and for a considerable amount of time it was the also nickname of the United States.

Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is that Columbus is the only historical figure for which two state capitals are named. The first, Columbus, Ohio is obvious, but Columbia, South Carolina is also a derivation of the explorer’s name. Not bad for a guy who, after his third voyage to the New World, was arrested, sent home in chains and spent six weeks in jail before being pardoned.

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2 – The Clintons’ former home town: Thanks to research done by “Mental Floss” we can report some fascinating information about our state capitals.

This being an election year, it’s appropriate to take a look at Little Rock, Arkansas where Bill Clinton served as the state’s governor before becoming president.

Little Rock was given its name by French explorer, Jean Baptist de La Harpe, who discovered two outcroppings of rock in the Arkansas River in 1722. One rock, which was considerably larger than the other, was originally named Le Rocher Francais or “The French Rock” by La Harpe. That name was later changed to “Big Rock” which obviously meant the other one would be dubbed “Little Rock.”

Meanwhile, Le Petit Rocher, as it was called in French, became the site in closest proximity to where the original frontier city was built, thus giving the capital of Arkansas its distinctive name.

3 – The eyes have it: From Ar-kansas to just plain old Kansas, we learn that Topeka—the Kansas state capital—is derived from a Shawnee Indian word. The founders of Topeka actually thought it was just a neat name and did not know what it really meant in 1854 when they gave the city its current name.

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Reverend S.Y. Lum proposed it, claiming was “a name not found in the list of post offices in the United States, nor in any lexicon of the English language. It was novel, of Indian origin and euphonious of sound.”

The other founders liked Topeka because it was “easy to pronounce.”

But translated from the Shawnee, Topeka roughly means “wild potato” or “a good place to dig wild potatoes.” There is no truth , however, to the scurrilous rumor that this serendipitous exercise in place-naming led to the well known slogan “This spud’s for you.”

Since we’re on a roll, more capital trivia next week.

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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