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COLUMBUS DAY: CHRIS OWES PLACE IN HISTORY - AND ATLASES - TO GOOD PRESS

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It's Columbus Day!

At least it is if you work for the government. Otherwise, it won't be Columbus Day until Thursday. Unfortunately, if you're celebrating on Thursday, you probably will be doing it at work.Why do we celebrate Columbus Day? Legend has it that in 1492, after sailing the ocean blue, Christopher Columbus sighted land in what was to become the New World - America, as in north, south and central and a few assorted Caribbean islands.

Some purists argue that Columbus was a Johnny-come-lately - that he not only wasn't the first European to visit the New World, he wasn't even in the first wave.

Many historians think the sea-oriented Vikings from Norway were the first to visit North America, hundreds of years before Columbus left Italy to convince the queen of Spain to finance his now-famous expedition. And, there is even a group that credits a hearty band of sailors from Scotland with visiting Florida long before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria pushed away from the dock.

For Columbus, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. With the printing press and other inventions pulling Europe together, news of his exploits spread rapidly to other countries. His success kindled a spirit of adventure and before long, dozens of ships were plying the waters of discovery. Henry Hudson, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and others went off in search of the unknown.

For Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer, well, he just didn't get the press Columbus got. No press, no glory.

If you don't believe it, there's plenty of evidence floating around. Consider, there are 15 cities named Columbia and 16 cities named Columbus in the United States, and that includes a pair of state capitals. Add to that eight Columbia counties and one Columbus County and you begin to get the picture. And you can throw in a sprinkling of Columbia Cities, Columbia Falls, and Columbianas.

And that doesn't include the Columbia rivers, Columbia mountains and Columbia lakes.

As for Leif Erikson's claim to fame, well, there is an Ericson, Neb. When it comes to Leif, however, there is nothing in the old atlas. Zippo!

If you find an extra moment Monday (or Thursday if you're a purist), you may want to kick back for a moment and reflect on that spirit of adventure that opened a new frontier and paved the way for your ancestors.

Christopher Columbus may not have been first to arrive in America, but it was his visit that opened the door.

Thanks, Chris!