In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
I remember learning this rhyme in elementary school, along with the names of King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and the ships: Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria. We colored pictures and read stories. Christopher Columbus was the first to think the world might be round and he discovered America, our home! Columbus was a hero.
Then I got to high school and college and suddenly the Columbus story changed. He didn't discover America and he wasn't the first one to think that the world was round. The Native Americans and Vikings beat him to America and he wasn't even looking for America anyway. I've heard him referred to as the founder of the slave trade, the first terrorist, a murderer and the man who began a mass genocide against the Native Americans. He wasn't at all the hero we learned about and Christopher Columbus wasn't even his real name.
I can't think of any other historical figures who are both celebrated and hated like Columbus. I would venture to guess that the real story is somewhere in the middle of glory and evil, but I haven't yet decided how I'm going to portray Columbus to my son, who is only a year-and-a-half old. I tend to lean toward telling him the truth, in an age-appropriate way.