Slimantics: A suggestion for Columbus' bicentennial

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Pretty soon, Columbus will be celebrating its bicentennial, although no one seems to have figured out exactly when that will be. 

 

Local historian Rufus Ward has written about the topic on several occasions, pointing out three possible dates for the city's founding - Dec. 6, 1819, when the Alabama Legislature passed an act establishing a voting precinct here when the area was thought to be a part of Alabama; May 13, 1820, when the U.S. Congress established a post office in town; or Jan 3, 1821, when the Mississippi Legislature chartered the city. 

 

In one respect, the best argument is the 1819 date, not only because that's the year Columbus was first recognized by a legislative body but also became that's the year Columbus officially became "Columbus." 

 

To date, there have been no plans for how the city plans to celebrate its 200th birthday, but I believe there is one thing we could do that would not only acknowledge the city's history, but help shapes its future. 

 

If we really want to honor our town's history, let's start by going back to the town's original name. 

 

Among the first white settlers in what is now known as Columbus was a man named Spirus Roach. Apparently, Mr. Roach had a long pointed-nose, which led neighboring Indians to refer to him as "Possum" and the area in which he settled "Possum's Town." For the next couple of years, the town was known simply as Possum Town. 

 

In 1819, notorious early settler and chronic busy-body Silas McBee called a town meeting, during which the white settlers decided on a new name - Columbus. 

 

Whatever bad ideas may have popped up over the past 200 years or so, this was probably the worst of all, I think. 

 

They might have well chosen "John Doe City." Not only does our town have no historical connection to Christopher Columbus, the town has joined a crowded family. There are 14 cities in the U.S. named Columbus, 15 if you count New Columbus, Pennsylvania. 

 

It's a boring name.  

 

Oh, but think of the possibilities had the town stayed true to its original "calling." 

 

You know how many Possum Towns there are in the entire world? Zero. 

 

The marketing possibilities alone are fascinating. 

 

It's hard to build a brand around a Columbus or a Springfield or a Washington or a Franklin. 

 

But Possum Town? Now, you've got people's attention. 

 

Possums are fascinating, if much maligned, animals. They're not much to look at, I'll grant, but there's a certain charm in their ugliness. Much like a bulldog, possums are so ugly, they are somehow cute. 

 

In the animal world, which does not seem to put much stock in appearances, they are generally well-received. They have no natural enemies, unless you count cars and trucks. 

 

And, for what it's worth, possums generally have a better reputation than Christopher Columbus these days. 

 

As is often the case, what is original is also best. 

 

I think that's particularly true when it comes to our city's name. 

 

I envision beauty pageants (Miss Possum Town, Possum Queen), a mascot (one of those big fuzzy sorts) that show up all the big events around town, perhaps even a kid's coloring contest, etc. An annual Possum Festival would certainly draw visitors from all over the world. (I'm talking to you, CVB). 

 

I'm not sure what to do about our school nicknames, I'll admit. The Possum Town Falcons is problematic. Perhaps the Possum Town High Truck Dodgers? Just a thought. Work with me, here. 

 

I propose that we have another vote, perhaps on the day we choose to celebrate the city's bicentennial. After all, only a handful of people decided to change Possum Town to Columbus 200 years ago. 

 

It's time the citizens of Possum Town rose up to reclaim the city's historic name. 

 

Who's with me?

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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