Columbus Day was designated a national holiday by Congress in 1892, the 400th anniversary of the day -- Oct. 12, 1492 -- that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. In 1968, Congress decreed that, as of 1971, Columbus Day would be a legal federal holiday observed on the second Monday of October.

Beyond that, what do you know about Columbus Day?

Where and when was Columbus born?

The eldest of five children in his Italian family, he was born in 1451 in Genoa.

Just what was the central idea that Columbus evolved and presented to Spain's rulers?

His observations and calculations told him that the most profitable sea route to Asia would not be around Africa but directly west across the sea.

Three vessels with which he sailed were the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. How many men were in the crews and when did they set sail?

About 90 officers and crew set sail on Aug. 3, 1492.

Was it a difficult voyage?

It went surprisingly smoothly. After reaching the Canary Islands, the fleet weighed anchor again on Sept. 6 and reached the Caribbean only 33 days later.

Wasn't there talk of a mutiny at one point?

Yes, inspired by trade winds that drove the ships west, making the sailors fear they would be unable to make a return voyage.

How did Columbus handle the mutineers?

He quelled the insurgents with a combination of threats and promises. A few days after the grumbling began, land was sighted.

Where was he?

Hoping he was on the fringes of Asia, he had landed on an island that may have been San Salvador Island or Samana Cay in the Bahamas, or Gran Turk Island.

What about the natives Columbus called "Indians?"

They were gentle, agricultural people.

How did he treat them?

He abducted six of them to serve as his guides and made plans to convert and enslave the rest for God and Spain.

Did he found a settlement?

No. He set sail again and continued to search for China and Japan, landing this time on the shore of Cuba.

What did they find?

They saw natives lighting certain herbs and inhaling the smoke -- they had their first whiff of tobacco.

When did he establish a settlement?

After crossing the Windward Passage, he came upon an island he named Espagnola (Hispaniola), which today comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This accomplished, he sailed for home.

When did he arrive?

Two of his three ships entered the port of Palos on March 14, 1493. The Santa Maria had been lost on a reef off the coast of Haiti.

A second voyage followed. When did it start?

This expedition set sail on Sept. 5, 1493, with 17 ships carrying 1,500 men and domestic animals, tools and supplies for permanent colonization. They reached Puerto Rico on Nov. 16. A few days later, the fleet reached Hispaniola, to everyone's dismay.

What happened?

Because of gross mistreatment by the Spaniards, the natives had destroyed Fort Navidad and killed all its garrison. After re-establishing the colony, Columbus set sail and landed in Jamaica, only to return and find Hispaniola in renewed upheaval.

How did he handle it?

He quelled the natives, rounded up prisoners whom he sent to Spain to be sold in the slave markets, and set up a harsh system of native exploitation. On March 10, 1496, he sailed for Spain.

What about the third voyage?

It began on May 30, 1498. On July 31, the fleet reached Trinidad. On Aug. 5, he and his men made landfall on the coast of Venezuela, where he realized he had come upon "a very great continent, until today unknown."

So the third voyage was a success?

Not really. Returning to Hispaniola, Columbus again found chaos. A new governor replaced him and put him in chains on a frigate bound for Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella remedied this when he arrived, but his standing never fully recovered.

And yet there was a fourth voyage?

Yes, though the results were disappointing. He and his men were shipwrecked in Jamaica, an ordeal that shattered him. Broken in body and spirit, he returned to Spain on Nov. 7, 1504. He spent his last years trying to claim the political and economic rights to which he felt he and his men were entitled. Well-to-do but without the honors he desired, he died on May 20, 1506.

(C) 1999, Norman Zierold