Thursday, February 10, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: USS Maine Fixture and Memorial Tablet

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer


USS Maine entering Havana Harbor on 25 January 1898


2. IN MEMORIAM
On February 15, 1898 the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor killing over 250 crewmen. The event sparked the Spanish-American War.  Two artifacts from the famous warship are the subject of this week's spotlight. The first is a metal fixture recovered from the remains of the ship. It served as a valve or gauge and contains two glass tubes and a nozzle. The fixture was donated to the museum by Charles Slocum of Newport, RI in 1987. The second artifact is a commemorative plaque from 1913 cast from metal recovered from Maine. It depicts the Greek goddess Athena with a shield in her left hand and the right outstretched over the sinking battleship. Athena's shield bears the words Patriotism and Devotion surrounding an eagle, American shield, and laurel. It was donated to the museum in 1993 by Charles Wooley of Rochester, VT.


3. Unknown Fixture Recovered from Maine
The USS Maine was launched November 18, 1889 from New York Navy Yard. She was the first of four ships in the US Navy to hold that name. Maine was designated a second-class battleship. After a few years serving in the North Atlantic including a number of stops at Newport, Maine was sent to Havana to protect American citizens in the event of violence between the Spanish and the revolutionary forces of Cuba. The USS Maine arrived in Havana Harbor January 25, 1898 and spent over three weeks anchored there without incident. On February 15th the explosion destroyed the entire forward section of the ship. This area contained coal storage, the forward magazine, and the enlisted men’s bunks. Survivors were quickly taken aboard the steamer City of Washington and the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII. Though the survivors were treated with respect by the Spanish, public opinion quickly turned hostile in the United States when an inquiry concluded a mine or external explosive charge had caused the disaster. Newspaper reports of the incident enraged the American public. President McKinley issued an order to blockade Cuba on the 21st of April which was quickly followed by a declaration of war by the Spanish on the 23rd. The United States responded by also declaring war on April 25th with a clause that backdated the declaration to the 21st, thus beginning the Spanish-American War.

On August 5, 1910 Congress authorized the raising of the USS Maine. A second board of inquiry also concluded that an external explosion near the forward magazine caused the disaster. The USS Maine’s hulk was finally floated on February 2, 1912 and it was towed out to sea. On March 16th she was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico with a ceremony and full military honors. Today, despite several investigations throughout the last century, there is still debate as to whether an external explosion or some kind of internal accident caused the horrible event.

4. The Wreck of USS Maine, c. 1898

 For more information on this topic visit the Naval History and Heritage Command Website.


2,3. Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum
1,4. Images courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command

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