Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The re-sinking of the battleship USS Maine

The wreck of the Maine in 1898

The burial of her crew at Arlington National cemetery

The wreck today

The resinking of the Maine

The recovery of the wreck in 1911

The explosion of the USS Maine in 1898 from a photo sad to be of the event.

The USS Maine in Havana harbor Jan 1898


As we would like to remember her

She was the first of her kind..The first battleship, along with the USS Texas they were the beginnings of the modern all steel navy.

I think everyone knows the story of the Maine...She is most famous for blowing up in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898. Her destruction became a battle cry and led to the Spanish American War.

But once again as I like to do....I want to take you down the dark corridors of history and look at another part of the story....The part we never hear about...and that is the resinking of the Maine in 1912.

The USS Maine blew up in 1898 and it seems the questions never seem to end. Why did the ship blow up? Was it a mine? Was it a coal dust explosion? Was there a coal fire and it caused the magazine to blow up? NO ONE REALLY KNOWS. All we know was on Feb 15 1898 the battleship Maine blew up with a loss of 266 personal. The ship was a shattered wreck and hardly reconizable.

She sank in about 35-40 feet of water and mud. As soon as the explosion took place the Hearst Newspapers were going crazy with war talk and Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely hysterical with calls for war.

But first there had to be an investigation and also an inspection of the wreck. Charles Morgan was the diver who inspected the insides of the ship...His description is the stuff of horror movies.....He wrote after his dive............

"It was horrible...As I descended into the death ship the dead rose up to meet me. They floated toward me with outstretched arms, as if to welcome their shipmate. Their faces for the most part were bloated with decay or burned beyond recognition, but here and there the light of my lamp flashed upon a stony face I KNEW, which when I last saw it had smiled a merry greeting, but now returned my gaze with staring eyes and fallen jaw. The dead choked the hatchways and blocked my passage from stateroom to cabin. I had to elbow my way through them, as you do in a crowd. While I examined twisted iron and fallen timbers they brushed my helmet and touched my shoulders with rigid hands, as if they sought to tell me the tale of the disaster. I often had to push them aside to make my examinations of the interior of the wreck. I felt like a live man in command of the dead. From every part of the ship came sighs and groans. I knew it was the gurgling of the water through the shattered beams and battered sides of the of the vessel, but it made me shutter; it sounded so much like the echoes of that awful Feb. night of death. The water swayed the bodies to and fro, and kept them constantly moving with a hideous semblance of life. Turn which way I would, I was confronted by a corpse."

It was decided that an external mine or bomb had caused the disaster. That was the official position taken as we came closer to war with Spain.

In 1912 the idea of a bomb was once again pushed as the cause. To be perfectly honest NO ONE REALLY KNEW!!!!!!!! The whole front of the ship was gone! What remained was an awful mess....So many people believe it was a coal fire...or an internal problem near the magazine. WE WILL NEVER KNOW...

President William McKinley was awakened the night of the accident by being told of an emergency phone call.
He worked his way through the dark White House switching on lights as he worked his way to the only room that had a telephone and most probably wondering who the hell would call him in the middle of the night.

He was told by Secretary of War that the Maine had been blown up in Cuba and there was a tremendous loss of life.
McKinley, who was a sweet natured man, hated war. But I am sure he knew at that moment war would come. I wonder if he thought about his crazy assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt at this time and wondered what that firebrand would do.

There were thoughts of peace, the McKinley White House wanted a peaceful answer..The Yellow Press controlled by William Randolph Hearst pushed for war..
There was an exchange (to which Hearst always denied) that was he had a reporter and artist down in Cuba to cover the upcoming war. Richard Davis and Frederick Remington and they sent a telegram stating there was no trouble and all was quiet. To which Hearst said "you provide the pictures, I'll provide the war". The Yellow press every day pushed for war and he did sway the feelings of the American people.

As would be expected Roosevelt lost no time and paid no attention to his superiors and pushed for war. He worked with the Hearst papers to push for war.

He sent fleets all over. Pushed to have Dewey made an Admiral...and started calling McKinley a coward. McKinley met with his enthusiastic underling and told him to move carefully.
McKinley fought in the civil war and knew the horrors of it. Roosevelt had not the slightest idea, and in reality he never really understood it till his son died in WWI. Then Roosevelt stopped crying out for war and conquest and crawled into his shell and died......

Roosevelt started to say that McKinley had the "backbone of a Chocolate Eclair" .....Unknown to Roosevelt, McKinley had been moving along towards war. He had met with the Speaker of the House Joe Cannon and told him in no uncertain terms how much money he needed and to get it NOW!!!! So he could orchestrate the war.

The war was fought and quickly won, and Roosevelt through a awful lot of self promotion and marketing by the Hearst papers (who were working on making him President in 1904)...became a national icon along with Admiral Dewey.
After the "splendid little war" which is what John Hay called it...was over everything was forgotten and the Maine sat and rusted in place.

On August 5, 1910 Congress authorized the razing of the Maine and a complete investigation into the sinking. A cofferdam was built around the ship and slowly the water was taken out of the cofferdam. This was a slow process, but in time the carcass of the ship was completely revealed. It was a complete wreck and the magnitude of the destruction was amazingly severe. By early 1912 the wreck was being pumped out...and more remains were found. These were sent ashore.
Now the front of the ship that was so damaged was just cut off and chopped into pieces. Theses were taken out to the ocean and dumped. Then the remain part of the ship was made watertight and seaworthy.

On March 16th 1912 The hulk of what was the USS Maine was taken under tow by the tug Osceola and following the Maine was the battleship USS North Carolina which had on board the flag covered coffins of the 36 bodies recovered in the wreck. She was towed out for about 3 miles and then the seacocks were opened and the Maine sank. Slowly at first but after about 45 minutes she slipped below the waves bearing a huge American flag. In the beginning of this article you will see her as she slipped below the water on her final plunge. This time into very deep water...Never to be seen again........

Surprise!!!! In 2000 the wreck of the USS Maine was found and soon there will be some investigations again into the wreck that just won't quit.....Maybe we will learn something new in the 21st century about this wreck of the 19th.


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Lane Kimmel said...

Like all your articles but in this one you are way to rough on the rough rider. For some reason the motives of his actions were left out and a lot of assumptions are made that others believe entirely differnently about.

Anonymous said...

I would love to find out more about the actual raising. Family history says my grandfather went from Norway to Havana to be part of the crew that built the coffer damn. Any information would be appreciated. pvalc@aol.com

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