Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hunting the USS Maine in Key West

I have always been fascinated by the story of the destruction of the USS Maine.  Sent to Havana harbour ostensibly to protect  American civilians, the Maine was destroyed by a mysterious explosion on the night of February 15, 1898.  After three major investigations the cause of the initial exploration is still not known.

   In 1911 the wreckage of the Maine was raised.  A coffer dam was built around it, water pumped out and salvage started.  The destroyed bow was cut off, wreckage removed and the ship floated.
   The ship itself was towed out to sea and scuttled.  The wreckage was broken up and towns across the country received parts as monuments to "Remember the Maine."  Some monuments are large like the bow scroll in Bangor Maine, the main mast in Arlington National cemetery and the other mast at Annapolis.  some small like the ventilator cowel in the  traffic circle in Woburn Massachusetts.

   While in Key West I ran into several monuments of the Maine. This was not unexpected as The Maine sailed from the naval station there to Havana.

   Janine jokes that wherever we go I find weird pieces of the Maine.  But here in Key West it was hard not to stumble over the memory of the ship.

   In Mallory square I ran into one of the many salvaged parts from the Maine.  Here is the sighting  dome from the forward turret.  And on a display model of the ship where that dome was located.

In the Custome House museum we discovered a number of artifacts.  These included the naval jack, life rings, utensils from the officers mess.  On a exhibit text it mentioned the ships crew retired that night after a butler played taps.  Forty minutes later the  ship was rocked by two explosions which killed most of the crew.  Afterwards reading this I noticed in a case a bugle recovered from the wreckage.

The Custome House also served as office for the first inquiry into what happened.  They deduced, after interviewing the survivors and talking to divers who examined the
wreak a mine had set off  the first explosion which then set off the forward magazine.  A second inquiry after the ship was raised and re examined confirmed those findings.

  Although some individuals questioned the mine theory it was not seriously explored until 1974 when Admiral Rickover (the father of the nuclear submarine fleet) had his staff reexamine the case.  His staff felt a coal fire was more likely to have caused the magazine
USS Maine being towed out to sea to be scuttled
explosion.  While many excepted his findings, others felt there was little substantial facts to back it up.   While there are problems with each theory I felt the coal fire the least possible.  For a debunking of it here is a good read.

   The pier the Maine sailed from is no longer in existence.  So Janine suggested we walk to the town cemetery to visit the graves of the Sailors and Marines from the Maine and pay our respects.
Most of the crew are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  But a few were buried in Key West right after the sinking.   The area today is quiet and peaceful.  A monument of a sailor marks the area which
contains about a dozen graves all marked unknown.  I think it was a fitting end to our hunt for the USS Maine in Key West.

Is there a part of the USS Maine in your town?  Here is a handy dandy list of where you can items,

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating travelogue! Which I knew this bit of Maine history when I visited Key West many years ago. Next time, I will be prepared. Thanks!