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Maine war poster | by Tim Evanson
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Maine war poster

A poster produced in spring 1898 prodding the American people to go to war with Spain. The USS Maine had blown up in Havana Harbor, Cuba, in February 1898. Although the cause of the explosion was never identified, unofficially the U.S. and the American press believed it was caused by a Spanish mine. "To hell with Spain - Remember the Maine!" was the slogan of many tabloid newspapers (the "yellow press"), which pushed for war to increase sales.


Even in 2013, the cause of the explosion of the Maine is not known. Despite the ship being raised from the bottom of the harbor, despite modern computer modeling, despite six official investigations -- no one knows why the USS Maine exploded. Coal dust in the fuel bunker may have ignited, setting off the ship's ammunition. A coal fire in the fuel bunker may have caused so much heat that the ammunition magazine's exploded. Or, it may have been a mine. (Imperial Spain at the time maintained that the U.S. blew up its own ship to create a cause for war.)


The USS Maine was the first battleship ever built by the United States. Obsolete as soon as she launched, she patrolled the North Atlantic for 18 months before being sent to Havana, Cuba, to help calm anti-independence riots there (fomented by Spanish military officers). Her first night in the harbor, she blew up -- and 260 of her 355 crew died, nearly all of them sailors (not officers). Only a third of the ship remained.


The "yellow press" in the U.S. claimed a Spanish mine sank her, and this caused the Spanish-American War. The war lasted 10 weeks, and Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S.


The Maine stayed where she was until 1911-1912, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised the latter third of the ship. It was towed three miles out to sea and sunk in 1,200 feet of water. The remaining two-thirds of the ship was just scrap. Some relics (like dishes, swords, bayonets, the ship's bell, etc.) were taken back to the U.S. Some scrap was melted down into commemorative plaques, medals, or insignia. But most of the scrap was taken out to sea and dumped.


In 1899, the 160 Maine sailors buried in Colón Cemetery were disinterred and reburied at Arlington National Cemetery. Two U.S. howitzers and an anchor from another ship were placed there as a memorial. About 60 more dead were found about the Maine when it was raised. These remains were returned to the U.S. in December 1912, and buried at Arlington as well. The memorial mausoleum was created at Arlington near the Maine burial field, and the mast of the USS Maine was set into it. Today, it's known as the USS Maine Mast Memorial.

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Taken on April 29, 2009