Since elementary school, I’ve remembered the saying, “Remember the Maine” without any idea of what it meant.  Finally, a few weeks ago after a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, I learned the story behind the saying!

The Maine was a U.S. “dreadnought” battleship that exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  More than 260 (of the crew of approximately 350) sailors were killed in the disaster.


USS Maine entering Havana harbor. Image from Wikipedia, click for source.

The ship was in Cuba at the time because the U.S. was hoping to force  Spain out of governing Cuba so that we could take over. U.S. zeal to kick Spain out of Cuba was fueled by “yellow journalists” who hoped to sell more newspapers by stirring up anti-Spanish sentiment.  The journalists told lurid stories about how the Spanish mistreated the Cubans and the American public got really riled up at Spain.

How Spain viewed U.S. imperialism. Image from Wikipedia, click for source.

When the Maine blew up, most Americans assumed that Spain was at fault. A slogan popular at the time was “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain” and two months after the explosion the U.S. declared war (the Spanish-American War).   A few months after that, Spain ceded us not only Cuba, but Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines!

Although the sinking of the Maine certainly contributed to the start of the war, it is unlikely that the Spanish intentionally exploded the ship. There have been many investigations into the cause of the explosion and none have proven that it was caused by the Spanish.  In fact, many believe that the Maine exploded because the coal it used spontaneously combusted.

Originally, the bodies of the sailors who died were buried in Cuba but in 1899, more than 151 coffins were disinterred and brought to Arlington National Cemetery for reburial.  There was a first memorial to the sailors that consisted of a big anchor and two mortars we took from the Spanish.


First Maine Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Image from Wikipedia, click for source

Many people believed that there were still more bodies on the Maine so in 1910, the Maine was raised and more bodies and body parts were recovered. Eventually 34 more coffins containing remains were brought to Arlington where a second, grander memorial was built. The second memorial is powerful.  At its base is a “receiving vault” (used to store decedents when it was too cold to dig graves in the olden days) that is meant to look like the turret of a battleship.  On top of the vault is the actual mast from the Maine itself.


Image from Wikipedia. Click for source

The remains of the sailors (whose identities are mostly unknown) are buried near the memorial.  Some of them are buried together under the same headstone.  It is heartbreaking to think of all of the young men who died on the Maine.  It is good that they are commemorated so beautifully.

IMG_20150426_103942794 (2)

My photograph.

My photographs.


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