Remember the Maine Day
annually on February 15th
Today we remember the Maine, the American battleship that blew up on today's date in 1898 while anchored in Havana Harbor. Commanded by Captain Charles G. Sigsbee, it was one of the first American battleships, cost more than $2 million to build, and weighed more than 6,000 tons. Ostensibly, its mission in the harbor was friendly, but its real purpose was to protect American lives and property. Cuba was in the midst of rebelling from Spain, and as Cuba sought its independence, it was believed that a full-blown war could break out at any time. The United States had also long had its eye on Cuba, hoping to expand its influence there and in the region.
About 350 crew members were aboard the ship on that fateful Tuesday evening. Shortly after 9 p.m., the ship's bugler, C.H. Newton, blew taps. Around 9:40 p.m., an explosion rocked the boat. A second, massive explosion followed, and broke apart the bow, throwing debris over 200 feet into the air. The ship quickly sank, and approximately 266 of the ship's crew perished.
The American press immediately started pointing to an external explosion—either by a mine or torpedo—at the hands of Spain as the cause of the ship's demise. In March, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry determined that a mine had caused the explosion, but they didn't directly blame Spain for it. Although there wasn't enough evidence to prove that Spain blew up the ship, the American public and members of Congress ignored this, and put blame on them, and then called for war. "Remember the Maine" became the war cry.
On April 25, 1898, the United States formally declared war against Spain. By August, the United States was victorious and an armistice was signed. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. Spain relinquished the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States. Cuba soon gained independence, but the United States maintained a powerful influence there.
Ultimately, the cause of the explosion of the Maine is still inconclusive. Some still believe Spain was to blame. In 1976, Adm. Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy began an investigation into the cause. The results showed that the explosion came from within the ship, likely from a coal bunker fire. Most people agree with this assessment.
Various locations hold events for the day. A service is held at the Battleship Maine Monument in Davenport Park in Bangor, Maine, where the shield and scrolls recovered from the shop are located. Beginning in 2011, a group started holding an "all-day patriotic pub crawl through historic Boston" where participants attempt "to drink at least 266 beverages as a festive commemoration of the 266 brave men who died on the USS Maine on February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbor as a result of Spanish treachery." Patriotic costumes are worn, and those who don't know the story of the Maine are educated and encouraged to join in on the festivities. New York has also participated in some years, and organizers have also allowed virtual participation, so those who don't live in those cities can still take part in a drink-filled remembering of the Maine.
How to Observe
Here are a few ideas on how to remember the Maine:
- Attend the ceremony held at the Battleship Maine Monument in Bangor, Maine. Veterans organize the event, but anyone can attend.
- Visit the USS Maine National Monument in New York City or the USS Maine Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Visit the Monument to Victims of the Maine in Havana, Cuba.
- Attend the Remember the Maine Day patriotic pub crawl in Boston. The pub crawl has also taken place in New York City. According to the event's Facebook page, 2020 is the last year it is being held. In the past, those who can't make it to Boston have been encouraged to celebrate virtually. If you can't get to Boston, or if the event is no longer being held, you could also hold your own Remember the Maine patriotic pub crawl in your community. Dress up in patriotic garb and hit the town!
- View photos of and related to the Maine.
- Watch a documentary about the Spanish-American War, such as Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War or The Spanish American War: First Intervention.
- Read a book about the Maine.