Remember the Maine


On February 15, 1898, an explosion of unknown origin sank the battleship U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor, killing 266 of the 354 crew members. The sinking of the Maine incited United States’ passions against Spain, eventually leading to a naval blockade of Cuba and a declaration of war.

Ostensibly on a friendly visit, the Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after riots broke out in Havana in January. An official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry reported on March 28 that the ship, one of the first American battleships and built at a cost of more than two million dollars, had been blown up by a mine without laying blame on any person or nation in particular, but public opinion in the United States blamed the Spanish military occupying Cuba anyway. Subsequent diplomatic communications failed to resolve the matter, leading to the start of the Spanish-American War by the end of April.

The Spanish-American War is notable as the first U.S. war documented by the motion picture camera. The Edison Manufacturing Company, for example, sent cameraman William Paley to Key West, Florida, where he filmed Burial of the “Maine” Victims on March 27, 1898. In late March he also filmed the Wreck of the Battleship “Maine” in the Havana harbor, and in late April and early May of that year he filmed, in Florida, military preparations for the war. A special “War Extra,” issued on May 20, 1898, as a supplement to the Edison Manufacturing Company catalog, promised that these motion pictures “would be sure to satisfy the craving of the general public for absolutely true and accurate details regarding the movements of the United States Army getting ready for the invasion of Cuba.”

Declaration of War

[Existence of war – Spain.] By the President of the United States of America: a proclamation Whereas by an act of Congress approved April 25, 1898, it is declared that war exists and that war has existed since the 21st day of April, A. D. 1898,

U. S. President William cKinley (1897-1901). Washington, 1898.

Existence of war – Spain 1898


Burial of “Maine” victims

Funeral of nine of the victims of the “Maine” disaster

“Taken at Key West, Fla., March 27, 1898. First comes a detachment of sailors and marines in the left foreground, while at the right is seen a crowd of small colored boys, which precedes any public procession in the South. Then follow the nine hearses, each coffin draped with THE FLAG. At the side of each wagon walk the pall bearers, surviving comrades, their heads bowed in attitudes of grief. Next come naval officers and marines, and lastly a procession of carriages, followed by a large crowd on foot. The scene is reproduced as it actually occurred. The figures are life size and well in the foreground”–Edison films “war extra” catalog.




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