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Sunday, July 17, 2016

The "Lancaster & The USS Maine" Story

Monument to honor those who fought in the Spanish-American War
as well as those who died when the USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor.
Remember to click on photos to enlarge them.
It was an ordinary day. Standing in front of a monument which featured a likeness of President James Buchanan in ... where else but Buchanan Park in Lancaster, PA.  Ready to take a photo when someone blew their horn.  As I once again held the camera in front of my face, the horn blew again. Then a voice called out ... evidently calling to me. I walked over to the van and the passenger asked me for directions to Wheatland, the home of James Buchanan.  
The USS Maine
"Two blocks in the direction you are headed, turn left for a block and a right will put you in front of the mansion." I told them.  Now, back to taking a few photos in this beautiful park near Franklin and Marshall College.  I got my Buchanan photo and headed about fifty yards west for my next photograph, the Spanish-American War monument.  
General William Murray Black
Seems that Lancaster has a certain connection to the Spanish-American War ... the USS Maine to be precise.  It was on January 25, 1898 that the USS Maine entered the Havana Harbor in Cuba.  Three weeks later on February 15, the ship exploded and sank.  The USS Maine was an Armored Cruiser or 2nd-class Battleship that was 324 feet long and had a beam of 57 feet. She was sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain.  She exploded suddenly, without warning, and sank quickly, killing nearly three quarters of her crew.  The cause of the explosion and who was responsible remained unclear, but it was suspected that Spain was to blame; thus the press articles that read: "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain."  
The Cofferdam that was placed around the USS Maine
The explosion was never explained, with both an internal magazine explosion or an external mine explosion never proved.  Eventually the internal explosion, from the use of bituminous coal which released firedamp (a gas prone to explosions), was more than likely the culprit.  
Plaque on the front of the monument
For several years the USS Maine was left where she sank in Havana Harbor, but the silt around her hull was creating a unwanted shoal.  Other patriotic groups wanted mementos of the ship so on May 9, 1910, Congress authorized funds for the removal of the Maine with military interment in Arlington National Cemetery of the bodies still inside.
Plaque on the rear of the monument
General William Murray Black, the Corps of Engineers officer in charge of raising the Maine was born in Lancaster, PA.  He lived at 323 North Duke St., graduated from Lancaster High School and spent nearly three years at Franklin & Marshall College before receiving an appointment to West Point Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1877 at the age of twenty-two. The task of removal of the Maine wasn't easy.  
One of the two cannons on either side of the monument
They first built a cofferdam around the ship, pumped water out from inside and exposed the deck.  After removal of relics and the deceased as well as the ship's main mast, it was towed by a tugboat into international seas and sunk.  In 1913 the General Wm. S. McCaskey Camp, United Spanish War Veterans of Lancaster, erected the Buchanan Park monument in memory of Lancaster's veterans and General William Murry Black.  
A metal insert on the monument
On the monument are plaques, front and back, that are forged from metal from the USS Maine.  Cannons that sit nearby were donated by the War Depart- ment.  At one time there was a powder tank from the ship and cannonballs, but they mysteriously disappear- ed.  I took my photos, touched the plaques and stood in front of the monument, wondering what really happened to the USS Maine that fateful day in 1898.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Another view of the monument

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