The New York World
"In the same despatch Capt. Sigsbee said that not more than one hour prior to the explosion the magazines and boilers had been carefully inspected, thus, in his judgment, precluding the possibility of accident.…"
The New York World
Excerpts from daily newspaper coverage of the explosion of the U.S.S.Maine
Published February 16 and 17, 1898
By January 1898, Cuba had been fighting a revolution for independence from Spain for nearly three years. Cuban rebels wanted freedom to govern themselves. Spain wanted to hold onto the Cuban colony, whose rich sugarcane and tobacco industries were valuable resources.
On January 12, in the Cuban capital of Havana, a pro-Spanish but anti-military newspaper, El Reconcentrado, published an article that criticized a Spanish army officer. Army officers and their civilian friends reacted by destroying the offices of El Reconcentrado, as well as those of two newspapers that supported Cuban autonomy—the right of Cuba to govern itself as a free state within the Spanish empire. This event led to riots between Spaniards and Cubans who disagreed on the issue of Cuban freedom.
The United States, which had stayed out of the Cuban conflict, reacted to the riots by sending Captain Charles Sigsbee and the U.S. battleship Maine to Havana on January 24. Calling it a friendly mission, U.S. president William McKinley (1843-1901; served 1897-1901; see entry in Biographies section) hoped that the naval visit would protect American lives and property in the region and pressure Spain to bring the revolution to an end through peaceful negotiations.
On the evening of Tuesday, February 15, the Maine mysteriously exploded while anchored in Havana harbor. Of the 355 people onboard, 252 died in the explosion and eight more died in Havana hospitals from their wounds. Many American newspapers already wanted to wage war with Spain to end the revolution, and the Maine disaster fueled that fire. These excerpts from the New York World, which was in a war at the time with the New York Journal to see which could gain the most readers, contain haunting—but unproven—suggestions that Spain had sabotaged the American battleship.
Things to remember while reading the excerpts from the New York World :
• Only six days before the explosion, the New York Journal had printed a letter written by the Spanish minister to the United States, Enrique Dupuy de Lôme. In the letter, which had been stolen from a Spanish newspaper editor visiting Cuba, Dupuy de Lôme called President McKinley "weak," according to Ivan Musicant in Empire by Default . American hostility toward Spain was thus heightened when the Maine exploded.
Excerpts from the New York World on February 16 and 17, 1898
Wednesday, February 16, 1898.
THE U.S. BATTLE-SHIPMAINE BLOWN UP IN HAVANA HARBOR.
More than One Hundred of the Crew Killed by the Explosion Which Occurred While They Were Asleep.
MESSAGE FROM THE WORLD'S STAFF CORRESPONDENT.
Capt. Sigsbee and All but Two Officers Escaped, but a Hundred of the Crew Were Drowned—Cause of Explosion Unknown.
THE EXPLOSION WAS IN THE BOW OF THE VESSEL.
World Staff Correspondent Cables it is Not Known Whether Explosion Occurred On or UNDER the Maine.
HAVANA, Feb. 15.—At a quarter of ten o'clock this evening a terrible explosion took place on board the United States battle-ship Maine in Havana harbor.
Many were killed and wounded.
All the boats of the Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII are assisting.
As yet the cause of the explosion is not apparent. The wounded sailors of the Maine are unable to explain it.
It is believed that the battle-ship is totally destroyed.
The explosion shook the whole city.
Windows were broken in all the houses.
The correspondent of the Associated Press conversed with several of the wounded sailors. They say the explosion took place while they were asleep, so that they can give no particulars as to the cause.
The wildest consternation prevails in Havana. The wharves are crowded with thousands of people.
It is believed the explosion occurred in a small powder magazine.
The explosion was in the fore part of the vessel and not in the powder magazines, which Capt. Sigsbee says were in perfect order.
Capt. Sigsbee, although badly wounded in the face, was very cool giving orders to officers and men.
The officers also showed great coolness and valor giving orders to men.
They were in their shirt-sleeves, having been hurled from their bunks at this moment.
They are bringing in the wounded to land.
Some are mortally wounded and will probably die.
Five minutes after the explosion, the Spanish warship Alfonso Doce had lowered her boats and was picking up those who were swimming.
United States Consul-General Lee is at the Governor-General's palace conferring with Captain-General Blanco.
Thursday, February 17, 1898.
MAINE EXPLOSION CAUSED BY BOMB OR TORPEDO?
Capt. Sigsbee and Consul-General Lee Are in Doubt-The World Has Sent Special Tug, With Submarine Divers, to Havana to Find Out-Lee Asks for an Immediate Court of Inquiry-260 Men Dead.
IN A SUPPRESSED DESPATCH TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT, THE CAPTAIN SAYS THE ACCIDENT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY AN ENEMY.
Dr. E. C. Pendleton, Just Arrived from Havana, Says He Overheard Talk There of a Plot to Blow Up the Ship—Capt. Zalinski, the Dynamite Expert, and Other Experts Report to The World that the Wreck Was Not Accidental—Washington Officials Ready for VigorousAction if Spanish Responsibility Can Be Shown—Divers to Be Sent Down to Make Careful Examinations.
Washington, Feb. 16.—A suppressed cable despatch received by Secretary Long from Capt. Sigsbee announced the Captain's conclusion, after a hasty examination, that the disaster to the Maine was not caused by accident.
He expressed the belief that whether the explosion originated from without or within, it was made possible by an enemy.
He requested that this intimation of his suspicions be considered confidential until he could conduct a more extended investigation.
This despatch was laid before the President, at whose suggestion Assistant Secretary Day cabled Consul-General Lee to make whatever examination was possible himself and render assistance to Capt. Sigsbee.
In the same despatch Capt. Sigsbee said that not more than one hour prior to the explosion the magazines and boilers had been carefully inspected, thus, in his judgment, precluding the possibility of accident.…
SPANISH OFFICER IN CUBA MAKES A STARTLING PREDICTION.
A Spanish resident of this city, a man of responsible position, recalled a few days ago a letter from a lieutenant in the Spanish army in Cuba. This letter was written in Havana, is dated Jan. 28, 1898, and one section of it reads as follows:
"The visit of the battle-ship Maine has created a very bad feeling among us; it tastes like 'burned horn' in the mouths of the people.
"Though they conceal their anger, the storm is near the surface.
"It is certain that before long that will happen which will astonish the whole world."
HEARD OF A PLOT TO BLOW UP THE MAINE.
Dr. C. E. Pendleton Learns of the Disaster Upon His Arrival on a Steamer from Key West and Hastens to Washington.
Dr. C. E. Pendleton arrived here yesterday on the Mallory liner Lampasas from Key West and departed for Washington on an earlyafternoon train. As soon as he heard news of the Maine disaster he became greatly excited and said he had urgent business at the White House.
A few weeks ago Dr. Pendleton was in Havana. While there he was in constant communication with the New York newspaper correspondents. He left Cuba in the early part of this month and sailed from Key West on the Lampasas on Saturday afternoon.
During the trip he was constantly in the company of Capt. Hoswell, who occupied state room No. 25. Just who the Captain was or the nature of his mission no one seemed to know. The crew spoke of him as "the detective."
It was shortly after noon yesterday when the Lampasas was docked. Before she had been alongside the pier a minute a score of newsboys were surrounding the gangway, shouting the fate of the Maine at the top of their voices.
"What's that they are crying?" asked Pendleton, who was standing at the entrance to the saloon.
"Something has happened to the Maine ," answered a fellow-passenger.
"What?" shouted the doctor, excitedly. In a minute a copy of The World was placed in his hands. He read the headlines hurriedly, simply catching a word here and there. But he grasped the situation as if by intuition.
The paper fell from his hands. He dropped on his knees, and, raising his hands and looking upward, he said in a choking voice:
"My God? Why did I not send them word before?"
Dr. Pendleton rushed on the pier and ordered a carriage. He piled his luggage into the coach and with Capt. Hoswell drove off.
The story of Dr. Pendleton, according to one of the passengers on the Lampasas , is as follows:
Dr. Pendleton had been in Havana a few days only when the story of the Maine having her guns levelled on Morro Castle began to be circulated and discussed by the frequenters of the cafes. The rumor naturally created excitement.
The sympathisers with the insurgents were open in their boasts that the United States had at last awakened to the gravity of the situation and was ready to act upon the slightest provocation.
On the other hand, the Spaniards were by no means reticent in their threats and defiance. They did not hesitate to say that if the Americans were not careful their fate would be a matter of history in a very few days.
Dr. Pendleton paid little attention to these rumors and personal opinions. One day, while walking with a friend, he mentioned the fact that the Maine's guns were levelled on Morro Castle. The man simply laughed. Pendleton asked him what he thought of it.
"Why, don't you know?" he replied; "if the Maine ever attempted to level her guns on Morro she would go up in the air like a balloon. We are prepared for everything and anything. The first warlike move on the part of this American battle-ship will be met with determined and decisive action by our people.
"We have enough sub-marine wires under and all around the Maine to blow her to hell whenever we choose."
At the time Pendleton thought little of the statement. It was only when he learned of the disaster to the battle-ship that the terrible truth dawned on him.
What happened next…
President McKinley appointed a naval court of inquiry to investigate the explosion of the Maine. Headed by Admiral William T. Sampson (1840-1902), the court finally issued a report on March 25, concluding that two explosions had destroyed the battleship. The first, as reported in Ivan Musicant's Empire by Default, was "a mine situated under the bottom of the ship." The second was one or more ammunition compartments that had been ignited by the first explosion. As for the culprit, Sampson and his colleagues said, again according to Musicant, that they were "unable to obtain evidence fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the Maine upon any person or persons." Nonetheless the United States went to war with Spain on April 25.
Did you know…
- Spain conducted its own investigation in February and March 1898, and concluded that an internal explosion alone had caused the disaster. The most important evidence in this regard was that hull plates from the Maine were bent outward. The Spanish report, however, failed to recognize that the keel of the battleship had been bent into an upside-down V, suggesting a external explosion as well.
- In the 1970s, the U.S. Navy reinvestigated the incident and this time concluded that an accidental internal explosion alone was the most likely cause of the disaster. In 1997, the National Geographic Society commissioned a study using computer simulations. The study concluded that either an internal accident or an external mine could have destroyed the Maine. Thus, the mystery remains.
For More Information
Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1992.
Brown, Charles H. The Correspondent's War: Journalists in the Spanish-American War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967.
Golay, Michael. The Spanish-American War. New York: Facts On File,1995.
Musicant, Ivan. Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.
O'Toole, G. J. A. The Spanish War: An American Epic-1898. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984.
Somerlott, Robert. The Spanish-American War: 'Remember the Maine . Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002.
New York World. February 16, 17, and 20, 1898.