The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor was the fire that ignited the Spanish – American war back in 1898. Read how the story unfolded by reading the actual articles that appeared in the US newspapers. As with today, journalism can fuel public opinion. Lets look at how it was reported over 110 years ago.
The San Francisco Call – February 18, 1898
A Floating Torpedo Destroyed The Maine – Seen by a sailor on-board – Gradually the details connected with the disaster to the Maine are coming out, and as the facts become known they point more positively to the deliberate destruction of the vessel and the murder of her crew.
I learn to-night on undoubted authority that one of the maimed sailors who was taken to the Marine Hospital last night, out of gratitude for the kind treatment and careful nursing received from the surgeon and attendants, has broken the seal of silence en-joined by his superior officers before leaving Havana. He makes a statement, the truth of which can hardly be doubted, which stamps the perpetrator of the diabolical tragedy enacted Tuesday night in the harbor of Havana as one of the blackest in the history of humanity.
The sailor, whose name for obvious reasons is withheld for the present, says he was on watch on the forward deck shortly before the explosion occurred. While looking over the Maine’s bow into the dark waters of the bay he saw a black object slowly coming toward the vessel. The object, whatever it was, was apparently illuminated and emitted smoke.
He suspected something wrong and started to communicate the fact to the officer of the deck, and had barely commenced to tell what he had seen when the explosion took place. The Maine was raised in the air and he was thrown to the deck, stunned and bleeding. He also says that simultaneously with, the raising of the Maine he saw the steam launch which was moored alongside thrown out of the water.
This occurred before the second explosion in the Maine’s magazine was felt which sent her to the bottom.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the country, the Kansas City Journal prints a totally different story. Remember, this was a time when the flow of information was not shared instantly , like we are used to today.
Kansas City Journal – February 19, 1898
The only absentees from to-day’s cabinet meeting were Secretaries Sherman and Alger. During the meeting, the disaster to the Maine was the principal topic of discussion. Although the president and members of the cabinet await with interest the result of the inquiry into the cause of the disaster, there remains scarcely a doubt in their minds it was an accident purely, and such as might happen at any time. This view of the matter, however, will not Influence the president to stop short of a most searching investigation into all facts that may have any possible bearing upon the case. Until facts are shown to the contrary, the president will assume that the explosion came from within.
New York Tribune – February 18, 1898
The Maine Destroyed From Within – Such is the belief of the survivors that made it to Key West. The associated Press correspondent here has had an opportunity to question a number of the officers and men who were aboard the warship Maine at the time of the explosion, and it is of the opinion of all of them that the explosion was due to some interior cause, and not the result of the explosion of a torpedo from the outside.
The Scranton Tribune – February 19, 1898
SOBRAI’S THEORY – Thinks the Disaster at Havana Was Due to Negligence. Lieutenant J. G. Sobrai, naval attache of the Spanish legation at Washington, was in this city yesterday actively co-operating with the authorities in preparations for insuring the safety of the Spanish battleship Viscaya during her stay In this port. Lieutenant Sobral was asked for his opinion as to the cause of the explosion on the Maine. His reply was: “I know the cause of the explosion, but I cannot divulge It.”
He was pressed for further information on this point, and he finally replied: “It was the result of an explosion inside the ship, which took place In one of the forward magazines. The fact of the matter Is that the discipline and the watch observed on the ship were very lax. This, as one English newspaper the other day declared, is the case on American warships generally. These sort of things have occurred on previous occasions on American war vessels.”
What really happened with the sinking of the USS Maine –
Experts of the time believed that spontaneous combustion in coal bin in the bunker next to the reserve six-inch magazine was the most likely cause of the explosion on board the ship. However, public opinion had already tried and convicted the Spanish of the disaster. Here are some of the more blatant headlines from the San Francisco Call.