Mounted on a sparkling granite boulder and surrounded by vibrant flowers, a relic from the U.S.S. Maine is on display in the triangle on Washington Park Boulevard between Harvard and Fleet Avenues. The relic consists of a section of the conning tower and porthole cover from the ship and serves as a memorial honoring those who died aboard the USS Maine in 1898. A mysterious explosion destroyed the ship and killed two-thirds of its crew while at anchor in Havana Harbor. The tragedy is an important part of American history as it was a catalyst for the Spanish-American War, but why are these relics in Cleveland?
In January, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine was sent from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba to protect American citizens and interests during the Cuban War of Independence from Spain. On February 15, an explosion sank the ship and killed 266 crew members. Spain was quickly blamed for the act. While this event alone did not cause the Spanish-American War, “Remember the Maine” became the rallying cry for Americans at the onset of war two months later.
The U.S.S. Maine remained sunk in the harbor until it was raised in 1911. Congress authorized that parts and objects from the ship be given to cities and towns throughout America to create memorials. Communities from all over Ohio requested portions of the ship largely because one of their own, the slain President William McKinley, had been in office at the time of the conflict. The remainder of the ship was later scuttled at sea off the coast of Cuba where it remains today.
The 6,700-lb. relic at Washington Reservation was presented to the City of Cleveland by the U.S. government in April, 1912. Councilman Joseph Pelcinski and U.S. Congressman R. J. Bulkley were instrumental in securing a portion of the ship for Cleveland. Disagreements on the site for the memorial among Cleveland city councilmen delayed its installation however. The relic was finally dedicated on September 1, 1913. Its original location was further north, closer to Fleet Avenue and near the former Washington Park Viaduct. It was moved to its current location in 1948 ahead of construction of the Willow Freeway (I-77) over that portion of the park.
U.S.S. Maine relics can still be found in aging parks and cemeteries throughout Ohio and the country. While recent investigations have shown that the U.S.S Maine was likely sunk from an onboard explosion rather than attack, memorials such as the relic at Cleveland Metroparks Washington Reservation will ensure that we always “Remember the Maine."