Declaration of War With Spain
On this date in 1898, the United States declared war on Spain. It was plain to see that Americans had blamed Spain for the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. A “ghastly explosion” on the U.S. ship killed 260 Americans, giving rise to the battle cry, “Remember the Maine!”
Thirteen years after the Maine sank, a Board of Inquiry examined the ship’s hull and concluded that an “external explosion,” likely a Spanish mine, had caused the catastrophe.
Though all this happened over a century ago, North Dakotans can see a portion of the battleship Maine by stepping inside the front doorway of City Hall in Grand Forks. There in the entryway, to a visitor’s right-hand side, is a shiny brass plaque bearing the image of Lady Liberty in mourning, with her head bowed in sorrow, carrying a shield inscribed with the words “Devotion” and Patriotism.” Below her outstretched right arm is the forlorn image of the sunken hull of the battleship “as it looked after the explosion.”
Surrounding the sunken hulk’s form is this inscription: “In Memoriam. U.S.S. Maine, Destroyed In Havana Harbor, February 15th, 1898. This Tablet is Cast From Metal Recovered From the U.S.S. Maine.”
Perhaps not many city hall visitors today notice the thirteen by eighteen-inch tablet made of brass recovered from the ill-fated battleship, as it is sometimes partially hidden by snow shovels placed against the wall, but it is a vital link to history. The Grand Forks City Council requested the plaque in response to an offer from the U.S. Department of the Navy to distribute 2,000 of these memorials. The Navy accepted Grand Forks’ offer, and all the city had to do was to pay for shipping the 70 pound plaque from a foundry in New York. Grand Forks was among the first to apply for a memorial tablet, and the “request was promptly granted.”
In August of 1913, with little fanfare, city workers fastened the memorial to the marble slab wall, drilling holes and securing it with steel bolts.
And so, a little piece of the battleship Maine occupies a largely-forgotten place just inside the old portion of the stately Grand Forks City Hall downtown. It is a way that North Dakotans may still “Remember the Maine,” and the Spanish-American War, declared on this date in 1898, so very long ago.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.
Sources: “Council Proceedings,” Grand Forks Herald, May 5, 1913, p. 8.
“Maine Memorial Placed,” Grand Forks Herald, August 29, 1913, p. 6.
“Maine Memorial At City Hall Entrance,” Grand Forks Herald, July 11, 1913, p. 8.
“Maine Memorial To Be Placed Soon,” Grand Forks Herald, August 22, 1913, p. 8.
“Designs for Memorial Tablets to Battleship Maine Are Accepted,” Grand Forks Herald, December 25, 1912, p. 1.
“2,000 Maine Memorial Tablets Like This Will Be Donated to American Cities and Societies,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 27, 1913, p. A7.
“Maine Tablet Unveiled,” New York Times, September 18, 1913, p. 11.
“The New City Hall,” Grand Forks Herald, November 16, 1911, p. 4.