Race to Havana

Race to Havana

February 15, 1898:  The U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, an event equivalent to 9/11 in national impact.  [Ah-ha!  Now I can put “Remember the Maine” in context!].  This event created a political connection between Cuba and the Panama Canal.

Some senators had already suggested that a Panama or Nicaragua canal would necessitate the annexation of both Cuba and Hawaii.  When the Maine exploded, the ship Oregon, docked in San Francisco, was thought to be necessary for victory and was ordered to Cuba, which meant sailing around the Horn.  Radio communications could not be maintained along much of the route, so there were weeks when no one knew whether the ship was afloat.  Each contact was national news.  The Oregon reached Palm Beach in 67 days, in time for the Battle of Santiago.  Congress understood that in another emergency, only a canal might save the day.

The race of The Oregon was described in numerous publications, in prose and verse.  The verses by John James Meehan were memorized by school children from shore to shore.

The Ship Oregon,probably before 1898. Library of Congress Photo
The Ship Oregon, probably before 1898.                                       Library of Congress Photo

Lights out!  And a prow turned toward the South,
And a canvas hiding each cannon’s mouth,
And a ship like a silent ghost released
Is seeking her sister ships in the East. 

When your boys shall ask what the guns are for,
Then tel them the tale of the Spanish War,
And the breathless millions that looked upon
The matchless race of the Oregon.

The national response?  YES, WE NEED A CANAL!

For the complete poem, see Bartleby,com.

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