Before 9/11, before Pearl Harbor, there was the Maine. The Maine was an American warship dispatched in 1898 to the Spanish colony of Cuba. Although the ship’s mission was ostensibly peaceful, America’s relations with Spain had become tense due to the Cuban War of Independence. Americans were sympathetic to the Cuban rebels and appalled by stories of Spanish atrocities on the island. There were also concerns about the safety of Americans in Cuba. Sending a warship seems to have served as a warning to Spain, or even an attempt at intimidation.
On February 15, 1898, the Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. Hundreds of sailors and marines were killed in the explosion, or drowned. Though proof of Spanish involvement in the explosion was limited, the sinking and deaths inflamed an American public that soon became whipped into a frenzy by lurid journalism. Before long, the cry went up, repeated everywhere: “Remember the Maine; To hell with Spain!”1
Memorabilia Hits the Market
The Manhattan Novelty Company (which was not actually located in Manhattan, but the Manhattan Building in Chicago)2 found a way to profit from the tragedy.3 The year of the explosion, Manhattan began publishing and selling an engraving titled “The War Congress of the United States of America.” The “War Congress” it referred to was the Fifty-Fifth Congress, which sat from March 4, 1897 to March 4, 1899. On April 25, 1898, just over two months after the Maine explosion, that Congress had issued a declaration of war against the kingdom of Spain, which formally began the conflict known as the Spanish–American War.4 Manhattan’s engraving purportedly included portraits of all the members of the House of Representatives of the Fifty-Fifth Congress, which had voted for war with Spain.5 It was accompanied by a list of the Congressmen arranged by state and district. The engraving was inscribed with the words “They Remembered the Maine.” 6
sales agent, S. Rosenfield, exhibited a copy of the engraving
to L. Ransohoff, manager of the Colorado Dry Goods Company of
Denver. Ransohoff responded enthusiastically. On October 24,
1898, Colorado Dry placed an order for 5,000 copies at a
wholesale price of four and three-quarter cents per
copy, Manhattan agreed to print: “Compliments of the
Colorado Dry Goods Company, Denver.”
The engravings were scheduled...