Remember the Maine?
A Spokane Veterans of Foreign Wars post had pretty much forgotten it has a piece of the historic battleship.
Until recently, the cast-iron shell slowly was rusting and working its way into the dirt behind an arborvitae near the front door to the Ensign John R. Monaghan Post 51.
No one was sure where the pointy-tipped projectile had come from. It was moved with the post as long as anyone could remember.
It was in the courthouse when the post met there, and downtown in a second-story office near P.M. Jacoy’s when the post had its headquarters there, said Garland Enberg, post commander in 1949-50. It sat outside a club on Montgomery and finally landed outside the current club offices on West Mission.
“The post has hauled it wherever they went,” said Enberg, who recently helped solve a mystery sparked by a group planning the 100-year anniversary of the battleship’s demise.
The U.S. Battleship Maine Centennial Commission wrote a letter to Mayor Jack Geraghty last month, asking for help locating relics from the famous dreadnought.
The Maine blew up and sank in Havana harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, prompting the Spanish-American War. Volunteers from the Northwest were sent to the Philippines and Samoa to wrest those islands from Spanish control.
“In 1912, when the battleship was raised from Havana harbor, the citizens of Spokane decided to honor the young heroes of the Maine by requesting various parts of the battleship,” Joe Pais, vice chairman of the commission wrote.
A shell from the battleship’s 10-inch guns and a cover for an air port were sent to something called AVFS Post 42, Pais wrote in his letter. Could anyone tell him what happened to them?
Problem was, no one in the mayor’s office had the slightest idea what or where AVFS 42 was. Because the request had to do with something nautical, Joan Jamison, the mayor’s assistant turned to Don Moeller, a member of the Navy League.
Moeller brought a copy of the letter to The Spokesman-Review, for help with the research, where a check of files revealed that American Veterans of Foreign Services Post 42 is what the Monaghan post used to be called. Shortly after they received the relics from the Maine, the post members changed the name to honor a Spokane Navy officer killed in Samoa a few months after the war, and were given a new number.
Monaghan’s statue watches the westbound traffic passing in front of the Spokane Club. An obelisk to all the veterans of that war sits in another traffic island at the intersection of Sprague and Riverside.
Clearly, the Spanish-American War was a bigger deal before the nation had two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf to remember, too.
Post members weren’t sure of the shell’s origins. The last Spanish-American veteran from the Monaghan post died about five years ago, Enberg said, and there’s no one around from 1912 who would remember if that’s when the shell arrived.
The best way to check would be to measure it, suggested Pais. Its base would have a diameter of 10 inches.
The base was partially sunk in the soft ground and gravel, but the body measures just under 31-1/2 inches around. Any sixth-grade math student can work backwards to figure that means a 10-inch diameter.
While it doesn’t say USS Maine anywhere, Pais said there’s every reason to believe that’s the shell. Later battleships hurled even bigger shells, and the Monaghan post’s shell has the same casting marks found on a Maine shell in a Spanish-American monument in Hoboken, N.J.
With the help of a hand truck, a 2-by-4, daytime bartender Bob Frasier and two bystanders, Enberg dislodged the shell from its inglorious resting place and set it upright.
Has to be from the Maine, said Frasier. There’s no other way something like that would wind up here.
But now that they know where it came from, members of the post might find a better way to display it - perhaps mounting it in concrete near the entrance and putting up a plaque explaining it’s from the famous ship, Enberg said.
A picture of the shell will be sent to the centennial commission for display in its exhibit of the ship.
They don’t want to borrow the heavy projectile, Pais said, they just want people to honor the people who served in the war.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo