Kuiper poses with a stone monument to the USS Maine. On top of it is an artillery shell.

Remember the Maine

“Remember the Maine! To heck with Spain!” American rallying cry, 1898 (except they didn’t say heck 😁)

Kuiper wanted to know what this artillery shell was doing in a Japanese garden in Tacoma, WA. 🤔 It turns out that in 1898, Point Defiance Park asked the Secretary of War for a souvenir from the destroyed warship USS Maine. They received this shell in 1913.

Did you know that the US may have gone to war over a misunderstanding? On Feb 15, 1898, the USS Maine suddenly exploded and sank in Havana Harbor, killing most of its crew. A naval investigation shortly thereafter concluded that the explosion was caused by an underwater mine, which caused the forward artillery magazines to explode. This was based on observations that part of the hull was bent inward.

The Maine incident brought full US attention to the conflict between Spain and Cuba (which was trying to liberate itself), precipitating the Spanish-American war. Some of the furor was driven by the media, despite the lack of clear evidence that Spain sunk our battleship. (This is the era where the term “yellow journalism” originated, the original clickbait.)

When the Army Corp of Engineers dredged up the ship in 1911, they determined that the hull was bent due to the internal explosion, but still suspected an external cause.

In 1974, the enterprising Admiral Hyman G. Rickover decided that someone had better get to the bottom of this. He gathered up all the available evidence, including photos taken by the Army, and pored over it with demolitions experts. His theory was that the coal bunker had spontaneously combusted, igniting the ammunition next door.

At the time, the Navy had just switched to using a different kind of coal. Bituminous coal is cheaper & burns hotter than anthracite, but it’s also significantly more volatile. It releases a mix of flammable gases called “firedamp.” If the coal on the Maine had tiny traces of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) in it, which was common, it’s plausible that oxidation (“rusting”) of the pyrite sparked the fire, as the reaction gives off enough heat to ignite the gas. In 2002, Discovery Channel’s Unsolved History investigation agreed with Rickover.

Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZnDrKzAd_2/

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