Thursday, August 18, 2016

Remember the Maine! Sarah's Reflections
on the Spanish American War, 1898

 On April 25, 1898, when Sarah Eva Howe was 14, her nation declared war on Spain. The U.S. went to war to halt Spain's empire-building in the western hemisphere my basic understanding of a complex world situation.  

Sarah, being Sarah, read about the Spanish-American War in the local newspaper and in magazines. She heard conversations about it at school and at her family's dinner table. Still, from her perspective, the war seemed to have little effect on her family and friends in Carrollton, Kentucky.

Sometime after 1915, Sarah wrote in a scrapbook her recollections of that year. She wrote to her four children, passing the family history on to them. Her recall of specific dates may be a little off, but she captures the mood of the time – at least, the mood in her own world. My transcription includes images that are not from the scrapbooks but which I could not resist adding, because they so beautifully illustrate Sarah's comments. At the end is a sample of Sarah's original writing.
 Washington Post cartoon, April 3, 1898 [1]
1898 began like any other year, but what an exciting and eventful year it was for all of us. The Maine was blown up you know early in the year, and war wa declared I believe, anyway on May 1st Dewey took Manila. As the U.S. had not been at war in the memory of any of us, and as the war didn’t touch any of us very closely, we really enjoyed it. We had little celluloid flag pins of Cuba and US to wear, and sang all the really beautiful songs of the time – I still remember them! All kinds of wonderful stories were told about Cuba, Spain, the Philippines, Evangeline Cisneros (don’t ask me who she was), and of course “our Teddy” Roosevelt and the Rough Riders and Richmond Pearson Hobson, whom
Theodore Roosevelt, 1898 [2]
all of us thought the handsomest man ever grown up in the U.S. (he sank the Merrimac across the channel in Havana Harbor, to keep the ships from getting out). We wore ribbons, a foot long some of them, and when Patticus my cat presented us with just one live (and one dead) kitten, we named the dead one “Spain” and the live one “Cuba Libre”! (as we pronounced this Li-ber) (even the most educated did so). Aunt Liza, who was now our “help” as Maggie had gone to work in a factory for a while, thought it was “Cuba Robber” and always called the kitten that way.) Poor “Cube” as we sometimes called him! He was a cheerful cat, but deformed – for he dragged his hind feet from birth, typical perhaps of Cuba’s early struggles for indepen-dence. Unlike Cuba tho, he succumbed to circumstances beyond his control when he was about 10 months old.

The only one of our boys who tried to go to war was Edward Stanley Bridges, who ran off from Hanover College and, being under age, was promptly brought back home. John Howe
[3]  by this time was finishing his first year at Kentucky Wesleyan. Lewis Darling was in his second year at “State College,” so was Allen Gullion, also Rayden Maddox (they had gone on without taking the extra year with Prof. English), Will Salyers, and by this time his brother Bob, too, were in the store with their father [4], who, having learned his business the hard way in his youth and taught it to his brothers, didn’t have much patience with college, at least not for men who were going into business instead of a profession. John Adcock had started at Medical School, so had Frank Grace, Dr. Gaines’ grandson. Frank Gaines Jr., his son, had by this time finished his medical course and was working with his father, and had married Daisy Jerrison [5] .
As for our family, Lille [6] was working in the store [7]. Jenne [8] and I finishing that memorable year with Prof. English, Leonora [9] talking and walking. Brother Turner baptized her on Children’s Day, it was such a beautiful service – the church was decorated as usual with plants and cut flowers and this time canaries were hung in several places among the plants and made a lovely effect.
Cover, 1897 Edition; Wikimedia Commons
We were reading Quo Vadis that year, and many straitlaced people were insisting that the descriptions of the Roman feasts were not fit for respectable young females to peruse. I remember Brother Turner was asked about it, and he guardedly said it was rather extreme in some places for a so-called religious book. Brother Turner was a delightful young man, all of us girls liked him so much.

While I liked reading Sarah's memories of the Spanish-American War era, I wish she had included some of the items she mentioned: the celluloid flag pins, the ribbons. Maybe we'll come across those items in a later scrapbook.

Sarah mentioned singing "all the really beautiful songs of the times." In the scrapbook, she wrote the titles of those songs. I was confused by the references to "blue and gray," typical of the Civil War. Sarah cleared up my confusion in a note at the bottom of the page: "U.S. uniforms during the Cuban War were all blue except the Rough Riders'." The opposition, apparently, wore gray.
Cuban war songs were "Mr. Volunteer," The Blue and the Gray," "Little Boy in Blue," "Goodbye Dolly Gray," "Farewell my Bluebell," "Goodbye, Little Girl, Goodbye," "Just as the Sun Went Down." A little later, "You Will Have to Read Your Answer in the Stars" had a verse like this: The Philippines and Cuba too Were conquered by our boys in blue. The Philippines are on the shelf, But we've let Cuba run itself. Will we let Cuba be a state? You'll have to watch the flag and wait! (Chorus) You will have to read your answer in the stars. Just drop a line to Jupiter or Mars, For the end of Cuba's story You will have to watch Old Glory! You will have to read your answer in her stars! (This is a pretty good indication of the feeling about Cuba for a good while.)

1. The cartoon, "And Boys, Remember the Maine!" by Clifford Berryman, appeared in the Washington Post on April 3, 1898. (National Archives; public domain.) It shows an angry Uncle Sam addressing sailors as the USS Maine sinks in the background.
2. Image by B.J. Falk [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Sarah's cousin John Junior Howe, son of her uncle William F. Howe
4. Charles D. Salyers, who later became Sarah's father-in-law. His store featured heating and cooking stoves and other goods.
5. The writing is hard to read. Could the name be Jennson? Jamison?
6. Lille Howe, one of Sarah's cousins
7. Howe Brothers, Inc., the family-owned department store
8. Jenne Howe, another first cousin to Sarah; a slster to Lille
9. Sarah's baby sister Leonora Alice Howe, born 20 December 1896.   

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