Monday, August 26, 2013

key west history, part 5

Battleship Maine monument at Key West cemetery

 Like it or not, the United States has always been an imperialist nation. By the late 1800s the continental west was won and so imperialist eyes were turned to places like the Philippines and Cuba. In 1898 both countries were governed by Spain. But the American government wanted them anyway and so, it took advantage of the political revolution in Cuba and declared war on Spain.
Then the 10 week conflict with Spain began. . .



Key West, because of its location, only 92 miles from Havana, and it's large harbor and the naval base, meant that the United States Navy would naturally use it as a primary supply depot and coaling station.

 Jose Marti

The revolutionary Cuban junta, under the leadership of Jose Marti and Tomas Estrada Palma, organized sixty-one Cuban political clubs in Key West.
The city became a center of Cuban revolutionary agitation, fund raising for the rebels and smuggling arms and men
into Cuba.

News traveled fast between Cuba and Key West.
By the appearance of the ships of the "Atlantic Squadron" in the harbor, Key Westers were able to predict not only the coming of the war, but also to when it would begin.
When the USS Maine exploded, Key West was the first city to hear about it.

Battleship Maine entering Havana Harbor

When that news came, an avalanche of correspondents from the major newspapers followed.
As one writer put it, "Key West became the seat, not of war, but of war correspondents."

After the "Maine" disaster, larger stocks-piles of supplies, coal and ammunition were sent to Key West warehouses, wharves, and docks that had been leased from private owners in the city. Freighters and transports were constantly arriving and departing and the Army was requested to strengthen the defenses that protected the city from attack.
The defenses consisted of Fort Taylor in the city itself, and
Fort Jefferson, seventy miles to the west. Large caliber coast defense guns were rushed to Key West.
The run up to war brought a financial goldmine to business in the city.

The army and navy faced the prospect of large numbers of casualties and planned to bring the most seriously injured or sick to Key West. But the hospital facilities at the Key West Barracks were not gonna be enough.
So the Mother Superior of the Convent of Mary Immaculate in Key West offered the buildings of her convent and school rooms to the Navy for use as a hospital.

Then there was another service in the city that was stretched to the limit by the situation. The three man police force for its nearly 18,000 people. With the servicemen coming to town in force, the cops were completely unable to maintain order; especially in the areas where all the saloons were.
So one additional man was added to the police department, but that would prove to be no help at all.

The Spanish-American War was an exciting time for the city. All those soldiers and sailors coming and going and a rush of new construction. The amount of money spent in the city by the Army and Navy is estimated to be $2,244,850 between March 1898 and July 1899.

Then after the war, the city was able to increase trade with Cuba, and with its new channel, its improved facilities and the continued presence of the services, enjoyed a time of uninterrupted prosperity.

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