The Maine Monument is one of the largest monuments in Manhattan. It was built in 1901-1913 to honor the 261 crew members of the USS Maine battleship who died when their ship exploded on 15 February 1898.
The monument sits at the southwest corner of Central Park, right near the Merchants’ Gate (one of eighteen entrances to the park), and overlooks Columbus Circle.
The USS Maine was a battleship, built in 1886-1888 at a naval shipyard in New York. In January 1898 the United States sent the battleship to Havana. Cuba was still under the governance of Spain, and many Americans supported the Cuban rebels who strived for independence from Spain. The American government feared that planned elections in February that year might spark violence between the rebels and Spanish loyalists so they sent the USS Maine to the harbor of Havana to protect the American interests there.
At 21:40 on 15 February 1898 an explosion obliterated a large part of the battleship, which at the time was moored in the harbor of Havana. Investigations were inconclusive, but American newspapers and the US Navy were quick to point fingers towards Spain and claimed a mine had caused the explosion, even though there was no evidence to support the theory. New York newspapers were particularly belligerent. This increased the hostile atmosphere between Spain and the U.S. which would lead to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War two months later.
Shortly after the tragedy, calls were made to create a monument in honor of those who were killed in the explosion. Media magnate William Randolph Hearst spearheaded a fundraising, and for several years money poured in from across the nation. Construction of the Maine Monument started in 1901, after a design by sculptor Atillio Piccirilli and architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle. The monument was finally dedicated twelve years later.
The creation of Piccirilli and Magonigle is quite spectacular, with an imposing 44-foot-tall (13.4 meter) pylon topped by a large gilded sculpture group and flanked by marble figures at the base. The names of those who died are chiseled in the pylon.
The gilded female figure at the top is Columbia Triumphant, who rides a sea chariot pulled by three seahorses. Columbia Triumphant is an allegorical representation of the United States and symbolizes the triumph of the country’s naval power – hence the seahorses. It is said that the statue was cast from metal recovered from the Maine’s guns.
At the base, a ship’s prow protrudes from the pylon. A young boy at the tip of the prow raises his arms aloft. In his hands he held wreaths symbolizing peace and victory, but those were stolen a long time ago. Behind him stands the figure of Peace with on her right a man and on her left a woman with a child, respectively representing Courage and Fortitude.
Allegorical statues of the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean are shown resting against the left and right side of the monument. Finally, a the back of the monument, a female figure with closed eyes represents Justice.