If asked what the slogan, “Remember the Maine!” was about, I could have told you it referred to a ship that was sunk and caused the Spanish-American War. I minored in history in college, but some of the details are a little blurry now. Today is the 123rd anniversary of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor.
Manned with a crew of 350 men, the Maine was a 393-foot-long battleship. It had been sent to Havana to protect Americans living there in the event that Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain spun into a full-scale war. At 9:40 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 1898, there was an explosion and the ship sank. Only 84 crew members survived. It was quickly concluded that the ship had been hit by a Spanish torpedo or that it had hit a Spanish mine.
“Remember the Maine!” became the battle cry in the United States, and the US Congress declared war on Spain ten weeks later on April 25, 1898.
Fast forward to 1976
In 1976, U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover investigated the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and concluded that the ship sank due to a probable coal bunker fire. That deflates the rallying cry, “Remember the Maine!” in a heartbeat.
Some historians have disputed Adm. Rickover’s conclusions, so we maybe haven’t heard the end of this story.
One has to wonder how differently the course of Cuban and American history would have gone if everyone had known at the time that the sinking of the U.S.S, Maine was a self-inflicted accident and not an act of war. The next time you read or hear, “Remember the Maine!” remember what can happen when a nation’s government jumps to the wrong conclusion.
How the US got Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines
The first battle of the Spanish-American War took place on May 1, 1898. The war lasted only several months, ending on August 12, 1898. Through the peace treaty, which was worked out in Paris the following December, Spain gave Cuba its independence and gave Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Let that sink in for a minute. What a turn of events!
When I was in school, we never studied the details of the Spanish-American War. Every year we studied U.S. history from colonial times through the Civil War. It was just through living, watching TV, and having an early interest in history that I absorbed through osmosis the stories of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Teddy Roosevelt and “The Rough Riders.”
In other words, I couldn’t give you a definitive summary of the Spanish-American War. I couldn’t have told you that Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Philippines had anything to do with that war. If I ever knew they did, those facts were lost to me over time. It was only in researching “Remember the Maine!” for today’s blog post that I learned of those connections.
Through my interest in genealogy, I’ve just in recent years learned that one of my great-uncles fought in the Spanish-American War. This made me realize that it’s not ancient history. It makes me realize today that I should have known more about it. I’m not as far-removed from it as I thought.
In the big scheme of things, United States history covers but a tiny fraction of world history. So how is it that we do such a poor job of teaching our citizens U.S. history?
Since my last blog post
I was able to get my first Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday. I thought I’d have to wait until March, but some more appointments opened up in my county. It is encouraging to get that first shot. I got the Moderna shot. My arm is sore, but that’s the only side effect I’ve had.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Having it on CD from the public library was a blessing the 48 hours I had a sick headache last week and couldn’t stand any light. I highly recommend this nonfiction book. Mr. Larson has a talent for bringing history alive in his writing.
I hope you have time to enjoy a hobby or favorite pastime this week.
Note: Next Sunday, February 20, is World Storytelling Day. Are you a good storyteller?
This is the first Monday of the month, so it’s time for me to blog about the books I read in December. Through the books I read in December, I traveled to Mississippi, Japan, Texas, Pennsylvania, and England. The beauty of reading is that you can see the world without ever leaving your easy chair. In December, I traveled the world without running the risk of catching Covid-19.
I don’t claim to be a book reviewer. Book reviewers have rules or guidelines they should follow. I don’t follow those guidelines; I just share my thoughts about the books I read. Below are my thoughts about the books that took me to Japan, Pennsylvania, and Texas in my easy chair in December.
Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie
As usual, I checked out too many books from the public library at one time and didn’t get this one finished before it disappeared from my tablet and returned to that public library in the sky! I immediately got back on the waitlist for it. It was two or three weeks before I got to check it out again. That isn’t the ideal way to read a book, but Fifty Words for Rain had enough of a hold on me that I definitely wanted to finish it.
The second time around, I got the MP3 audio version of the book. Since it had been several weeks since I’d read the first half of the book, I decided to listen to it from the beginning. Although familiar, listening to the novel made the story fresh and new for me, and I was soon hooked on it again.
The place is Japan. The time is 1948. The background for the novel is that a woman from a well-to-do family of pre-war royalty had a baby girl nick-named Nori that was fathered by an American GI. Considering the anti-American sentiments that the Japanese held immediately after World War II, that was bad enough; however, to make matters worse for Nori, her American soldier father was of African descent. In a country like Japan, where there has been little mixing of the races over the centuries, this mixed-race girl was an outcast.
Nori’s mother drops her off outside her parents’ estate, never to return. Nori has to introduce herself to her grandparents. To say they aren’t pleased with the situation would be a gross understatement. Being dropped off at the grandparents’ home is literally just the beginning of this story of abandonment, prejudice, concealment, physical abuse, freedom, prostitution, the human spirit, hope, obligation, and family ties.
This debut novel by Asha Lemmie is beautifully-written. I look forward to Asha Lemmie’s second novel – whatever it is or whenever it’s written and published.
Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris
The spark of inspiration behind this novel was a photograph that appeared in a 1948 magazine. It was a photograph of a sign that read: “Children for Sale.” That, the book’s title, and the book’s cover prompted me to add Sold on a Monday to my to-be-read list in 2018, the year it was published. In reviewing my TBR list last month, I decided it was time to read it. I checked out the MP3 of the book to listen to on my tablet.
Just like with Fifty Words for Rain, by Asha Lemmie, I knew Sold on a Monday, by Kristina McMorris deserved a second chance. I kept falling asleep while listening to Sold on a Monday – to the point that it made no sense. This is not a reflection on the book. It’s a reflection on what can happen when you have chronic fatigue syndrome and you want to sleep 24 hours-a-day.
The novel went back to the library, but the premise of the book wouldn’t let me go. I checked out the MP3 version again and gave it my full attention. It is a multi-layered book that takes you on a journey at break-neck speed. No wonder I couldn’t make sense of it the first time I slept through parts of it! If you skip a page or let your mind wonder for a few minutes, you’ll miss something important to the plot. There is not an unnecessary word in the whole book.
Ms. McMorris set the novel in Philadelphia early in the Great Depression. A newspaper reporter just can’t quite land that elusive story that will make his career. He takes a picture of a little boy and girl with a sign that reads, “Children for Sale.” The reporter makes a series of bad decisions, but he eventually becomes obsessed with tracking down the children. There are more twists and turns to this story than I could possibly comment on here – plus, that would spoil the book for you.
The crux of the novel is to show how a bad decision by an individual can have dire and tragic ramifications for other people.
The story that was the inspiration of this book reminded me of an incident that happened to a couple of friends of mine a decade or so ago. They went on a mission trip to a Native American reservation in the western part of the United States. A mother on the reservation offered to sell them her son. I was jarred by the story when my friends told me, and the thought of it still jars me today.
Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, by Erik Larson
This history of the deadly hurricane that all but wiped out Galveston, Texas in September 1900 was written in 1999, but the book just recently came to my attention. I’m becoming quite an admirer of writer Erik Larson. He writes history that reads like fiction. He gets into the nitty-gritty details that most history books skip over.
It was believed in meteorological circles at the turn of the 20th century that hurricanes were unlikely to hit the Texas coast. Combine that delusion with the lack of radar systems we depend on today, and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
Isaac Cline of Galveston thought he knew all there was to know about hurricanes. He didn’t think Galveston would ever be hit by a hurricane.
Cuba had warned the United States that a strong hurricane was heading into the Gulf of Mexico, but arrogance made US weather officials more than hesitant to take advice from Cuba. With black storm clouds approaching and huge waves crashing, many people went out to see what was happening along the oceanfront. Children delighted in playing the water as streets several blocks from the ocean filled with water. Businessmen went about their day as if nothing ominous was bearing down on their city.
The hurricane slammed into Galveston with virtually no warning, killing more than 6,000 and possibly as many as 10,000 people. Nearly a century before hurricanes were rated by intensity or named, the Galveston hurricane would easily be considered a Category 4 storm today.
It remained a ferocious storm all the way across the US, wreaking havoc in the Midwest. It brought hurricane force winds to cities such as Chicago and Buffalo. A steamship was almost sunk by the storm on Lake Michigan. Telegraph service across the Midwest and northeastern US was severely crippled with so many telegraph poles blown down. The storm continued on across Prince Edward Island and spun across the North Atlantic, sinking 16 ships. It was last witnessed as it made its way into Siberia.
Erik Larson researched newspaper accounts, letters written by Isaac Cline, telegrams, US Weather Bureau records, and the memories of the hurricane survivors.
To read about two of Erik Larson’s other books, follow this link to my February 3, 2020 blog post, Three Books I Read in January 2020 when I read The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America and this link to my July 27, 2020 blog post, Three Other Books Read in June 2020 when I read The Splendid and the Vile. All three of his books that I’ve read are shining examples of creative nonfiction.
Since my last blog post
I started the new year by decluttering. It was time to go through file folders and discard, recycle, or shred a lot of paper. The biggest pile was for the shredder. It felt good to get rid of some papers in order to make room for, you guessed it, more papers. This is never going to end. In my dreams, I’m a minimalist, but only in my dreams.
And that new baby cousin arrived on January 2 – a healthy boy. It was great to hear some good news.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read or write.
I hope you have lots of creative time to do the things you really enjoy.
Wear a mask.
Count your blessings.
Look for my blog post next Monday when I’ll tell you about the other books I read in December.
In last Monday’s blog post, I wrote about three of the books I read in June. Today, I write about three other books I read last month.
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson
Having read and liked Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America in February, I was eager to read his new book, The Splendid and the Vile. I listened to The Splendid and the Vile and thoroughly enjoyed it.
This nonfiction book reads like fiction, and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t read like a history book. Erik Larson has a way of doing that. If you aren’t a fan or student of history – specifically World War II era – you might not enjoy The Splendid and the Vile as much as I did.
It follows Winston Churchill and his family and friends. His teenage daughter, Mary, plays an important role as she gives us a glimpse of how a teenage girl would perhaps react to the London Blitz. She very much just wanted to be a teenager.
Mr. Larson weaves a fascinating story of Mr. Churchill and his associates. Being Prime Minister of Great Britain, he was in a position to make friendships and acquaintances with people of power. There were some connections he had with Americans that I hadn’t been aware of. Churchill’s son was a constant source of concern, along with the son’s wife, to put it mildly.
Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique
If you’re a mystery fan, you might want to check out Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique. This is the seventh book in his Sam Blackman series, but you don’t need to have read any of the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. If Mark de Castrique is a new author for you, this is a good novel to start with.
Set in Asheville, North Carolina and the Pisgah Forest area, Iraq War veteran and amputee Sam Blackman is a private investigator. His side kick and love interest is Nakayla Robertson. When a body is discovered on the grounds of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Blackman is called in to unravel a decades old mystery.
When they get too close to solving the murder, their lives are in more danger than they even imagine.
This novel gives interesting background information about the former space program monitoring facility that now collects weather data. It also brings in the flavor of the Asheville music scene. It is sprinkled with the humor that keep Sam and Nakayla together and which balances their private lives with the serious work they do.
If you like a good mystery and want to mentally escape to the North Carolina mountains, give Murder in Rat Alley a try.
The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood
The Chief Engineer for the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, William Roebling becomes quite ill during the years it took to build the bridge. His wife, Emily, had taken a deep interest in his work and started studying his engineering books.
The day comes when William is no longer physically able to go to the worksite. Emily starts going in his place and takes on more and more responsibility for the construction of the bridge.
This is a work of historical fiction based on a bit of truth, but the majority of the novel is indeed fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I was somewhat disappointed to read in the author notes at the end of the book that so much of it was fiction.
I still recommend it as a good read, but you might want to read the author’s notes before reading the book instead of afterwards like I did. For instance, P.T. Barnum plays a major role in the novel, but it turns out he was probably no more than an acquaintance of the Roeblings.
My apologies to the author, Tracey Enerson Wood, for not being able to insert an image of her book in my blog post today. This is her debut novel. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have good creative time this week.
Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.
The first Monday of the month seems to come around faster and faster, and it’s time for me to blog about the books I read the previous month. As usually happens, I have to divide the books I read the month before into two blog posts. No one wants to read a 2,000-word blog post.
I read approximately 6.5 books in January. Today’s blog post is about three of them. I’ll write about the other 3.5 books next Monday.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson
This book pleasantly surprised me. From the title, I wasn’t sure I’d like the book, but it’s an excellent piece of creative nonfiction.
I didn’t know the history of the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition except that it was held in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus’s.
Chicago was a rough-and-tumble place at that time, known primarily for the slaughterhouses located there. The city was in competition with Washington, DC as the site of the fair.
When Chicago was selected, the depth of the bedrock immediately became a source of concern for the fair’s planners, architects, and construction engineers. The weight of the fair’s proposed buildings and the poor soil were difficult to overcome with the construction equipment of the day. I found that aspect of the book to be fascinating.
The fair was planned, built, and held with a backdrop of mysterious disappearances and murders in Chicago. As the title suggests, that comes into play. The murderer is a physician.
The mandate the Chicago fair had was to “out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The grand Eiffel Tower was built as part of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, so the Chicago fair authorities were under a lot of pressure to construct something more amazing at their fair. That turned out to be the Ferris wheel, although that first Ferris wheel was made up of “cars” that could hold 20 passengers. The construction details about the Ferris wheel were interesting to me. Being the daughter of a structural steel draftsman, I grew up being exposed to discussions and an appreciation of such things.
Mingled in with the details of the construction and operation of the fair itself are tidbits of the personal lives of the people involved such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was also working on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina at the same time.
Reference is also made to some of the new inventions that were introduced to the public at the Chicago fair, including zippers, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cracker Jacks snack, moving pictures, the vertical file, shredded wheat cereal, and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix in a box.
A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci
A Minute to Midnight is David Baldacci’s latest novel and the second book in his Atlee Pine thriller series. I’ve only read five of Mr. Baldacci’s books, so I’ve missed a lot of his work. I missed the first book in this series, Long Road to Mercy. I’ll definitely read it before the third book in the series is published.
Atlee Pine is an FBI Special Agent. In A Minute to Midnight, she returns to her small hometown in Georgia to try to find answers to some nagging questions about her family. In the process of finding out some startling information about her parents, she is drawn into the investigation of several local murders. Who is the murderer? Are these murders – which are rare in this small town – somehow connected to Pine’s presence in the community?
Mr. Baldacci takes us on an eerie journey as he ties in the morbid history of the infamous Andersonville prisoner-of-war prison of American Civil War days. The prison’s cemetery plays a part in this novel, as that is where the murderer likes to leave his victims.
The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain
In this novel, Diane Chamberlain takes us into a devastating hurricane on the North Carolina coast. There is massive flooding in the southeastern portion of the state, and we’re soon caught up in the lives of two sisters who just happen to be doctors. Each sister tries to do her part to help in the aftermath of the hurricane. Their duties take them to different directions and a breakdown of telephone communications results of their not being able to communicate for two long weeks.
The sisters have a history of secrets that date back to the day their parents were murdered. One sister desperately wants children, while the other one is wrapped up in her career and doesn’t let herself have dreams of a family of her own.
There is a helicopter crash and one of the sisters cannot be located at the crash scene. She’s found by a local citizen and taken to his home for recovery. There are undertones of trouble within that home, though. Tensions rise because the small rural community is cut off from the mainland by the flooding, and the wife’s baby is due at any time.
I got a little weary of the part of the book that gave details of rescue efforts, but I’m glad a stuck with it. The ending was worth the wait.
Since my last blog post
Since my blog post last Monday, I had a freak accident and broke my right tibia. Therefore, you won’t see me as much on social media as usual.
Until my next blog post
I’ll be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to see what the plan of treatment will be for the next months. I hope I’ll get to blog about the other books I read in January next Monday.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty, a novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.