For most people in our area in early 1898, a growing conflict between two distant nations probably didn’t get much attention, other than some glances at the newspaper. When a young Oneonta man was one of many injured or killed in an explosion of a battleship he was aboard, the local attention increased markedly to what was soon to become the Spanish-American War.
The U.S.S. Maine had been sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain in the early months of 1898. The Maine suddenly exploded in Havana Harbor on Tuesday, Feb. 15, killing nearly three-quarters of its crew.
Ambrose Ham, the son of Cephas Ham of Oneonta, had been on board the Maine for four years, and his immediate fate was unknown. It was finally reported in The Oneonta Star on Saturday, Feb. 19, that Cephas Ham had received word his son was in Key West, slightly hurt.
“All Oneontans will rejoice with the father and sister over the good news,” the Star concluded.
The cause of that explosion was never actually determined, but popular opinion and the press of the day became a rallying cry to blame Spain and called for action.
While Ambrose Ham survived, local people began taking the saying, “Remember The Maine” seriously. On Wednesday, April 27, Star readers learned, “Manager Fitzgerald of the Oneonta theatre and Mr. Markham, of the company now playing at the house, are arranging a benefit performance for the Maine monument fund. A percentage of Thursday’s receipts will be given to the noble cause and special arrangements are being made for the production. Doubtless, the patriotic plan will be liberally supported by the public.”
Not only were there local fundraisers for the national monument, which was finally dedicated in 1913 at the Arlington National Cemetery, there were local awareness days for school children during May 1898.