The U.S.S. Maine was a battleship that was sent to Havana Harbor in January, 1898, to protect American lives and property during the revolt of Cubans against the Spanish government. At 9:40 P.M. on February 15, 1898, an explosion ripped through the ship, killing 266 sailors. Later investigations showed that more than five tons of powder stored in the ship’s forward magazines (storage areas for ammunition and powder) ignited and destroyed the forward third of the ship. What was left of the vessel quickly sank to the bottom of the harbor. There were many questions about who was to blame for the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, and in the end, the United States declared war on Spain in April of that year. Questions remain to this day concerning who and what caused the explosion of the ship’s magazines.
After receiving an overview of the situation, students working in groups form a hypothesis giving their explanation of what caused the U.S.S. Maine to sink. The students then receive three sets of clues, one set at a time, to help them solve the mystery. They examine a threatening letter sent from a Spanish commander before the explosion and telegrams sent by U.S. naval commanders after the explosion. They read front page headlines of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal where “yellow” journalism fanned the flames of the situation. They analyze testimony given to a court of inquiry by commanding officers of the U.S.S. Maine. They review previous negligent behavior of the ship’s captain and maintenance records of the ship. They interpret an image on a photograph to determine if a column of water shot up from under the ship. They review findings of divers who examined the wreckage. During the lesson students use critical thinking skills and collaboration to revise their hypotheses based on new information contained in the clues. In the end each group presents its final explanation of what caused the U.S.S. Maine to sink.
This lesson contains instructions detailing the procedure of this mystery lesson, a graphic organizer, three clue sets with a total of 29 clues, possible student answers, and a complete reference list.
These other Mystery from History Lessons are also available at my store:
Link-The Lost Colony of Roanoke
Link-The Dark Day of New England
Link-Pearl Harbor - Did U.S. Leaders Have Advance Knowledge of the Attack?
Link-The Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy Theories