Most are aware that Reading has a U.S.S. Maine Anchor which sits at 11th and Washington Streets in City Park, yet few know of the tumultuous process in which it was dedicated here.
A quick history recap: the U.S.S. Maine sunk after it suffered an explosion while in the Havana Harbor on February 15th, 1898, killing 268 seamen on board. The direct cause of the explosion was never determined, but the event is considered to be a catalyst leading to the Spanish-American War. The U.S.S. Maine’s remains were partially exposed in Havana Harbor until 1911 when the Navy had it cofferdammed, towed out to sea and resunk. At this time some parts of the ship were taken to create monuments in remembrance of the dreadful event in various cities around the country. Reading was lucky enough to receive one of her anchors.
The first mention of the anchor in the Reading Times was on Valentines Day 1914, when it was announced that the Navy would be handing it over to local democrat congressman John Rothermel. Rothermel’s term was nearly up, and the Times speculated on a few occasions that this was a political stunt to promote his November re-election. Rothermel was largely unpopular amongst his own party, many of which claimed he did little to nothing for Berks County during his term. This culminated on March 7th, 1914 when the Reading Times reported that the 9th Ward Democrats endorsed a different candidate for Rothermel’s congressional seat.
The U.S.S. Maine Anchor arrived in Reading via the Pennsylvania Railroad on March 25th, 1914. The Reading Times reported that it arrived in the same condition in which it was pulled out of the harbor; rusty and covered in barnacles. The anchor weighed over 6 tons, or 12,000 lbs. It was towed to its current location in city park the same day it arrived with an escort of six police officers. As the months marched on the anchor was cleaned and repainted. Planning for the dedication ceremony, which was to take place that summer, was underway.
On May 15th, 1914 an article ran in the Reading Times stating that the anchor given to the city was a hoax, citing the fact that many citizens who had visited the anchor noticed the year inscribed on it as 1846. Many believed that this could not be from the U.S.S. Maine, which was constructed in 1888, as the thought was that the United States would not put antiquated equipment on its brand new warships. This heightened the narrative from a political stunt to exploitation.
The headlines remained tumultuous up until the dedication, which was set for August 1st. The community was becoming increasingly divided over whether or not the anchor was authentic. Despite multiple inquiries made, the United States government stood by the anchor’s authenticity.
The young assistant secretary of the United States Navy named Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Reading to speak at the dedication ceremony. In his speech he chastised those who called the relic fake,
“It has come to my ears that certain persons, who must have had either a strongly perverted sense of humor or a malicious design to circulate falsehood, have suggested that the national government has deliberately attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the city of Reading by sending it an anchor which was not one of the anchors of the Maine. There is, of course, no question that this anchor was on the Maine at the time she was blown up in Havana Harbor, that it was raised from the wreck 14 years afterwards, taken to Key West, Florida to Norfolk Va; from Norfolk to Washington and thence to its present resting place. Its history is complete and absolutely authenticated, but I cannot refrain from suggesting my disappointment that there can exist in any community people so small as to allow personal or political jealousies to influence them so far that they publicly doubt the honesty of the national government.”Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his U.S.S. Maine Anchor dedication speech in Reading on August 1st, 1914
Two weeks after the ceremony, Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his own candidacy for senate.
The August 1st, 1914 Reading Eagle outlined the history of the anchor, stating it was indeed cast in the Washington Navy Yard in 1846. It also reported that the anchor could have been used in the Civil War, and that it was sent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1890 to be the U.S.S. Maine’s bow anchor. Interestingly the article also states that the anchor was retrieved from the Maine shortly after its sinking in 1898, as opposed to when the ship was recovered in 1911. Allegedly, the anchor sat in a Key West warehouse for the duration.
On September 10th a Philadelphia Inquirer piece published in the Reading Times announced that John Rothermel had been defeated in the democratic primary for re-election, and credited the Maine anchor for his loss.
The last reference to its authenticity was published in the August 4th, 1914 Reading Times – only one sentence, “Now that the anchor has been dedicated as the Maine anchor, the argument might as well be buried.“