HI Mailbag: Indianapolis Victim on the USS Maine

Written by on February 23, 2016 in Mailbag - 8 Comments
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Reader’s Question:

Last week, I tweeted some photos that I took at Crown Hill Cemetery of the grave of Harry Keys, an Indianapolis resident who was on the ill-fated USS Maine. My tweets got the attention of a high school history teacher who had done research on the mass burial of the casualties.  She had discovered that there was only one person on board from Indiana, and that he is not buried at Arlington National Cemetery with the other sailors. I wondered if this might be something you’d want to investigate further.  ~ Tom D., Indianapolis   

HI’s Answer: 

The USS Maine was one of the United States of America’s earliest battleships.  It was 319-feet long, weighed over 6,682 tons, and cost more than $2,000,000 to build.  In January of 1898, the Maine and its crew of 300 men were sent from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba to protect American interests there, after Cuba had begun to rebel against repressive Spanish colonial authorities in residence there.

USS Maine as it appeared prior to the explosion (courtesy of Providence Albertype Company, Providence, Rholde Island)

USS Maine as it appeared prior to the explosion that sank the battleship on February 15, 1898, in Havana Harbor, Cuba     (photo by the Providence Albertype Company, Providence, Rhode Island)

A portion of the 300 men on board the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana Harbor (photo courtesy of  )

About one-third of the 300 men on board the USS Maine when it exploded in Havana Harbor on Tuesday, February 15, 1898   (1896 photo by Edward H. Hart )

Many Americans are familiar with the historic phrase, “Remember the Maine,” but not everyone knows that there was a second part to that rallying cry, “To hell with Spain.”  These words were on the lips of many U.S. citizens after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor on the night of Tuesday, February 15, 1898, as many believed Spain to be responsible for the sinking of the ship and the deaths of 260 men.

Although the cause of the explosion was never proven, the public pressed President William McKinley to declare war with Spain.  By April 25th, the conflict that is now referred to as the Spanish-American War was underway.  With forces like Commodore George Dewey’s formidable U.S. Naval squadron and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, the war was woefully one-sided.  By year’s end, Cuba had gained its independence from Spain, and the United States had acquired the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico from Spain.

Front page headlines on February 17, 1898 (courtesy of The World)

Front page headlines on February 17, 1898 (courtesy of The World)              CLICK TO ENLARGE

The only person from Indiana who was on the USS Maine when it went down was 21-year-old Harry J. Keys.  He was born just north of Terre Haute on November 21, 1876, to Henry Keys (1842- ?) and Matilda Kight Keys (1858-1949). The family moved to Indianapolis in 1884, when their son was 7 years old.  They resided at 517 North Liberty Street.  Liberty was renamed Park Avenue at the end of the 19th century, the name by which the street is still known today.  The Keyses were among the earliest members of the newly built Fletcher Place Methodist Episcopal Church.  Harry probably attended Clemens Vonnegut School 9 and Indianapolis High School (renamed Shortridge High School in 1897).

Harry J. Keys, his mother, and his stepfather resided at 517 N. Liberty Street, which is 517 Park Avenue (1908 Baist map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)

Harry J. Keys, his mother, and his stepfather resided at 517 North Liberty Street, which today is 517 North Park Avenue    (1908 Baist map courtesy of IUPUI Digital Archives)                   CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1896, Harry joined the United States Navy.  Either Harry’s father passed away or his parents divorced, because on March 18, 1896, his mother married John J. Turner, a U. S. postal carrier.   From the moment Harry’s mother received news of the sinking of the USS Maine, she and her new husband mounted efforts to have her son’s remains returned to Indianapolis, should he be among the dead.  Sadly, Harry was in fact one of the casualties, but it would be more than two years before his body came home.

February 18, 1898 newspaper clipping (courtesy of The Indianapolis News)

February 18, 1898 newspaper clipping about the Maine tragedy      (The Indianapolis News)

Framed photo of USS Maine victim from Indianapolis, Indiana, Harry J. Keys (copyrighted work licensed by Worthpoint on ebay)

Framed photo of Harry J. Keys, USS Maine victim from Indianapolis, Indiana, is for sale  (ebay image courtesy of Worthpoint)

March 3, 1898 article regarding the burial (courtesy of The Indianapolis News

March 3, 1898 new article regarding efforts to return Keys’ body    (The Indianapolis News)

The dead who were recovered at the time of the tragedy were buried in a cemetery in Havana.  In 1899, 165 bodies were exhumed and reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery burial site of casualties of the USS Maine explosion  (courtesy of )

Arlington National Cemetery burial site if the USS Maine casualties     (photo courtesy of Tim Evanson and Flickr)

Harry was among those buried first in Havana and then in Arlington, but his mother and stepfather remained vigilant about having his body returned to Indianapolis.  They were aided by Indiana Senator Charles Warren Fairbanks (1852-1918), who would go on to become 26th Vice President of the United States in 1905.  It was more than two years before Harry was finally laid to rest in Crown Hill Cemetery.  The burial took place on Thursday, April 12, 1900.

April 10, 1900 announcement of Harry J. Keys' burial in The Indianapolis News

April 10, 1900 announcement of Harry J. Keys’ burial in Crown Hill (The Indianapolis News)

April 12, 1900 news item in The Indianapolis News

April 12, 1900 news item        (The Indianapolis News)

 

The final resting place of Harry j. Keys was the Turner family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery  (2016 photo by Sharo Butsch Ffreeland)

The final resting place of sailor Harry J. Keys’ remains was the Turner family plot in Section 39 at Crown Hill Cemetery       (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

(March 18, 1904 clipping courtesy of The Indianapolis News)

(March 18, 1904 newspaper clipping   (The Indianapolis News)

In 1902, John and Tillie Turner moved from 517 North Park Avenue to 708 North New Jersey Street.  Although neither of the homes in which they lived still exists, there are newer residences in both locations today.  John Turner lived at 708 North New Jersey until his death in 1924, and Tillie Turner lived there for most of the rest of her life. Her last few years were in a residence across the street from 708 North New Jersey Street, at 701 North New Jersey Street.  The latter address became the site of Benjamin Harrison School 2, when the original School 2 at Walnut and Delaware Streets was demolished for the new Indianapolis Public Schools headquarters.

March 21, 1904 newspaper clipping courtesy of The Indianapolis News

March 21, 1904 newspaper clipping (The Indianapolis News)

One of the memorials to honor Harry J. Keys was a beautiful stained glass window that was installed in the Fletcher Place Methodist Episcopal Church.   Located on a point at the intersection of South East Street, Fletcher Avenue, and Virginia Avenue, the former house of worship has been converted to condominiums in recent years.  Thanks to the assistance of Realtor Rob Measel of Everhart Studio, which currently represents sellers of units in the building, I was able to get inside and take a photo of the 2-story high window that now graces the living room of one of the private residences.

Stained glass window in the former Fletcher Place Methodist Episcopal Church  (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

Two-story high stained glass window in the former Fletcher Place Methodist Episcopal Church at 501 East Fletcher Avenue        (2016 photo by Sharon Butsch Freeland)

1910.02.15_.IndyStgar_In.Memoriam

The USS Maine remained submerged for more than a decade.  It wasn’t until 1911 that the battleship was finally raised.  It took two years to complete, during which time 66 more bodies were recovered from the wreckage.

April 4, 1924 obituary of Harry Keys' stepfather, John J. Turner (courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

April 4, 1924 obituary of Harry Keys’ stepfather and Matilda Keys’ husband,  John J. Turner (The Indianapolis Star)

Tillie remained an active member of the Fletcher Place Methodist Episcopal Church.  For half-a-century, the church held an annual memorial service on the Sunday closest to February 15th, the date of the USS Maine’s sinking.

February 16, 1945 clipping  (courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

February 16, 1945 clipping     (The Indianapolis Star)

Matilda “Tillie” Kight Keys Turner mourned the loss of her son for the rest of her life.  She died on May 9, 1949, having grieved for more than half-a-century.  She was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, alongside her second husband and her son.

May 11, 1949 obituary for the mother of Harry Keys, Matilda "Tillie" Turner (courtesy of The Indianapolis Star)

May 11, 1949 obituary of the mother of Harry Keys, Matilda “Tillie” Turner     (The Indianapolis Star)

 

If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line.  We will do our best to answer it.  Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or specific families featured in HI Mailbag articles. ~ Sharon

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About the Author

Sharon Butsch Freeland is a freelance researcher, writer, proofreader, and editor. She's a proud alumna of Shortridge High School and MacMurray College and over the years has also taken courses at Herron School of Art and Design, Indiana University, University of Colorado, Colorado Academy of Art, and the Indianapolis Art Center. She's been the executive director of a nonprofit association, a newspaper columnist, a residential real estate broker, and a political campaign staff member. Fascinated by Indianapolis history from an early age, Sharon's passion for bygone eras became even more compelling when she discovered that her ancestors had settled in Indiana in 1828. Since learning that she's a seventh generation Hoosier, many details about both the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis have taken on new meaning for her. Sharon enjoys helping others get excited about the history of Indianapolis, as well as the histories of their own families.

8 Comments on "HI Mailbag: Indianapolis Victim on the USS Maine"

  1. Tom Davis February 23, 2016 at 8:32 am · Reply

    A big thank you for finding all of this. It makes the monument all the more touching to know the effort the mother went thru to have her son returned to Indianapolis.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland February 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm · Reply

      Tom,
      .
      I should thank YOU for calling my attention to this subject. I’d never heard of Harry Keys before. I imagine his name was known in Indianapolis for many years after the sinking of the Maine, but sadly tragedies such as this are eventually lost in time. I’m glad we were able to make readers aware of his story.
      .
      Sharon

  2. Steve Koepper February 23, 2016 at 8:55 am · Reply

    Excellent article and research! I knew nothing of this man, but something captured my attention and I read every word of the article and clippings.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland February 23, 2016 at 3:58 pm · Reply

      Steve,
      .
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I was not aware of Harry Keys before last week, myself. I too was drawn into the story.
      .
      Sharon

  3. Rebecca Bandy February 23, 2016 at 9:04 am · Reply

    As usual Sharon, great genealogy research on this young man Harry Keys. Thank you for the story…

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland February 23, 2016 at 4:03 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Rebecca.
      .
      Although Harry Keys’ untimely death was a sad event, researching it helped me to learn more about the sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War.
      .
      Sharon

  4. Marian Ely Ward February 23, 2016 at 1:18 pm · Reply

    Thank you! I just learned more about that war than I ever learned in high school! Fascinating to learn the story behind that stained glass window as well.

    • Sharon Butsch Freeland February 23, 2016 at 3:44 pm · Reply

      Marian,
      .
      I hear you! The same was true for me. I’d heard the saying, “Remember the Maine,” but I had no idea it was the prelude to the Spanish-American War. Nor did I know that the U.S. gained sovereignty over the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico as a result of that victory. I have learned a lot of history — and not just Indianapolis history — since I’ve been researching the answers to the HI Mailbag questions.
      .
      “You live, and you learn.”
      .
      Sharon

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