Remember the Maine and Shilly

On the night of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded and sank in the Havana, Cuba, harbor.  Tensions between the United States and Spain over the fate of Cuba led many to believe that Spain was behind the sinking of the Maine.  While multiple investigations have been unable to definitively identify the culprit, “Remember the Maine!  To hell with Spain!” became a rallying cry that helped to launch the Spanish-American War.  The Maine suffered 266 fatalities and most of the 94 survivors sustained some kind of causality.  Among the fatalities was John Henry Shillington, yeoman, third class.

Survivors of the USS Maine, 1898/0222.
Caption: “Roll Call of the Gallant Maine Boys at the Barracks Key West, Florida, Feb. 22, 1898. Washington’s Birthday. Maine blown up Feb. 15, 1898. Crew of 360 men, 266 perished, +L. Moriniere saved. Pennant of the Maine”

John Shillington of Chicago was a popular student at Notre Dame who was involved in many campus activities, including theater and athletics.  He played varsity baseball and was captain of the 1897 basketball team.  Rumor has it that Shillington was expelled for not returning to South Bend with the baseball team after playing at the University of Chicago in May 1897.  He then joined the Navy and ended up on the doomed Maine.

Portrait of John Henry Shillington, c1897

The February 19, 1898 issue of Scholastic reported on the death of their friend:

“John H. Shillington was of a nature which won him many friends, and when, last year, it was deemed necessary for him to sever his connection with the University he went away with the best wishes of all his friends and of all his professors.  He was a manly boy, and he did not complain. ‘I often think of Notre Dame,’ he wrote to a friend from the ill-fated Maine.  ‘I can picture her daily, and in my reminiscences of her a tear is often brushed away . . . . I suppose ‘Shilly’ is forgotten by people at the old college, and I don’t blame them.  Though forgotten, I shall always hold Notre Dame near and dear to me.’

“No; ‘Shilly’ is not forgotten at Notre Dame, but remembered with affection and mourned with sincere grief.  He shall have a share in the prayers of students and professors who will not fail in the only service which friendship can now render him.  God rest his soul!”

On Memorial Day 1915, a monument was dedication in the honor of Shillington just north of Science Hall (LaFortune Hall).  The Secretary of the United States Navy Josephus Daniels gave an address at the dedication and much fanfare surrounded the event.  The monument consists of a shell from the Maine on a base of red Wisconsin granite.

Shillington Monument, c1915-1916.
“To the memory of John Henry Shillington of Brownson [Hall] who went down with the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, February 15, 1898. This marker is raised [1915] by the men of Brownson as a symbol of their sorrow and their pride. Requiescat in pace.”

Between 1925 and 1930, the monument was moved closer to the Bronson Hall wing of Main Building.  Many students had since forgotten Shillington or knew anything about the reason for the memorial.  In 1930, Scholastic reported that the Brownson Hall residents had taken to calling the monument “The Bullet,” as do some students even today.  The Shillington Memorial was moved further into obscurity to the south side of the Joyce Center near Gate 8 in 1989.  The Shillington Monument finally found a prominent home on the south side of the ROTC Pasquerilla Center in the 2000s.


“The Destruction of the USS Maine,” Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command
PNDP 02-Sh-01
GSBB 2/05
GPOR 17/02
GMIL 1/03

3 thoughts on “Remember the Maine and Shilly”

  1. I visited the University of Notre Dame many years ago with my parents and i could admire the beauty of this place. Great website and it’s such a great thing all this memories could be kept.

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