Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn. Rochelle has been processing and cataloguing recent additions to the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian, and has also been selecting objects and writing interpretative text for some of the Spanish-American War materials that will be featured in an exhibit on the fifth floor gallery. In the course of culling items and condensing the interpretative text down to very concise labels, lots of information gets left out. Rather than see that exhaustive research go to waste, we thought that we would share some of it with you, as a teaser to entice you to visit the show which will be up in time for the 110th anniversary of Cuban Independence celebrated in Miami on May 20th, 2012.

My dear friend Isis took a harrowing boat ride from Cuba to the United States at the age of eight. Isis recalls her first step on American land after the turbulent journey through shark-infested waters: finally free, she was ceremoniously handed a can of Coca Cola.

The history of Cubans’ struggle for freedom is intimately intertwined with our own past. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States battled Spain to free Cuba from the imperial country’s grip. An exciting new exhibit here at the Wolfsonian brings this fascinating period to life through original artwork and rare books generously donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. American and British drawings made for distribution in competitive illustrated newspapers of the time, along with attractively bound books, provide a peek into the dramatic events of the war.

Yellow journalism, industrialism, and untested naval warfare provided the virile backdrop for America’s defense of Cuba against Spain. After constant trade difficulties with Spain caused by Cuban uprisings, the surprise sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor instigated American pro-war sentiment. “Remember the Maine!” resounded as a battle-cry for Cuban freedom—and a way to create free passage for American ships to the sugar-rich island.

To cover the war, American and British illustrated newspapers sent their artistic correspondents to the front right along with American soldiers. Artists would hastily sketch vessels, battle scenes, and human drama. Drawings were then shipped to newspaper publishers, where a second set of illustrators would re-draw and re-interpret the visuals in more detail for print. Often the final pieces would exaggerate or even misinterpret the original renditions. Each paper tried to out-do its rival with eye-catching images and riveting reporting.

Before the Battle of San Juan, August 13, 1898. Amedée Forestier (French, 1854-1930). From an original drawing by Henry Charles Seppings Wright (British, 1850-1937). Published in the Illustrated London News, London, England. Grisaille on paper. 2009.19.637.

Politically at this time, Great Britain generally felt a sedate respect for America, along with a tempered disdain of Spain. Wright, the original artist, can be seen in the bottom left corner of this composite drawing. He sits, wearing a British helmet, among the American soldiers, with whom he traveled for the Illustrated as a special artist-correspondent of the war.

The United States camp at Tampa Harbour, June 25, 1898. Amedée Forestier (French, 1854-1930). From an original drawing by Henry Charles Seppings Wright (British, 1850-1937). Published in the Illustrated London News, London, England. Grisaille on paper. 2009.19.638.

In 1898, Tampa, Florida, quickly became overcrowded with enlisted American soldiers and foreign correspondents. Over 30,000 troops descended upon the humid, sleepy town, waiting to be dispatched to the shores of Cuba for war and reporting. Artists resorted to sketching their surroundings while they bode their time in the tropical heat.

After the Battle of Santiago: The total destruction of Admiral Cervera’s fleet – the “Almirante Oquendo,” July 30, 1898. David B. Waters (British, fl. 1887-1910). Published in The Graphic, London, England. Gouache on board. 2009.19.633.

Editors of The Graphic prided themselves on employing the most talented artists, deliberately competing directly with London’s Illustrated. Waters was a marine painter with a gift for portraying turbulent seas. The Battle of Santiago was pivotal to the war effort. The American Rear Admiral Schley, under orders from Admiral Sampson, chased the last working Spanish vessel out of the harbor.

Leslie’s Weekly: Your country calls you, 1898. R.M. Wright (American?, fl. 1880s-1890s). Published in Leslie’s Weekly, New York. Ink on paper poster. The Wolfsonian-FIU. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, 2009.19.644.

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated papers brought to New York what London’s Illustrated pioneered in England. Leslie, also an artist, developed a newspaper for America that reflected the image-heavy tabloids of its British counterparts. He employed artists and photographers to decorate his pages with romantic, pro-war images. R.M. Wright’s illustrations peppered such periodicals as St. Nicholas: an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks.

The New York Herald: Spanish-American War in a nutshell, December 18, 1898. M. Stein? Published by the New York Herald, New York. Ink on paper poster. 2009.19.645.

The Herald surpassed its New York competition by bringing news to the public faster and advertising more aggressively. Word of events arrived at the editorial offices via telegraph and even carrier pigeon.  Timely headlines paired with eye-catching imagery modernized the penny paper industry.

The September Century: Incidents of the Cuban Blockade, September, 1898. Walter Russell (American, 1871-1890). G.H. Buek & Co., Lithographers, New York. Published by The Century Magazine, New York. Ink on paper poster. 2009.19.646.

Formerly associated with the powerhouse publishing family of Charles Scribner, The Century magazine evolved from Scribner’s Monthly in New York.  The Century positioned itself as a decidedly more higher-end, literary option on the mass newspaper market, publishing well-written descriptive pieces, as well as stories and excerpts of books by star authors such as Mark Twain. Walter Russell, who excelled in music, art, writing, and philosophy, depicts a copy of The Century being passed to the Navy shipman manning the canon.

The New York Sunday Journal: In the insurgent field of Cuba, 1897. H.A. Thomas & Wylie, Lithographers, New York. Published by The New York Journal, New York. Ink on paper poster. 2009.19.647.

The robust Journal flaunted the type of yellow journalism sanctified by its founder, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst pitted himself against New York publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer to fight for the city’s rag readership. A proponent of active journalism, Hearst would instigate malcontent of the masses with incendiary headlines, after which he sent reporters to the alleged scene to personally investigate injustices. In this manner, pro-Cuba sentiment permeated the pages of the Journal before the Spanish-American War. Illustrations such as this of Cuban freedom-fighters “waiting for it” baited Americans to lean toward favoring involvement. While he pointedly denied he ever said it, Hearst was infamously and repeatedly quoted as telling his artists stationed in Cuba: “You supply the pictures; I’ll supply the war.”

Destruction of Admiral Cervera’s fleet at Santiago de Cuba, July 3, 1898. Xanthus Russell Smith (American, 1839-1929). Published by J. Hoover & Sons, Philadelphia. Chromolithograph on paper. 2009.19.650.

By the time of the Spanish-American War, Joseph Hoover’s publishing firm had grown to be one of the largest producers of chromolithographs in the country. Chromolithography helped to democratize the acquisition of artwork; suddenly, the public could afford mass-produced, displayable copies of paintings. While each paint color needed to be run separately on individual woodblocks to create final prints, any number of completed copies could be made. Smith, a fine artist based in Philadelphia, had served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. In this imagined artistic composition of the events in Santiago, the oval profile portrait inset in the upper right corner depicts U.S. Rear Admiral Schley, the victor of the sea battle.

The Great Naval Battle off Cavite (Manila Bay), fought May 1, 1898, 5:30am til 12:50pm. Louis Kurz? (Austrian, 1835-1921) Published by Kurz and Allison, Chicago. Chromolithograph on paper. 2009.19.654.

The first hostile engagement of the Spanish-American War took place in the Philippines, where U.S. Commodore Dewey destroyed Spain’s fleet in Manila Bay. Kurz, an experienced lithographer, probably painted this glorious, colorful, and dramatic version of a battle he never saw.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 played out in the newspapers of the day, but the book publishing industry gave Americans lasting keepsakes of all the pertinent battle tales and images. Publishers exploited the technology of mass-production, making books with eye-catching decorative bindings to tempt the curious and educated public of the Gilded Age.

Blue Jackets of ’98: A History of the Spanish-American War. By Willis John Abbot. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899. XC2010.08.1.31

The effective use of silver-stamping makes this cover stand out. Willis John Abbot worked as a reporter for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. Abbot wrote several patriotic Blue Jackets books praising the United States Navy. Dodd, Mead & Co. employed several talented book-binding designers over the years. Illustrations and photographs of U.S. Naval ships interspersed within the book’s narrative were probably reprinted from drawings and pictures produced for the Journal during the war.

The ’98 Campaign of the 6th Massachusetts, U.S.V. By Lieut. Frank E. Edwards. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1899. XC2010.08.1.30

This history of a volunteer regiment contains a descriptive narrative by Edwards, who served as a private in the war. Edwards describes the enthusiasm and loyalty of the young men in spite of difficult circumstances and conditions, and lauds the U.S.’s victory against Spain. The 6th was the only racially integrated regiment in the Spanish-American War. Edwards proudly provides the military roster for the all-African American Company L, along with a photograph of its commanding officers:

“Forward, March”: A tale of the Spanish-American War. By Kirk Munroe. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1899. XC2010.08.1.1

One of South Florida’s earliest settlers of Coconut Grove, Kirk Munroe wrote about lush, exotic landscapes and Southern characters. This adventure story lauds the heroism of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, composed of ranchers and Native Americans. The Rough Riders gained fame as their brave exploits against the enemy made newspaper headlines; their legendary status lived on in novels like Munroe’s.

The sinking of the “Merrimac”: A Personal Narrative of the Adventure in the Harbor of Santiago de Cuba, June 3, 1898, and the Subsequent Imprisonment of the Survivors. By Richard Pearson Hobson. New York: The Century Co., 1899. XC2010.08.1.8

Sinking the Merrimac had strategic implications for the war: it helped blockade Spanish ships. While Americans were victorious in Santiago, Richmond Pearson Hobson, who was following orders to down the Merrimac from U.S. Admiral Sampson, did not escape the enemy. As a prisoner of war, he became an instant media darling. Upon his release, his celebrity grew in America, where he received the Medal of Honor. The Century Company, publishers of the literary monthly The Century Magazine, produced this detailed, illustrated memoir.

Young Peoples’ history of the War with Spain: with eighty-six illustrations. By Prescott Holmes. Philadelphia: Henry Altemus Company, 1900. XC2010.08.1.32

This quaint volume, by prolific writer Prescott Holmes, indoctrinates youth into a patriotic mindset. Readers are carefully admonished not to blame Spain’s Queen Christina for the bad behavior of her scurrilous subjects in Cuba. At the same time, Holmes clearly articulates the righteousness of the American mission to release Cubans from Spain’s iron grip.

History of the Spanish-American War: Embracing a Complete Review of our Relations with Spain. By Henry Watterson. Philadelphia, PA: The People’s Publishing Co., 1898. XC2010.08.1.21

A huge player in American journalism and politics, Henry Watterson takes a strong, pro-war stance in this thorough account. Lush with photographs and two-page spreads of reprinted paintings by New York Herald artists, the book is further beautified by its gilt-enhanced front cover. An illustration of a gallant American warship sports ten U.S. Navy signal flags fluttering in the sea-breeze, all color-correct in blue, yellow, red and white.

Reminiscences of the Santiago Campaign. By John Bigelow, Jr. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1899. XC2010.08.1.2

John Bigelow, Jr. cast a romantic figure against the exotic backdrop of Santiago. His progressive belief that white soldiers should respect their African American counterparts as equal colleagues was unpopular with the American military at the time. However, his handsome looks and heroic acts as Captain of the 10th U.S. Cavalry in Cuba incited worship from an enthusiastic public. His fame catapulted when he received the Silver Star after bravely charging at San Juan Hill, where he was severely wounded. The renowned artist Frederic Remington often sketched the hero for Harper’s Weekly.

Our War with Spain for Cuba’s Freedom: A Thrilling Account of the Land and Naval Operations of American Soldiers and Sailors in Our War with Spain, and the Heroic Struggles of Cuban Patriots against Spanish Tyranny. By Trumbull White. Philadelphia, PA: A. J. Holman& Co., 1898. XC2010.08.1.5

An offshoot of the Henry Altemus Company, the A. J. Holman & Co. profited well from its printed bibles and educational books with elaborately illustrated bindings. This book’s olive-colored cloth cover is decorated with the scene of an exploding sea-vessel depicted in gilt-tooled flames.

More original drawings and rare books highlighting the Spanish American War will be included in this exhibit, soon to be installed in the Wolfsonian Museum’s 5th floor gallery.

~ by "The Chief" on March 30, 2012.


  1. What a great blog! I can’t wait to see the exhibit- it looks like it’s gonna be great!

  2. Reblogged this on THE GRAPEVINE.

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