here is a monument on the Notre Dame campus which
stands as a reminder to "Remember the Maine", although the monument itself
is virtually forgotten.
For years the red granite monument stood in an obscure
alcove behind the main steps of the Administration Building, only a few feet
from a heating unit, almost hidden by shrubbery. Curious visitors, if they
had been told at all about the monument, had to search to find it. There was
an odd, temporary look to the memorial�s placement, although it had stood in
that spot for over forty years. Then, in 1990, for some unexplained reason,
the monument was re-located just outside Gate 8 of the Joyce athletic and
Convocation Center, the least used entrance gate to the building.
When I first saw the monument is not perfectly clear
to me, but I do know that it was not until after I had been told about the
former student who died in 1898 when the USS Maine mysteriously exploded in
Havana Harbor, the student whom the monument memorializes, one John Henry
Shillington. It was shortly after I assumed the duties as curator of the
International Sports and Games Research Collection that Jack Moulder, a
former teacher turned security guard and a good friend, first introduced me
to the John Henry Shillington story. Jack had a personal interest in it
because he was a distant relative of Shillington and was disturbed by the
fact that the monument was not more prominently displayed and the story
A plaque on the monument reads, "To the memory of John
Henry Shillington. who went down in the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor,
February 15, 1898", and no one seems to know why the monument was moved to
the off-the-beaten-path nook after its original placement in 1915, with much
fanfare, on the lawn just north of the present LaFortune Student Center.
The marker, cast in metal recovered from the sunken
battleship, has a 10-inch mortar shell projecting from its five-foot base.
John Henry Shillington was a Chicago native who
arrived at Notre Fame in 1892 and enrolled sporadically as a student for the
next five years. This according to records in the University Archives. He
was a starter for the Notre Dame baseball team and played shortstop for
three years. His great ability in oration was honored by a gold medal in the
Junior division of Elocution in 1895.
In 1897, the year in which Shillington also captained
Notre Dame�s first basketball team, misfortune struck when he traveled to
Chicago for a scheduled baseball game. After the team�s victory, he met with
some local friends and engaging in some extracurricular fun, did not make
the bus trip back with his teammates. This infraction resulted in his
expulsion from the University.
Following this incident, Shillington joined the United
States Navy and his assignment was aboard the USS Maine, from where he wrote
the following letter to a friend in Brownson Hall, back on the Notre dame
campus. "I often think of Notre Dame, I can only think of 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."
On Memorial Day, 1915, the granite memorial to John
Henry Shillington was unveiled by his Excellency (an archaic form of address
still in use in the early 1900s) Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy.
Top begin the commemoration, Daniels was escorted from his hotel by
University cadet regiment. As the Reverend Fathers Cavanaugh and Morrissey
accompanied him to the stage, Daniels was presented arms by a group of Navy
cadets. Then, as the band played the Star Spangled Banner, the American flag
draped over the monument was lifted to unveil the handsome granite memorial.
To a crowd of one thousand students, Daniels presented
an hour-long dissertation on patriotism. "Shillington�s concept of duty to
country, " he stated, "was one that all the men at school might well adopt
as a pattern for study and emulation."
It is obvious that a commemoration by the Secretary of
the Navy is no small affair, and a monument that he dedicates should not
become so trivial that it is placed next to a heating unit in a secluded
alcove of the administration building. What is the justification of this
The answer may lie in the heavily disputed case of the
explosion of the USS Maine. Historians have speculated that the ship
exploded from the inside out, that the Maine was carrying wartime explosives
and armaments during a non-wartime-period. The USS Maine incident could be
seen as a grave embarrassment to the United States, something that the Notre
Dame Administration might not like to have on display.
An alternative explanation that is more presumptuous
is the fact that John Henry Shillington was expelled from Notre Dame in
1897. This fact was never expressed at the ceremony of 1915 and was little
mentioned after Shillington�s death in any subsequent writings in the
archives at Notre Dame. In fact, the February 18, 1898, edition of the
SCHOLASTIC merely restated the incident of his expulsion to: "it was deemed
necessary for him to sever his relations with the University." It may be
that a memorial to such an eminent patriotic student may become marred if an
implication of University expulsion was issued (since it is not University
policy to admire a student who has been asked to leave)
Today the memorial continues to be viewed by few
admirers. Although it commemorates the death of a Notre Dame student and
symbolizes an attitude of patriotism and duty present in the post-war-Notre
Dame community after the United States� struggle with Spain, perhaps the
University does not want to "Remember the Maine."
The USS Maine had been sent to protect U.S. Citizens,
supposedly endangered by the increasing friction between the United States
and Spain. Two hundred and fifty two men were killed in the incident and
many others were injured. Some U.S. newspapers seized upon the incident and
coined the popular slogan, "To Hell with Spain, Remember the Maine." In an
effort to turn popular sentiment in favor of armed intervention, which
followed in April.
In an interview in 1989, Donald Dedrick, director of
Notre Dame�s physical plant, referring to the monument�s existence and
location, said: " It�s one of those oddities. It�s one of those things that
were done at the time as a patriotic response. It�s not unusual at a college
campus to find obscure things like that. There are few inquires about the
monument and no plans to move it."
The following year the monument was moved to its
present location outside Gate 8 of the Joyce Athletic and Convocation
Center. Regardless of where they move it, the monument stands as a permanent
reminder of the Maine and of Shillington~who, ironically, believed he had
been forgotten on campus.
An interesting post-script to this
story came to me from the pen of Tony DiMarco, a Hollywood producer and
friend of mine, who for years has been extremely interested in the
possibility of a George Gipp Movie. Tony wrote: "I read with interest the
story of John Henry Shillington. It seems to have many of the elements that
the Gipp story has Notre Dame of course, the athletics, the dismissal from
School and the untimely death of the hero. The basic story is there-Notre
Dame athletic hero, a little bit of a maverick (shades of Gipp), the
ultimate seemingly unjust dismissal from school and the Maine. I think it�s
in the middle where the story needs help and I think it�s here where the
writer must inject some of his imagination and, as you suggested, add a
romance and some other dramatic situations. The basic story, I think, should
be an in-depth story of Shillington, a carefree young man who attended
college near the turn of the century and whose destiny was to be aboard the
Maine on that fateful day."