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The "Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA" and  its involvement in filming of a PBS Documentary on the

Rediscovery of the Wreck of the Battleship MAINE

by Jon Ault with Patrick McSherry 
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The Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA was asked by WUSF-TV16 Producer Martha Bone to aid in the filming of a new documentary about the rediscovery of the wreck of the Battleship MAINE, which had exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba in 1898. The wreckage had been raised from the harbor floor and sunk in deep water in 1912. The deep water wreckage was rediscovered in 2000. The documentary will focus on the technical achievement of finding and filming the wreck. The crew provided background information for the MAINE story, and also aided in locating MAINE crewmen descendants to be interviewed for the project. WUSF-TV16 is located at the Univesity of South Florida.


The Living History Crew of the OLYMPIA worked with Producer Martha Bone and videographer Ron Bigford beginning on Friday, July 27.

The first portions of crew's involvement began with the filming of interviews with OLYMPIA crewmen Jack McSherry and Patrick McSherry. Jack McSherry, an engineer with fifty years of field experience and also an historian of historic engineering practices, was interviewed concerning the construction of the cofferdam built around the MAINE's wreckage so that it could be dissected and raised. The interview was conducted in the confined area of the ship's starboard engine room.

Patrick McSherry, author and also editor of the Spanish American War Centennial Website was interviewed concerning basic background of the war, and the MAINE itself. This interview was conducted in the Junior Officers' wardroom.

After these interviews were completed, Martha Bone  and Ron Bigford began their work with the other crewmen present, Jon Ault, John Smith, Brian Miller, Matt Samley, Phil Schreier, and also Jack McSherry.

Martha Bone and Ron Bigford of WUSF-TV 16

Martha Bone and Ron Bigford of the University of South Florida's WUSF-TV 16 take a moment to relax in the mess hall
(Photo Courtesy of John Smith)

The first scene filmed involved several of the crew standing near the bridge, looking out pensively (like homesick sailors miles from home). The next scene involved the crew resting and relaxing below decks, lying in hammocks and playing checkers and acey-deucey.

Returning to the bridge area, John Smith was filmed playing “Taps” on his bugle, silhouetted against the setting sun in the background. John's work was meant to be reminiscent of the playing of "Taps" on the night of February 15 by the MAINE's bugler C. H. Newton. The playing of "Taps" that night was remembered by many for the way it echoed and the way Newton played it - "with flair."

The next scene would be challenging in that it was to to depict the confusion just after the explosion. To depict the onset of the explosion, Martha Bone crafted a simple, but effective, fire simulator. A sheet of tinfoil was crumpled up, then semi-flattened, and glued onto a cardboard backing. She would then wave a flashlight that shone red light over the foil, and the reflections on the walls would resemble the reflections of flames. The crew adjourned to the engine room and while Martha simulated the flames and Ron filmed, we scrambled up the ladders and catwalks, shouting “Fire!” “Let’s get out of here!” and other appropriate exclamations.

Finally, the crew was once again sent topside, where crewman Brian Miller clambered up to one of the searchlight towers and and shone the searchlight about, simulating some of precautions that were taken aboard the MAINE. The last scene was the tossing of a life preserver into the water (taking care to hide the name "OLYMPIA" printed on one side) to depict an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a crew member.

After a busy, but highly productive, evening, we then parted company for the night.

SATURDAY, July 28, 2001

The following morning, filming began again. The crew was first filmed standing at attention at the forecastle, while John Smith bugled the “Star-Spangled Banner” on his bugle (only one take was necessary).

Several of the OLYMPIA crewmen then portrayed MAINE crew members coping with the anxiety and boredom of lying idly at anchor in Havana harbor, as did the MAINE for three weeks prior to its destruction. The crewmen were filmed writing letters to loved ones at home, playing cards, and dozing (to read some of the letters actually written aboard the MAINE during this period, click here and here).

Although the city authorities had prevented gun usage for the weekend, crewmen Phil Schreier was able to set up one of the 5” guns to accommodate a pistol-sized blank. He discharged a few of these for the film.

A couple of the crewmen were filmed feeling with our hands along one of the steel bulkheads. In the final film, this will simulate MAINE crew members feeling along the outer wall of one of the coal bunkers for heat of a potential coal bunker fire as was done in the MAINE's wing passage (to view the OLYMPIA's similar wing passage, click here).

Lastly for the re-enactment part of the film, the crew stood at attention near the bridge - with Phil Schreier in an Officer’s uniform and Jon Ault in a regular sailor's uniform - facing forward with grim, anxious looks on their faces to simulate the occasion of the MAINE's arrival in Havana harbor on January 25, 1898.

Living History Crew with Randy Heneberger

This photo shows (from left to right) Jon Ault, Randy Heneberger (descendant of the MAINE's surgeon), Jack McSherry, Matt Samley and John Smith on the OLYMPIA's spar deck, near the aft, port 6 pounder gun (photo courtesy of Jon Ault)

Martha and Ron then interviewed Randy Heneberger, the great-grandson of the MAINE's surgeon, Lucien Heneberger. Randy had come up from Virginia with his family for the occasion. This was also filmed in the Junior Officer's Wardroom.

Following the conclusion of the filming, the crew returned to its usual schedule of drills, presentations and demonstrations for the remainder of the weekend.

The Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA salutes WUSF-TV16! Their representatives, Martha Bone and Ron Bigford were highly efficient, friendly, professional, and simply very enjoyable to work with. With their obvious expertise, it is expected that this presentation, when it finally aires on PBS, will be an excellent production.

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