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Diver Charles Morgan, U.S.S. NEW YORK,

Describes his Descent into the Wreck of the Battleship MAINE


The following account is that related by Charles Morgan, gun captain on the USS NEW YORK. Morgan was also a trained diver, who spent about two weeks diving on the wreckage of the MAINE gathering information for the 1898 Sampson Board which was trying to determine the cause of the disastrous explosion. The work was exhausting. Normally the fatigue of a four hour dive was considered a work day for a navy diver. However, Morgan worked seven hours a day when diving on the MAINE. Among the divers who worked on the MAINE, Morgan’s work was notable because he was the first to find the steel plates bent upward and into the ship, later considered evidence of an external mine.

Diving on the MAINE was a challenge. The divers, wearing their two hundred pound suits including a metal helmet, dove into the darkness of murky Havana harbor. The darkness was so great that the divers had to use electric lamps, but, even so, they could only see a foot or so in front of them. Anything they saw, they saw close-up, something that becomes all the more significant when reading the account below.

Ensign Powelson monitors the diving operation on the USS Maine

A diver returning from the wreck of the MAINE is helped up a ladder as Ensign Powelson waits to interview him. In the foreground men man the diver's air pump. In the background are Spanish warships.
The Account:

“It was horrible!…As I descended into the death-ship [MAINE’s wreckage] the dead rose up to meet me. They floated toward me with outstretched arms, as if to welcome their shipmate. Their faces for the most part were bloated with decay or burned beyond recognition, but here and there the light of my lamp flashed upon a stony face I knew, which when I last saw it had smiled a merry greeting, but now returned my gaze with staring eyes and fallen jaw. The dead choked the hatchways and blocked my passage from stateroom to cabin. I had to elbow my way through them, as you do in a crowd. While I examined twisted iron and broken timbers they brushed against my helmet and touched my shoulders with rigid hands, as if they sought to tell me the tale of the disaster. I often had to push them aside to make my examinations of the interior of the wreck. I felt like a live man in command of the dead. From every part of the ship came sighs and groans. I knew it was the gurgling of the water through the shattered beams and battered sides of the vessel, but it made me shudder; it sounded so much like echoes of that awful February night of death. The water swayed the bodies to and fro, and kept them constantly moving with a hideous semblance of life. Turn which way I would, I was confronted by a corpse.”


Naval Divers, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly. Vol XLVII, No. 2, December, 1898, 170.

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