Died aboard the USS Maine
In February of 1893 the United States Navy sent its armored cruiser, The USS Maine, to Havana harbor to protect American interests during a Cuban uprising against Spain. At approximately 9:45 on the evening of February 15, a massive explosion destroyed the forward third of the Maine and the 324 ft. vessel sank completely within the space of two hours. Despite rescue efforts put forth by other ships and citizens of Havana, 266 members of the 355 man crew were killed outright or died later of injuries sustained in the catastrophe. Lieutenant Friend W. Jenkins was one of two officers who perished in the explosion.
Lt. Friend W. Jenkins was from Allegheny City and graduated from The Western University (now University of Pittsburgh) in 1883. He was appointed to the Naval Academy in September of 1882 and graduated with honors in 1888, during which time he served as a naval cadet on board vessels in the North Atlantic Squadron. Upon completion of his final exams in July of 1888, he was commissioned as an Ensign. He was promoted to Junior Lieutenant in 1897, by which time he had been attached to the battleship Maine for 2 years.
Investigations into the cause of the explosion were (and remain) inconclusive but public sentiment laid the blame on Spain. The sinking of The Maine exacerbated already poor relations between America and Spain and helped to ignite the Spanish-American War.
As The Maine became a rallying cry for a nation at war, so too did the death of Lt. Friend. Survivors of the explosion had various accounts of that night but several cited Lt. Jenkins for his bravery. In his book, The Boys of 98, James Otis summarizes these accounts with his description of Jenkins during the aftermath of the explosion: “Lieut. Friend W. Jenkins was in the junior officers' mess-room when the first of a battle-ship's death-throes was felt, and as soon as possible made his way toward the deck, encouraging some of the bewildered marines to make a brave fight for life; but he never joined his comrades.”
Jenkins’ body was not recovered until March 25, by which point he was known nationwide as a Hero of the Maine. According to the Pittsburgh Press, “As soon as the news [of Jenkins’ body being recovered] was learned the desire was expressed among all classes in the two cities [Allegheny and Pittsburgh] to do honor to the gallant officer who died in the service of his country. For this purpose a conference was at once arranged between Mayors Ford and Geyer.” The same article went on to say that the Jenkins family felt the Lieutenant would not wish for any “undue publicity” but that they would “lend their consent” if a public funeral was deemed necessary.
Despite his family’s implicit wishes for privacy, the funeral was conducted on a grand scale. Eight police officers on horseback met and accompanied the body to Samson Brothers Funeral Home. From there, a large funeral cortege took Lt. Jenkins to The Post Office in Allegheny where he was laid in state for two hours after which time his body was moved to The Pittsburgh Court House. After laying in state at the Court House, his funeral cortege made its way first to Christ Church for the funeral services and then to Union Dale Cemetery for burial. Newspapers and magazines nationwide ran write-ups about and photos of the services, further cementing Lt. Jenkins’ name with the disaster that took his life and with the war that had come after the Maine had been lost.
Attempts were made to erect a monument to Lt. Jenkins in Allegheny and Pittsburgh. The initial interest in the memorial brought in about $1000 which proved to be insufficient for what the committee chairing the project had in mind. When the remains of the Maine were raised, Congressmen James Francis Burke and Stephen G. Porter, along with The Veterans of Foreign Service, convinced congress to allow parts of the ship to be gifted to Allegheny but, upon obtaining the relics, neither the city nor any private groups stepped forward to pay for their display. It wasn’t until 1914 that Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and The Veterans of the Spanish American War came to an agreement to share the costs of a memorial. Located in West Park, the Maine Memorial honors all those who served on the ship but features a small memorial panel for Lt. Jenkins, designed by the well known sculptor, Charles Keck.