Even before the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor 100 years ago Sunday, war fever was being nourished in the United States by sensational newspaper reports accompanied by the pen-and-ink sketches of such artists as George Luks, Frederic Remington, William Glackens and others.
In this era, before newspaper photos, the use of drawings captured the public imagination. With the largest U.S. cities boasting as many as two dozen daily papers apiece, news illustrations became circulation boosters.
Initially the metropolitan dailies contained drawings of such local events as fires, streetcar mishaps or parades so that the artists could complete their quick sketches in time for the next deadline. But soon competition drove editors to seek illustrations for stories that took place farther afield, from the disastrous collision of two trains on the Jersey flats to a presidential inauguration in Washington.
As Cuba's internal strife flared into open rebellion in late 1895, George Luks was one of the first artists dispatched there. His drawings for the Philadelphia Bulletin were accompanied by such captions as: "An insurgent scout has been overtaken by Spanish troops in a rocky defile near Guara. They fire upon him, and the Bulletin artist in Cuba sketches him as he falls from the saddle."
The pen-and-ink drawing appeared true to life -- until it was learned that Luks had been covering the news from a Havana bar, illustrating descriptions of the fighting observed by others. He was summarily dismissed.
That year, 1895, also marked the arrival in New York of William Randolph Hearst Sr. He had been given the San Francisco Examiner by his father as a present upon graduation from Harvard. Hearst now purchased the failing New York Journal and undertook a ruthless circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World. His methods included luring away members of the World's staff and blatantly copying its stories.
When a World bulletin reporting the death of one "Reflipe W. Thanuz" was reprinted in the Hearst paper, a jubilant World editor exposed its competitor by revealing that "Reflipe W." is "we pilfer" spelled backward, and "Thanuz" a phonetic spelling for "the news."
Hearst was undeterred. On Sunday, Jan. 17, 1897, the entire front page of his Journal heralded the arrival in Cuba of its reporter-artist team, Richard Harding Davis and the cowboy and Indian artist Frederic Remington.
Within two weeks, Remington, disenchanted, sent a telegram to Hearst: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return." Hearst fired back a terse reply: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war."
The next month Remington did provide an illustration for one of the most shameful examples of yellow journalism to emerge from the Cuban uprising.
On Feb. 12, 1897, the New York Journal carried a front page story by Davis. Three young Cuban women who had been ordered from the island, he reported, were visited on the morning of their departure by detectives who had them strip-searched in order to discover if they were carrying letters to Key West or Tampa.
An hour later the three were searched again, and then "when the young ladies stood at last on the deck of a U.S. vessel, with the U.S. flag hanging from the stern, the Spanish officers followed them there and [the women] were then again undressed and searched for the third time."
"Refined young women stripped and searched by brutal Spaniards while under our flag on the Olivette," thundered the headline. Remington provided a drawing with an imagined view of the offense.
The combination of exaggeration and falsehood prompted an outcry in Congress, which heard details of the story first-hand from Davis. Sen. John Wilson of Washington suggested annexing first Cuba, then all the countries of the hemisphere.
When the rival New York World disproved the story, Davis issued a retraction in the Journal:
"For the benefit of people with unruly imaginations I will state again that the search of these women was conducted by women and not by men, as I was reported to have said, and as I did not say in my original report of the incident."
After the explosion of the battleship Maine a year later with the loss of 267 seamen, newspapers and magazines were quick to " assign additional staff to Cuba. One of these was William Glackens, sent by McClure's magazine.
Unlike Luks, Glackens insisted on producing accurate depictions war activities, from the U.S. troops' departure from Florida to chow lines and surgeons operating on wounded soldiers in Cuba. July 1, 1898, found him in San Juan recording Grimes' Battery firing the first gun of the U.S. attack on the Spanish position.
Glackens was there for the arrival of Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt, the former assistant secretary of the Navy who had resigned so he that could participate in this "bully war" with the First Volunteer Cavalry under his command.
Glackens observed the Rough Riders' attack stall at the foot of San Juan Hill and then, according to his later recollection, witnessed a black regiment begin to charge. "Teddy's Terrors" were quick to follow and the artist, who had abandoned his sketching for the comparative safety of a prone position, raised his head just long enough to shout "Cowards!" at Roosevelt's men, then stuck his face back in the mud.
Unfortunately for Glackens, authentic war sketches lost much of their timeliness when reproduced in a monthly publication.
Because the war came to a speedy and abrupt end, Glackens' drawings of the first hours of the Armistice in July 1898, were not published in McClure's until October, and some of his other artwork failed to appear at all.
Pub Date: 2/13/98