The Battleship Maine steamed from Key West, Florida to Havana on January 24, 1898, arriving in the Cuban harbor the next day. Orders took her there as the United States wanted to show the flag and protect interest since a struggle for independence from Spain was rippling across the country, resulting in the spread of urban violence.
One of the crew members, John A. Kay, was from Cecil County. The 24-year-old Rising Sun man had joined the Navy as an assistant machinist on the Maine in August 1895. His enlistment was scheduled to expire in August, when it was anticipated that he would return home. He was the son of Alexander B. Kay.
In Havana, one evening, a sudden explosion ripped through the calm of the tropical darkness on February 15, 1898, sending panicked residents streaming toward the waterfront to see what had happened. There they saw the big U.S. warship sinking quickly. the blast rocking the anchored vessel while ripping apart a portion of the thick, steel hull. About 268 of the 347 crew members perished, ten of them from Maryland.
When the early train chugged into Rising Sun the next morning, Rising Sun residents received the first word about the ill-fated battleship in the headlines of the city papers. On the same train was a letter from young Kay to his parents, the Cecil Star reported.
Residents anxiously waited for the arrival of subsequent editions, hoping for better news from Cuba. But it never came for in about a week Navy Secretary John Davis Long telegraphed the family, reporting that “the body . . . . . . was recovered and identified. It was interred at Havana with the other unfortunate victims.”
When the Brookview Cemetery Company met in May, they voted to donate a double lot for the erection of “an imposing monument in memory of the victim of Spanish treachery.” The Kay Monument Association, headed by Hanson H. Haines, the President of the Rising Sun National Bank, was also formed to raise funds for the dead sailor.
HIs father, A. B. Kay, wrote to express his gratitude. “If the people of Cecil County erect a monument in the memory of my dear son who lost his life for the country they shall have my heartfelt gratitude. . . . I admire the situation of your beautiful cemetery and it will grow more beautiful in my sight should such a monument be erected there.”
The mission was accomplished, and on Independence Day 1900 a crowd of several hundred people gathered on the town square in Rising Sun for the dedication. Headed by the Nottingham PA Cornet Band, the musicians escorted the townspeople marching out to the hilltop burial ground. Family members, the Daughters of Liberty, Garfield G.A.R. Post, and the Harmony Lodge marched behind the musicians, on the sweltering Maryland day.
It was an inspiring ceremony with music and speeches, newspapers reported. Mr. Haines presented the monument to the family in a speech, remembering the young man who lost his life serving the nation. The Rev. David E. Shaw, of the West Nottingham Presbyterians Church accepted the monument for the family, while one of his sisters unveiled the memorial.
The monument was quarried and finished by the Pennsylvania Marble and Granite Company of West Grove, PA. “A handsome bound book inscribed with the names of the donors was placed in the chapel,” the Midland Journal reported.
Today the white marble monument standing 16-1/2 feet high continues to remind visitors to the Brookview Cemetery of this loss so long ago. It is inscribed with: “In memory of John A. Kay, machinist, who was lost with the United States Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Erected by the citizens of Cecil and nearby counties as a tribute to his heroism.”