Military Tours of the National Capital Region

As Seen in AAA World Magazine

John R. Bell: Chief Steward of the Battleship MAINE

An article in last February’s Out of the Attic series of the Alexandria Times intrigued me. It was a short Naval history within my Old Town neighborhood. The topic was John R. Bell: Chief Steward of the Battleship MAINE. It’s an appropriate topic for Black History Month 2024. February 15th 2024 is the 126th anniversary of the MAINE disaster. The article is a short easy read on page 21 of 24 here.

Bell’s boyhood home “which stood back from the street on the north side of Wolfe Street, between Fairfax and Lee.” is easily discoverable today as 215 Wolfe Street. The home is pictured here and it’s nice to see the current private owner fly the stars and stripes.

By 1910, Congress had appropriated money to raise the MAINE and recover the dead for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Ship’s mast was recovered as well in order to erect a memorial at Arlington. When Bell’s watch was found during the 1912 salvage operation in Havana, his remains were most assuredly one of the 75 dead recovered. These 75 joined 185 of their shipmates in Section 24 of Arlington. To this day, Section 24 is the only burial section at the cemetery that is reserved for the dead from one particular historic event. In this case, the sinking of the MAINE.

John R. Bell has no grave marker in his name in Section 24 so he is likely buried as one of the scores of unknown Marines and Sailors there. His name is inscribed on the memorial very near to the ceremonial entrance.

Those interested in seeing John Bell’s boyhood home can pass by during our Old Town Alexandria Walking Tour