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 as the history was Naval and 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 2023. This February 15th 2023 is also the 125th 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, recover the dead for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and ensure the Ship’s mast was recovered 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 its ceremonial entrance.