Even a war that is precipitated by media involvement and lasts only 109 days has heroes. The Spanish American War, April 25 to August 12, 1898 had Teddy Roosevelt and His charge up San Juan Hill. This heroism would eventually play a large role in Teddy’s meteoric political rise.
Another hero was Commodore George Dewey. Dewey was aboard the USS Olympia with orders to attack the Spanish at Manila Bay. At first light on May 1 he gave orders to attack in what would be the first major engagement of the war. Within six hours he had sunk or captured the entire Spanish Pacific fleet and silenced the shore batteries at Manila, with the loss of only one life on the American side.
Fast forward to early 1899 when the media factions that had help precipitate the war-primarily William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal- began lobbying for a huge parade for the Commodore who had set the tone for American success.
Dewey would not return to the U.S. until the fall, so there was time to plan a large celebration. To commemorate the victory, American architect Charles Lamb was commissioned to design a monument to be installed in Madison Square. The decision was made to build an arch, similar to the arch in Washington Square. It was built of staff, a plaster material used for temporary buildings at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. This monument would provide a focus for Dewey’s triumphal procession through the city.
On September 30, 1899 the magnificent parade took place and electric lights lit up the arch at night. The city turned out in huge numbers to honor the hero of Manila Bay… then moved on.
Dewey was eclipsed in popularity by Roosevelt, made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent President William McKinley as the democratic nominee in 1900 and returned to the Navy where he remained out of the spotlight.
The plaster on the Dewey Arch began to deteriorate and it became an eyesore and a safety hazard. After Dewey’s unsuccessful Presidential bid, plans for a permanent structure were abandoned and the arch was carried off to the city dump.