At first glance these photo may seem ordinary but with a little backstory you will want to look again at these images of the USS Baltimore and Charleston on Commencement Bay in 1892. These navy warships were in between major moments in American history when these photos were taken. Just a year before, the Baltimore was moored at Valparaíso during the Chilean Civil War protecting U. S citizens as a squadron flagship. On October 16, 1891, a mob attacked a group of American sailors on shore leave from the USS Baltimore outside a bar called the True Blue Saloon.Two sailors were killed and eighteen were injured in the chaos. The diplomatic incident between Chile and the United States became known as the Baltimore Crisis and it would have been the background and subtext everyone in Tacoma knew when the ships sailed into the harbor.
Five years after these photos, the Baltimore joined Commodore George Dewey’s fleet during the Spanish American War and on the morning of May 1, 1898 entered Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet stationed there. USS Baltimore was second in line behind Dewey’s flagship, the USS Olympia. But no one in Tacoma watching that summer day in 1892, including the photographer taking these pictures, could have known what was ahead-that war with Spain in the Philippines would be happening at the same time prospectors were finding gold in the Klondike and that soon ships departing Tacoma would be carrying passengers to and from both destinations. Sometimes history just sails into your harbor.
A reader with better knowledge of warships and maritime terminology corrected me on the term dreadnaught. The threatening name for heavily armored vessels bristling with big guns was coined from the Royal British warship HMS Dreadnaught which was launched in 1906, more than a decade after the episodes mentioned in the story. Today the term dreadnaught has been used to describe everything from spaceships to computer viruses. Forgive the slight inaccuracy in the title.