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Marching off to...

Posted by Joshua Glenn  February 4, 2008 01:04 PM

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On Sunday, the following Brainiac item appeared in the Boston Globe's Ideas section:

Last week, this space featured a Library of Congress photo of a luncheonette called Sylvia Sweets, located on the corner of an unidentified city block somewhere in Massachusetts; readers were asked to provide information about it. And you did! Thanks, Joe Tomaselli, Fred Mullins, Carolyn Galambos, William Wainwright, and many others who identified downtown Brockton, circa 1940-41. The building in the photo burned down in the '70s, I was informed. But Sylvia Sweets hasn't been forgotten: It was owned and operated by the Dayos family, and it was -- by universal acclaim -- a terrific place to enjoy a snack or a dish of ice cream while waiting for the bus.
Here's another mystery photo from the Library of Congress's collection on the photo-sharing website Flickr. It's captioned "Boston Marines going on PRAIRIE, [between 1910 and 1915]." Or is it actually an 1898 photo; that is to say, are these Marines marching off to invade Cuba? Readers, please e-mail me with any verifiable information.
marines.jpg

Here are the e-mails I've received so far:

David R. writes:

I did a search on the Historic Boston Globe via ProQuest on the website of the Boston Public Library. The Sept. 27, 1906 Globe has an article about Boston Marines preparing to board the ship Prairie and headed to Cuba. I searched on the words "Marines Prairie."

J.P. O'T. writes:

The USS Prairie did serve in the Spanish American War, but as an auxiliary cruiser. It was, however, recommissioned as a transport and served in the American occupation of Veracruz in 1914. So caption may be exactly right.

Chris C. writes:

I would bet that this is the Charlestown Navy Yard and the parade grounds. The buildings in the background look similar to Building 34 and 36. Also appears that the top of the Bunker Hill Monument is above the building.

Tony L. writes:

A ship called Prairie was used to transport 703 US Marines for the possible invasion of Nicaragua in 1909. Mention of her running aground as she departed Philadelphia is made in the NY Times on December 3rd, 1909. She was to sail to Colon where her men would join others to go on to Nicaragua on a ship called Buffalo. She was able to free herself from the mud on the 11th, as reported in the NY Times on December 12th, 1909. However, a document on an Air Force site indicates continuing operations by the USS Prairie supporting a variety of US military operations in Nicaragua, Panama, and Cuba.... Specifically, however, it indicates that the Prairie's Dec 2 loading of Marines was never really delivered to Nicaragua, and were mostly returned to Philadelphia.... The Prairie is briefly mentioned in the NY Times on April 15 1914 as part of a very large force going down to occupy Veracruz. I imagine that if this photo shows troops preparing to embark for that mission, more may be found on them by researching the occupation of Veracruz.

Tony L. also sends an entry on the Prairie from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, (1970) Vol. 5, p.366. I excerpt the entry here:

During the Spanish-American War, she served in Cuban waters July and August 1898, and returned to Fore River, Mass., 28 August. She decommissioned 15 March 1899 at Philadelphia. PRAIRIE was placed in reserve commission 23 March 1899 and cruised with the Naval Militia off the Atlantic coast until she decommissioned at New York 18 February 1901.... She recommissioned at Boston 9 November 1901 as a training ship, and remained with this mission until she decommissioned at Boston 14 June 1905. She recommissioned 26 September 1906 at Boston as a transport and was attached to the Atlantic Fleet. She protected American interests in Cuba, March to April 1907. Later, she resumed her training duties with the Naval Militia from May to September 1907, July to August 1908 and July to August 1909. Converted to a destroyer tender in late 1917, PRAIRIE served as one during World War I. PRAIRIE decommissioned 22 November 1922 at San Diego, Calif., and was struck from the Navy List.

Henry R. writes:

This could be a picture of the Massachusetts Naval Militia embarking on USS Prairie. The vessel, an armored cruiser converted from the S.S. EL SOL was the training ship for the Militia from 1898 till about 1905 and then again from 1907 to 1909.

Mitchell A. writes:

Those are US marines from the Spanish-American war, and the USS Prairie was an auxiliary cruiser that was partially crewed by the Massachusetts Naval Militia. As I read the article on the train, I cannot given book citations, which are at home. However, this link is pretty good.
Clint S. writes:
I did a little research on Google this morning and it appears that the photo in question may be a detachment of US Marines from the 1st Marine Regiment about to board the USS Prairie on route to Cuba. I have copied the paragraph from The information is from "A History of the 1st Marines," by Maj John H Johnstone:
"The 1st Regiment, 1st Provisional Brigade, was organized aboard the USS PRAIRIE on 8 March 1911 for temporary foreign shore service in Cuba. Actually, this maneuver was designed as a show of force to dissuade Mexican rebel activities near the border of the United States. The Marine Corps, having demonstrated its readiness and ability to move quickly from either coast to troubled areas, returned the regiment to Philadelphia by 22 June with the knowledge that it could be readily mobilized if again needed."
I don't know if the Marines were organized by state or regions at that time and thus were referred to as "Boston", but the photo appears to show some snow on the ground, and the officer is wearing heavy winter wear, so Philadelphia and the date could be correct.

Thanks, readers! If I had to guess, based on the info I've received, I'd say: 1906 or 1911 is the photo's date, Charlestown or somewhere in Philadelphia the location, and Cuba the destination. Are you with me?

UPDATE: Here's a perspicacious note from Ben K.

The Marines in the picture are boarding the USS Prairie, docked at Boston, probably in March of 1907 (note the 3/11 in the picture; March 11th). Here's what some research unearthed about the Prairie:
She was recommissioned September 26, 1906 at Boston as a transport and was attached to the Atlantic Fleet. She protected American interests in Cuba, March to April 1907. Later, she resumed her training duties with the naval militia from May to September 1907, July to August 1908 and July to August 1909. It took part on the U.S. occupation of Veracruz in 1914. (Wikipedia)
Note the Marine in the photo, third from the right. His model of canteen was discontinued after 1912. However, the canteen may not be military issue, or may be an older one. Plus, it appears to say US on it, making it an Army canteen, not a Marine one, which would have said USMC (US– United States– and USA– United States of America or US Army– were considered too confusing. USMC, however, is not so ambiguous). So the Marines may have been participating in the 1914 occupation of Veracruz, but this is not certain. These Marines were probably being deployed to Cuba in peacetime, or joining the Atlantic Fleet.

Thanks, Ben. I hadn't noticed the 3/11 before. I wonder if it stands, not for March 11th, but for March 1911? In which case Clint's research gives us the answer: "The 1st Regiment, 1st Provisional Brigade, was organized aboard the USS PRAIRIE on 8 March 1911 for temporary foreign shore service in Cuba... as a show of force to dissuade Mexican rebel activities near the border of the United States."

UPDATE: Here's another photo of the PRAIRIE from the LoC.

prairie.jpg
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2 comments so far...
  1. they invade my hometown Vera Cruz, Mex. in 1914 and kill one of my grand-uncles, he was 14 y/o when he was killed, a poor shoe shine boy, killed by the bullets of the invaders, too sad!

    Posted by manny gonzalez March 13, 09 12:26 PM
  1. My uncle, a Marine from 21 Feb. 1917 until 11 Oct 1919 was on the Prairie from 21 May 1917-27 May 1917 at which time he transfered to USS Nereus and then to San Domingo for the duration of the war.

    Posted by Joe G, Killough June 6, 09 12:37 PM
 
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