The Maine Monument commemorates the 260 American sailors who perished in 1898 when the battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, then under Spanish rule. It is still unclear what caused the explosion, but Spain declared war on the United States.
The treaty, which ended the Spanish American War nine months later freed Cuba from Spanish dominion, and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam and surrendered the Philippines to the United States. Four days after the Maine went down, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst's New York Morning Journal called for a public collection for a monument to honor the sailors.
The gilded bronze figures atop the pylon represent Columbia Triumphant leading a seashell chariot of three hippocampi, part horse, part sea-creature. They are said to be cast from metal recovered from the guns of the Maine itself. The figures reflect America's new position as a dominant world force.
In 1995, the Central Park Conservancy re-gilded the figures. Conservancy sculptors carved new pieces for missing part of the monument, and the stone was cleaned and pigeon-proofed. In 1997, the Conservancy restored Merchant's Gate and its surrounding landscape, transforming it into an inviting public plaza.
Merchants' Gate, West 59th Street at Columbus Circle.