The Maine Monument commemorates the 260 American sailors who perished on February 15th, 1898 when the USS Maine exploded while in harbor in Havana, Cuba. Though the cause of the explosion remains unknown, many (including popular New York City newspapers) blamed Spain for the attack.
The event was a catalyst that accelerated a diplomatic impasse between the United States and Spain, and the United States Congress declared war on Spain on April 25th, 1898. The war would last 8 months.
Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst called for a public memorial to the Maine, and the sculpture was dedicated in 1913. The gilded bronze figures atop the pylon represent Columbia Triumphant leading a seashell chariot of three seahorses. They are said to be cast from metal recovered from the guns of the Maine itself.
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.