Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”
Scene Nine: Siboney, Cuba June 1898
After the United States Congress declared war with Spain on April 25th, 1898, American forces gathered in training facilities in Florida in preparation for an invasion of Cuba, blockaded by the American Atlantic Fleet.
Roosevelt had raised his all volunteer regiment nicknamed the “Rough Riders,” also training in Florida. Prior to the invasion, during the so-called “Rocking Chair” period, journalists including famed novelists the “real” Stephen Crane, Richard Harding Davis and Frank Norris gathered at the Tampa Bay Hotel.
On May 30th commanding General William Shafter received orders to take a force of 25,000 to Santiago and support the blockade. Transports could only be found for 17,000, but they went to make a clumsy landing on June 22, which the Spaniards could have cut to bits had they opposed it. Real landing craft were unknown, and horses were thrown into the water to swim for the beach. Many did not make it.
(June 22, 1898. Roosevelt and his Rough Riders have left Tampa Bay and are approaching Siboney Beach in Cuba. On board are Albert Smith and Jim Blackton of the Vitograph Company)
Roosevelt (looking through binoculars at Siboney Beach): Well, I’ll be damned. There’s no sight of a single Spanish soldier. No trenches, no breastworks. Nothing but palm trees.
Second officer: (taking binoculars): What does it mean?
Roosevelt: It means, well I’ll be damned, that Shafter was right. He asked Garcia [the leader of the Cuban rebel army] to pin down the Spaniards and take pressure off our landing. And it worked.
Officer: Colonel, I do see one man on the beach. He’s waving something – looks like signal flags.
Roosevelt: Maybe it’s a bloody Spaniard surrendering. Tell him we’ll take Madrid and call it a game. What’s he signaling?
Officer: B – U – L – L – Y
Roosevelt: What the devil? But we’ll find out when we get there.
(Nearby on the ship are two men from the Vitograph Company holding a camera box.)
Roosevelt: Good day, sirs. I see you are ready for action.
Vitographers: Thanks for letting us aboard.
Roosevelt: We had space enough for all these horses. (On board the ship are all the Rough Riders horses.) Room for two more asses, I suppose.
(the men laugh)
Anyway, what’s a war without a moving picture show! Is it true what I heard that you fellows sleep every night in bed with your camera?
Vitographers: Yes, Colonel, for safekeeping. “Film is our mistress.”
Roosevelt: When I was out west I saw lonely cowboys sleep with cattle but this is taking Rough Riding to a new extreme. Don’t develop whatever pictures you take!
(The ships land. The scene is at first chaotic. The two horses chosen by Roosevelt for the invasion are brought up from below deck and hoisted ashore. The process is slow and dangerous. At one point, Roosevelt bellows, “Stop that goddamned animal torture!” Eventually, order is restored on the beach.)
(Once order is restored on the beach, Roosevelt approaches the man who was signaling the ship. It is Crane. Now sitting in a beach chair holding a reporter’s pad and a beer.)
Roosevelt: What the devil! Crane, it’s you. Ah, I see now B-U-L-L-Y. [phrase often used by Roosevelt] What a great sport you are, Sir Steven!
[Crane and Roosevelt had become friends in New York when Roosevelt was Commissioner of Police.]
(Crane rises and bows)
Roosevelt: Still, what’s with wig-wagging? Are you writing a story for Pulitzer or Hearst? [Used during the Cuban Campaign, wig-wagging was a method of sending signals by waving an arm, flag, light, or other object.]
Crane: Teddy, you know how I work. First I write the story, then I live it. Like Red Badge. That’s why I came to Cuba. To see if I got war all right.
The story I just wrote is “Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo.” And now that I’ve taken up wig-wagging myself, I see I’ve gotten it all right.
(Crane picks up the signal flags and waves them, jerkily, back and forth)
Roosevelt: (laughing) Glad to see you but surprised. Everyone said after you rescued Margharita Quesadas from the Casa de Recogidas in Havana, you had taken her to a love nest in Bermuda.
Crane: Colonel, I am a married man.
Crane: Anyway, Hearst is paying me top dollar to be here. Remember last year when he told Davis and Remington, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” He’s expecting vivid copy from Mr. Stephen Crane.
[SCENE FROM Citizen Kane when Kane (based on William Randolph Hearst) says the probably apocryphal line]
Crane: Teddy, I am glad to see you in high spirits. Thought you were still mad at me after I testified in court against one of your police officers. I wrote in the papers that the officer had harassed and falsely arrested a so-called “lady of the evening.”
[In 1896, Crane had testified on behalf of Dora Clark who had pressed charges against Office Charles Becker for wrongful arrest on prostitution charges. Supposedly, at the scene of the arrest, Crane tried to save Clark by claiming she was his wife. Roosevelt was noticeably absent at trial, excusing himself from presiding, ostensibly to stump for Republican presidential candidate, William McKinley.]
Roosevelt: It was a tad embarrassing. As the Commissioner of Police, officially I had to support my officer. But as a man, I admired your courage. I admire a man with the courage to tell the truth.
I always did wonder how that “lady of the evening” paid you for your services in court.
(Roosevelt’s glance catches the Vitograph men stumbling in the surf with their camera.)
Roosevelt: Speaking of damsels in distress . . .
(Roosevelt helps the men, picks up and carries the camera on his back, placing it safely on the beach.)
Crane (laughing): Teddy, the STEVEdor!
Roosevelt: Back to work, Crane. See you in camp after we get inland. Just don’t get shot in that thick head of yours. The fun is just beginning.