In November 1911 advertisements began appearing for the release of The Mystery of the Maine. The film was what historians today call an actuality, a term that emphasizes the absence of manipulation of real events in a film (the term was not widely used in 1911). Ads at the time of the picture's release called The Mystery of the Maine a feature film although it was only two reels long. The film showed views of the wreckage of the battleship U.S. Maine, whose sinking in Havana Harbor in 1898 sparked the SpanishAmerican War. With the cooperation of the War Department, which was trying to identify the cause of the Maine's sinking and recovering the remains of about seventy servicemen still entombed in the wreckage, a Cuban cameraman named Diaz working for an American firm had filmed the greatest engineering marvel of its day. Diaz translated the nine-monthlong project of building a huge cofferdam that lifted the ship above the water's surface into a dramatic twenty-minute film.
Notwithstanding the film's title and some shots of gaping holes in the ship's hull, there was little exploration of hard evidence in The Mystery of the Maine. The producer seemed more interested in resurrecting the sensations of war fever that swept the nation in 1898. As huge sections of the ship became recognizable, Diaz's camera focused on the barnacle-encrusted cabin of the ship's captain, where remarkably a washstand faucet still seemed