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Thomas Blount, February 23, 1899

Our Boys in Cuba

Blount Writes of What is Doing in Havana

                                        Camp Columbia
                                        Havana, Cuba, Feb 23, ‘99

I had a day off on the 14th inst. and went to the city to see the sights. Valentine Day was a great one there, as it was the ending of a three days Carnival which they hold every year. They come out about 4 p.m. in hacks, on horseback and on foot and take in the city until ten or twelve p.m. Then they assemble in the two largest dance halls of the city and dance until day break. I think I saw at least ten or twelve thousand and dressed in every imaginable style one could conceive. Many wore the costumes of “ye olden time.” It is customary for them while parading the streets to throw paper sacks containing meal or flour that generally burst and scatter the contents on all with whom they come in contact. Others have a sack full and throw handfuls in the faces and eyes; they throw mostly at the ones who are masqued, but none are exempt, not even the uniform of the U.S.A. and I had to do considerable brushing the next morning to make myself presentable. The dances are very brilliant affairs; the waltz is much like ours, except they move slower and take shorter steps. I went to the opera one night. They had a large, first class orchestra, the scenery was good and the costumes of the actresses very elegant. I could not understand the play as I have not yet mastered the Spanish language. A singular feature about it was this, you buy your ticket for one act only—an act lasts about an hour—then there is half an hour interval and if you like to remain you buy another ticket and so on. The doors open at 8 p.m. and the performance generally ends at 2 a.m. Tickets are forty cents each act.

Sunday I had a day off and went entirely through Princepe [i.e. Principe] Fort, said to be the strongest fort in Cuba, stronger even than Morro. Leaving there I went to Colon Cemetery where the soldiers from the ill fated Maine are buried. No monument has been erected, only a cross with “Victims of the Maine,” printed thereon. Lately the plot has been much decorated with natural and artificial flowers, and a great many American flags. General Garcia is buried in the same cemetery.

The rules and regulations of this cemetery are very singular. They do not sell a foot of ground, it is all leased, prices ranging from $10.00 up to hundreds, for a five year lease for a grave or lot. At the expiration of that period, you must renew the lease, failing to do so, the bones are removed to the Bone Yard and the lot is made ready for another body. The monuments are likewise leased from a wooden cross to a handsome marble that costs many thousands, no stones are engraved, instead they have letters of some kind of metal that are stuck on the marble, giving name, date of birth, death, any inscription, &c., at the expiration of the lease, if not renewed and the stone leased for another body. Every day the leases are expiring and you can see them going around with a cart opening the graves and throwing the bones in the cart thence to the Bone Yard. That place has a high wall about 45x80 feet around it and at present the bones are thirty-two deep. It is a ghastly sight, with hundreds of skulls and thousands of bones whitening in the sun.

I next visited the “Mortal Lime House.” This is where the paupers are carried after death, they have no coffins, and the bodies are placed in a pine covered box about eight inches deep, they have a hearse that carries four of these boxes and is first driven to a small chapel near the center of the cemetery and there the Catholic priest reads the funeral service. The hearse then carries them to the Lime House. All clothing is removed from the bodies and they are covered with quick lime and the flesh disappears the bones are carried to the bone yard. A very singular way in my opinion to handle the dead, at the same time it has some advantages.

There was a photographer going around with his camera, taking snap shots of all these things and once or twice his picture included some of Uncle Sam’s boys, as of course wherever there is anything to be seen the blue uniform is on hand.

This is a wonderful country and the next time I write I’ll tell you of our surroundings.

                                        Yours truly,
                                            Thomas Blount
                                                Co. B, 1st Reg. N.C. Vol.

[New Bern Weekly Journal, March 14, 1899, p. 4, col. 5]

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