In Herb's Archive this month, the
John Henry Shillington Story from Herb's book Notre Dame Odyssey.
Also, an excerpt about the Shillington Monument from Reflections in the
Dome Sixty Years Of Life At Notre Dame, edited by James S. O'Rourke
IV. The chapter is called "How the Landscape Has Changed" by
From Notre Dame Odyssey:
The John Henry Shillington Story
There is a monument
on the Notre Dame campus which stands as a reminder to "Remember the
Maine," although the monument itself is virtually forgotten.
For years the red granite monument stood in an obscure alcove behind the
main steps of the Administration Building, only a few feet from a heating
unit, almost hidden by shrubbery. Curious visitors, if they had been told
at all about the monument, had to search to find it. There was an odd,
temporary look to the memorial's placement, although it had stood in that
spot for over forty years. Then, in 1990, for some unexplained reason, the
monument was re-located just outside Gate 8 of the Joyce Athletic and
Convocation Center, the least used entrance gate to that building.
When I first saw the monument is not perfectly clear to me, but I do know
that it was not until after I had been told about the former student who
died in 1898 when the USS Maine mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor,
the student whom the monument memorializes, one John Henry Shillington. It
was shortly after I assumed the duties as curator of the International
Sports and Games Research Collection that Jack Moulder, a former teacher
turned security guard and a good friend, first introduced me to the John
Henry Shillington story. Jack had a personal interest in it because he was
a distant relative of Shillington and was disturbed by the fact that the
monument was not more prominently displayed and the story behind it made
more light of.
A plaque on the monument reads, "To the memory of John Henry
Shillington ... who went down in the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor,
Feb. 15, 1898," and no one seems to know why the monument was moved
to the off-the-beaten-path nook after its original placement in 1915, with
much fanfare, on the lawn just north of the present LaFortune Student
The marker, cast in metal recovered from the sunken battleship, has a
10-inch mortar shell projecting from its five-foot base.
John Henry Shillington was a Chicago native who arrived at Notre Dame in
1892 and enrolled sporadically as a student for the next five years. This
according to records in the university archives. He was a starter for the
Notre Dame baseball team and played shortstop for three years. His great
ability in oration was honored by a gold medal in the Junior division of
Elocution in 1895.
In 1897, the year in which Shillington also captained Notre Dame's first
basketball team, misfortune struck when he traveled to Chicago for a
scheduled baseball game. After the team's victory, he met with some local
friends and, engaging in some extracurricular fun, did not make the bus
trip back with his teammates. This infraction resulted in his expulsion
from the University.
Following this incident, Shillington joined the United States Navy and his
assignment was aboard the USS Maine, from where he wrote the following
letter to a friend in Brownson Hall, back on the Notre Dame campus.
"I often think of Notre Dame. I can only think of her daily and in my
reminiscences of her a tear is often brushed away. I suppose "Shilly"
is forgotten by people at the old college, and I don't blame them. Though
forgotten, I shall always hold Notre Dame near and dear to me."
On Memorial Day, 1915, the granite memorial to John Henry Shillington was
unveiled by His Excellency (an archaic form of address still in use in the
early 1900's) Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy. To begin the
commemoration, Daniels was escorted from his hotel by a University cadet
regiment. As he was accompanied to the stage by the Reverend Fathers
Cavanaugh and Morrissey, Daniels was presented arms by a group of Navy
cadets. Then, as the band played the Star Spangled Banner, the American
flag draped over the monument was lifted to unveil the handsome granite
To a crowd of one thousand students, Daniels presented an hour-long
dissertation on patriotism. "Shillington's concept of duty to
country," he stated, "was one that all the men at school might
well adopt as a pattern for study and emulation."
It is obvious that a commemoration by the Secretary of Navy is no small
affair, and a monument that he dedicates should not become so trivial that
it is placed next to a heating unit in a secluded alcove of the
administration building. What is the justification of this placement?
The answer may lie in the heavily disputed case of the explosion of the
USS Maine. It has been speculated by historians that the ship exploded
from the inside out, that the Maine was carrying wartime explosives and
armaments during a non-wartime period. The USS Maine incident could be
seen as a grave embarrassment to the United States, something that the
Notre Dame administration might not like to have on display.
An alternative explanation that is more presumptuous is the fact that John
Henry Shillington was expelled from Notre Dame in 1897. This fact was
never expressed at the ceremony of 1915 and was little mentioned after
Shillington's death in any subsequent writings in the archives at Notre
Dame. In fact, the February 18, 1898, edition of the SCHOLASTIC merely
restated the incident of his expulsion to: "it was deemed necessary
for him to sever his relations with the University." It may be that a
memorial to such an eminent patriotic student may become marred if an
implication of University expulsion was issued (since it is not University
policy to admire a student who has been asked to leave.)
Today the memorial continues to be viewed by few admirers. Although it
commemorates the death of a Notre Dame student and symbolizes an attitude
of patriotism and duty present in the post-war Notre Dame community after
the United States' struggle with Spain, perhaps the University does not
want to "Remember the Maine."
Tne USS Maine had been sent to protect U.S. citizens, supposedly
endangered by the increasing friction between the United States and Spain.
Two hundred and fifty two men were killed in the incident and many others
were injured. Some U.S. newspapers seized upon the incident and coined the
popular slogan, "To hell with Spain, Remember the Maine." in an
effort to turn popular sentiment in favor of armed intervention, which
followed in April.
In an interview in 1989, Donald Dedrick, director of Notre Dame's physical
plant, referring to the monument's existence and location, said:
"It's one of those oddities. It's one of those things that was done
at the time as a patriotic response. It's not unusual at a college campus
to find obscure things like that. There are few inquiries about the
monument and no plans to move it."
The following year the monument was moved to its present location outside
Gate 8 of the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center. Regardless of where
they move it, the monument stands as a permanent reminder of the Maine and
of Shillington - who, ironically, believed he had been forgotten on
An interesting post-script to this story came to me from the pen of Tony
DiMarco, a Hollywood producer and friend of mine, who for years has been
extremely interested in the possibility of a George Gipp movie. Tony
wrote: "I read with interest the story of John Henry Shillington. It
seems to have many of the elements that the Gipp story has - Notre
Dame, of course, the athletics, the dismissal from School and the untimely
death of the hero. The basic story is there - Notre Dame athletic hero, a
little bit of a maverick (shades of Gipp), the ultimate seemingly unjust
dismissal from school and the Maine. I think it's in the middle where the
story needs help and I think it's here where the writer must inject some
of his imagination and, as you suggested, add a romance and some other
dramatic situations. The basic story, I think, should be an in-depth story
of Shillington, a carefree young man who attended college near the turn of
the century and whose destiny was to be aboard the Maine on that fateful
From Reflections In The Dome, about the Shillington
Unknown to most students, there is a large naval projectile mounted on a
granite plinth against the Southeast foundations of the
Administration Building. I stumbled upon it during my first visit to the
campus in the summer of '52. At the time, it seemed misplaced, even out of
I was not reminded of it until the Centennial Day observances of the
destruction of the old Main Building in the fire of 1879. Fr. Hesburgh's
homily explained how this fire divided the history of Notre Dame: from
adolescence to adulthood. His words triggered my memory and I thought of
the forgotten memorial to the young volunteer from Bronson Hall who had
gone down with the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in 1895.
After Mass I revisited the rusting piece of ordinance. I wanted to say a
prayer for the young sailor. The enigma was solved: the destruction by
fire of the Main Building would prefigure the rise of a great university;
the destruction by fire of the battleship Maine would prefigure the rise
of a great world power. The symbolism was beautiful, I thought. Here we
have two burnt offerings: the Main and the Maine. At last, the shell
seemed right just where it was.