The Havana Orphans, Yellow Journalism, and the Deadliest Catch!

Havana to New York

The SS Orizaba departed Havana on December 6, 1896 with our Havana orphans and arrived in New York on the morning of December 8, 1896. Here’s the passenger list details:

 And here’s a closeup of showing our relatives and their probable escort, Ms. Lucia G. de Villa:

You’ll notice that Manuel, the oldest orphan, is not on the passenger list and based on some other clues in my files, I believe Manuel never left Havana.  We’ll follow up on that in a later post.

Newspaper Coverage – Yellow Journalism

Reminder: all this took place in 1896 when Cuba was deep in its struggle for independence from Spain and the crisis was a daily topic in the news. This was a brutal struggle and the stories sold newspapers. Additionally, Cuban exiles supporting the insurgency in the cities and farms across the island set up office in New York and Miami to raise money and drive public opinion on the issue.

Additionally, it’s important to understand that for many generations following the formation of the United States, the subject of annexing Cuba came up time and again. In 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote to President James Monroe from his home at Monticello, “I have ever looked upon Cuba as the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States.”

By 1896 newspapers were lobbied by those who had financial and moral connections to the idea of the U.S. seizing Cuba from Spain, not that the Cubans actually desired to replace one foreign ruler with another, but the Cubans were looking for anyone to help their cause. Newspapers were used to shape public opinion and probably made a few dollars along the way.

Print news was king and many publishers desired to be on the throne.  The battle between Hearst in San Francisco and Pulitzer in New York helped create what emerged as yellow journalism 100 years before the CNN and Fox News battle we live in today.  Yellow journalism was 1896’s “fake news” and our Havana Orphans helped the big news propaganda machines serve up one of hundreds of stories designed to influence average Americans with stories of Spanish atrocities on the island.

Here’s what appeared in the NY Times the day after their arrival:

The stories from New York hit the wires and variations appeared in print all over the nation:

The stories, and I have dozens of samples, made all kinds of assertions. At one point in my research I started to keep track of the assertions in the many articles:

Facts asserted:
orphans named Veles (1)(3)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10) 
orphans named Velvas (2)(8)
6 orphans arrived (1) (2) (4)(8)
3 boys and 3 girls (2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)
brothers and sisters (3)(4)
arrived from Havana (1) (2)
arrived from Cuba (4)(5)(6)(7)(9)
Steamer Orizaba (1)(2) (3) (4)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)
ages 2 - 12 (1)
ages 2 - 10 (2)(8)
father Juarez Veles (1)
Father Spaniard (1)
Father was a planter near Nuentas (probably Nuevitas)(1)(2)(8)
Father owned 200 acre farm near Nuentas (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)
Father arrested (1) (2)
Arrested November 17th 1896 (2)(8)
Father executed (1)
Father tried and sentenced to death (2)
Ordered shot as spy (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(9)(10)
Wife to witness (2)(8)
Executed prior to arrival of wife (1) (2)(8)
Body was riddled with bullets (1)
Wife fell over dead body (2)(8)
Wife died near scene (2)(8)
Wife died of broken heart (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)
Wife Spaniard (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)
Neighbor Juan Gonzales sent them (1)
Aged Aunt and Uncle (1)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)
Uncle (3)(4)
Aged Brooklyn couple (2)(8)
Sent by Cuban insurgency (2)(8)
Insurgents paid for passage (3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(9)(10)

(1) NY Times 9 Dec 1896
(2) Little Falls NY Evening Times 9 Dec 1896
(3) Philadelphia Inquirer 9 Dec 1896
(4) New Haven Evening Register 9 Dec 1896
(5) Oswego Daily Palladium 9 Dec 1896 
(6) The Auburn Bulletin 9 Dec 1896 
(7) Monroe County Mail 10 Dec 1896
(8) Gloversville Daily Leader 10 Dec 1896
(9) Fulton County Republican 9 Dec 1896
(10) Batavia Daily News 9 Dec 1896

And in the days that followed I see this one appearing:

But if you’re still not a believer, here’s a good one for you.  A few months earlier I found the following, look at the date:

 Fortunately for the reporters at the time, there was no Google and the recycling of old news stories with new or more interesting facts could go undetected pretty easily.

The Havana Orphans and the Deadliest Catch

The SS Orizaba (1889) (Official Number 155177) was launched for the Ward Line in November 1889 and was in service from 1890 to 1898 transporting mail and passengers between ports in the Caribbean and New York.

She was later chartered to the U.S. Army as a transport ship for the  Spanish-American War from April until September in 1898 and returned to service along the route shown in the Ward Line advertisement above until 1906.


SS Orizaba was sold to Northwestern Steamship Company in 1906, moving mail along the west coast of the United States, and renamed the SS Northwestern. She later sailed for Alaska Line and, after surviving numerous strandings, was sold in 1940 when she served as an accomodations ship permanently moored at Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Apparently, in addition to housing military and civilian personnel in the harbor, her onboard generators supplied electricity to the port.


In 1942 while moored at Dutch Harbor, the SS Northwestern was bombed by the Japanese (yes, go brush up on your World War II history).  At the time she was bombed, she was a 52 year-old ship still serving her country.

Records about the ship were muddled for a while but in the 1980’s the US Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that although some records showed SS Northwestern was towed to Seattle for scrap, she in fact broke loose of her tow and ended up sinking in nearby Captains Bay where she sits today.

You might have seen an episode of Deadliest Catch a couple of years ago where the Discovery Channel program featured a special broadcast commemorating the history of SS Northwestern and the bombing of Dutch Harbor.   The hull is located at the southern end of Captains Bay and it can be seen as you drive toward the end of Captains Bay Road.

The Northwestern propeller was recovered and it sits in a memorial park in the harbor.  Take Bayview Avenue toward Summer Bay Road. Turn right at Memorial Drive and then walk around Unalaska Memorial Park and Cemetery. Take your picture near the this piece of history that’s seen the waters of New York, Cuba, Panama, around Cape Horn and up to the Aleutians. 

So if you visit Dutch Harbor and see Sig Hansen, let him know you’re connected to the family!