Cuban Friendship Urn

The Cuban Friendship Urn is not the most impressive landmark you’ll find in Washington DC, but it does have an interesting story behind it.

Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
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The Cuban Friendship Urn, sometimes known as the USS Maine Memorial, is easy to miss. It’s not hidden, as such. But it’s in a place where you probably wouldn’t stumble across it unless you’re looking for it. Even then, it’s not very clearly marked as to what it is. And being on the corner of a parking lot–and a fairly unattractive one at that, at the base of two functional but not exactly pretty bridges–doesn’t help. It doesn’t come as a shock, then, that it was once voted Washington’s most obscure memorial.1

It’s not the most impressive memorial you’ll find in Washington DC. The whole thing is maybe 8 feet high or so and weighs about 7 tons.

But it does have an interesting story behind it. The urn is carved out of what was originally one of the columns making up the Maine Monument in Maine Square in Havana, Cuba. That monument was dedicated to the victims of the battleship USS Maine, which was sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Three-quarters of her crew perished, a total of 266 Americans. And it became a crucial episode leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War two months later.

The original Havana memorial was destroyed by a hurricane in 1926. The Cubans salvaged some of the ruins, carved the urn, and presented it to President Calvin Coolidge in 1928.2

On the back of the urn is a depiction of the sinking of the Maine, and a small panel inscription reads (original in Spanish):

The memory of the Maine will hold in lasting duration, through the ages, the ties of friendship between the people of Cuba and the people of the United States of America.2

This wasn’t quite the original location for the urn. It was originally nearby in Potomac Park, but in the late-1940s, it was put in storage while the Fourteenth Street Bridge was being built. It stayed in storage until 2001 when the National Park Service brought it out of storage and installed it in its current site on the banks of the Potomac.2

Photos of the Cuban Friendship Urn

Cuban Friendship Urn Eagle
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
The plaque reads: “ESTA COPA FUE ESCULPIDA EN UN FRAGMENTO DE LA COLUMNA DE MARMOL DEL MONUMENTO A LAS VICTIMES DEL “MAINE”. ERICIDO EN LA CIUDAD DE LA HABANA, CUYA COLUMNA FUE DERRIBADA POR EL CICLON DE 20 DE OCTUBRE DE 1926.” It translates as: “This urn was sculpted from a fragment of the marble column monument to the “Maine” victims killed in the city of Havana, whose column was demolished by the cyclone of October 20, 1926.” Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Detail of the Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn Detail
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Cuban Friendship Urn on Pedestal
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

More About the Cuban Friendship Urn

  • Originally erected in Havana, Cuba, in 1928 as a symbol of friendship between the US and Cuba
  • Damaged by a hurricane in 1926, resulting in the marble column being sent to the US
  • Erected in Washington, DC, in 1939, near the Cuban Embassy
  • Moved to the National Park Service warehouse in the early 1960s
  • Restored to its present site near the Tidal Basin in 1998

The Cuban Friendship Urn is a monument symbolizing the historic bonds of friendship between the United States and Cuba. Originally erected in the city of Havana, Cuba, in 1928, the urn was constructed by Cuban President Gerardo Machado as a gift to the American people. The monument featured a marble column from a 7-foot tall neoclassical-style urn, adorned with intricate decorations such as eagle wings and human figures.

In 1926, a hurricane severely damaged the marble column in Havana, and the column was subsequently sent to the United States for repair work. The restored urn was erected in Washington, DC, in 1939, initially placed in front of the Cuban Embassy at 16th Street and Rock Creek Park.

During the early 1960s, amid tense relations between the US and Cuba, the urn was removed from public view and stored in a National Park Service warehouse. It remained there for several decades until it was rediscovered by a local alternative newspaper, the Washington City Paper.

In 1998, the urn was restored and returned to public display, now located near the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, at the north end of the 14th Street Bridge. The Cuban Friendship Urn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a reminder of the historic relationship between the two nations, despite periods of political tension.

What’s Nearby to Cuban Friendship Urn

  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Tidal Basin
  • The National Mall

Where is the Cuban Friendship Urn?

The Cuban Friendship Urn in Washington DC is near the base of the Fourteenth Street Bridge in East Potomac Park.

It’s not far from the George Mason Memorial and Jefferson Memorial.

The easiest way to get there is either to walk from the George Mason Memorial or Jefferson Memorial or drive and park in Parking Lot A on Hains Point along Ohio Drive SW between the George Mason Bridge and the Fourteenth Street Bridge.

The urn is basically in the corner of a parking lot, so there’s obviously also parking nearby.

Taking Photos at the Cuban Friendship Urn

The Cuban Friendship Urn doesn’t lend itself to many exciting photographic opportunities. It’s quite small, not illuminated at night, and is tucked in the corner of a parking lot.

Nevertheless, there’s unfettered access to it day or night and no problem using tripods or flash.

Commercial shoots and filming may require a permit.

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  1. Jaime Boyle, ‘The Cuban-American Friendship Urn,” National Mall Times 2, 8 (August 2009): 1. []
  2. James M. Goode, Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation’s Capital (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 489. []

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