SCOVEL, SYLVESTER HENRY 'HARRY' (29 July 1869-11 Feb. 1905) went to cover the insurrection against Spain in Cuba and, in the words of one media historian, became the "beau ideal" of SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR correspondents. He was born in Pittsburgh, the son of Presbyterian minister Sylvester Finian Scovel and Caroline Woodruff Scovel. He moved at 14 to Wooster, Ohio, his father having been named president of the University (now College) of Wooster. After briefly studying engineering at the University of Michigan, he came to Cleveland, where he served as general manager of the CLEVELAND ATHLETIC CLUB and became a member of the independent cavalry company, TROOP A. He distinguished himself at the CAC by opening membership to young IRISH boxers and other working-class athletes. He also found time to provide the libretto for a successful operetta set in early Cleveland. Personal debts, however, sent him back to Pittsburgh to assume a position in an insurance company. There, after attending a rally in 1895 in support of the Cuban insurrection against Spain, Scovel abruptly abandoned insurance in favor of reporting on the Cubans' cause as a foreign correspondent.
Most stories on the insurrection being hearsay accounts filed from Havana or Key West, Scovel chose to go directly to the source in the rebel camps. Finding his way to that of Maximo Gomez, he managed to smuggle stories past the Spanish censorship to American newspapers, notably the New York Herald. After a brief respite in Cleveland and New York, he returned to Cuba with an assignment from the New York World to document accounts of Spanish atrocities against the Cubans. His investigative journalism turned up 212 authenticated cases of Spanish war crimes, making his name anathema to the Spanish. General Valeriano Weyler ("Butcher Weyler" in the American press) had put a price on his head, and on Scovel's next expedition he was captured and imprisoned on capital charges. Scovel's plight became a cause celebre in both Cuba and the United States. Cuban sympathizers filled his cell with flowers and food; American papers, state legislatures, and even Congress turned his fate into a question of national honor. Wary of American public opinion, Spain instructed Weyler to release the reporter.
Returning to America, Scovel was received by President William McKinley and married Frances Cabanne, a St. Louis socialite. Weyler was recalled and replaced by Ramon Blanco, who allowed the reporter to return to Cuba under parole. Scovel was in Havana when the U.S.S. Maine was blown up, and he managed to get a dispatch through Spanish censorship which raised doubts about the source of--and therefore the responsibility for--the explosion. He accompanied the subsequent American invasion as a war correspondent for the World and also did reconnaissance missions on Havana and Santiago harbor for Rear Admiral William Sampson. He directed Stephen Crane and other World reporters in coverage of the U.S. Army's investment of Santiago but ran afoul of General William Shaftner during the surrender of Santiago. Reprimanded for disrupting the ceremony, Scovel struck the general and spent a night under confinement before being expelled from the island. President McKinley later rescinded his banishment, but there was little left to cover in the American occupation, and Scovel left journalism for positions as a consulting engineer and a Cuban businessman. He died of complications from an operation in Havana and was buried with military honors in Wooster. He had no children.
Joyce Milton, The Yellow Kids: Foreign Correspondents in the Heyday of Yellow Journalism (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).
John Vacha Uploaded 25 September 2022