In 1917, the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay held the largest rifle range in the western hemisphere. In the late 1920’s, the enlisted mess hall that supported the range burned and collapsed, crushing the normally durable heavy porcelain dishes from which Marines ate their meals and drank their coffee. In the course of preparing the site for a replacement mess hall, the charred wreckage was removed and dumped over a cliff near what came to be known as Glass Beach.
Many other types of debris, including the bottles that gave Glass Beach its name, indicate this site likely was a central dump for the base for decades. Discarded metal objects left rust stains on many of the porcelain sherds. Over the years, most of the dump’s contents washed out to sea. While snorkeling near the beach, we found various smaller porcelain sherds worn smooth in the same manner as the sea glass at the site.
The fiery destruction of the mess hall and its dishes explains why no intact versions of early twentieth-century Marine Corps porcelain mugs are known to exist.