The Hay family takes a "banana boat" to Guatemala in 1927


1927 Ad for "Banana Boat" trips to the Caribbean
The summer after Don's 15th birthday in 1927, the Hays went to Guatemala on a "Banana Boat." Perhaps the trip was even spurred by an ad similar to the 1927 one to the left. In later years, Don would think the trip was taken two years earlier since a notation on his 1943 Navy application references 1925. However, the passenger list for the then-new steamship Castilla, from Puerto Barrios in Guatemala to New Orleans, specifies a return trip from Guatemala on September 9-12th. The whole family went on the trip, so presumably, Perry was completely recovered from his bout with empyema two years earlier. Interestingly, there were only 18 total passengers on the passenger list. The outgoing ship information has not been located.

Although none of Perry's or Don's children remember any story handed down as to why Guatemala was the chosen destination, it was undoubtedly due to the trip their father made there 23 years earlier (1905 passport). In 1904/05 at age 22, Robert Hay traveled with botanist William Maxon; the latter stayed there for 2 years, while Robert was there for 2 months. William Maxon, who worked at the National Museum, and Robert's brother, William Perry Hay, were two of the original members of the Washington D.C. Biologists Club, founded in 1900 -- undoubtedly it was through this connection that Robert got this job with his brother's associate. And undoubtedly it was the fond memories of this earlier trip that made Robert want to take his whole family back 23 years later.

1929 picture of Castilla
(click on picture for larger view)
some banana boats were definitely NOT luxurious
but the advertised cruise ships sure looked luxurious
These trips were more popular than might be expected: in 1928 the "Great White Fleet" of just the United Fruit Company carried 72,000 passengers. The history of United Fruit is controversial, and involves many central American countries -- Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica as well as Guatemala. Some feel they had a beneficial impact, at least in 1900-1930 when they built railroads, brought in modern technology (electricity, water, hospitals), and paid workers more than double the going rate. Others feel that they built a monopoly and colluded with the governments of those countries to protect their monopoly to the detriment of their workers. Today, United Fruits (or Chiquita Brands International as it is called now) is reviled as being a co-conspirator with the CIA to topple the elected Guatemalan government in 1954, leading to the deaths of over one hundred thousand peasants in the ensuing conflict that lasted through the 1980s. However, at the time when the Hays took this trip, people would have thought the United Fruit Company epitomized American entrepreneurism and can-do spirit. Bananas seem so commonplace today -- it is hard to imagine this time when they were an exotic fruit so in demand that empires could be built on them! In the 1940s, United Fruit's annual revenues were twice that of the entire country of Guatemala!

The "Banana Boats" (an accepted common moniker) conjur up in my mind "tramp steamers" in terms of thinking of their accomodations, however, this was not necessarily the case. Banana Boats were the accepted pleasure cruise ships of their day. In fact, this is probably the birth of the pleasure cruising concept -- before now, ships were a mode of transportation, with a destination in mind, and not for tourism, even though some of the ships were luxurious (like the Titanic in 1912). But the banana boat cruises were round-trip ones, for tourism only. A pamphlet from the 1930s emphasizes pleasure and luxury:

Ports of the GREAT WHITE FLEET. What better way to describe the flotilla of trim, spotless liners that are forever cruising the Spanish Main? Every week these snowy steamers sail southward through the Gates of the Caribbean, their proud white prows gleaming against the shore line of the Latin-American Republics and the West Indian Islands. The loveliest harbors imaginable welcome these ships: Havana, Cuba--Kingston, Jamaica, B.W.I.--Cristobal, Canal Zone--Limon, Costa Rica--Barriou, Guatemala--the ports of Colombia and Honduras ... all know the Great White Fleet!
Consider the people who travel on these ships: diplomats and debutantes, captains of industry and congenial vacationists--the friendly, intelligent people that are a joy to have as fellow passengers on a tropical cruise.

November 1925 Santa Marta menu cover (all menus used the same cover) - the picture inset on the back cover is of the Church of the Virgin of Mercy in Antigua, Guatemala
I found a set of menus from 1925 for the S.S. Santa Marta, and it is assumed their meals were probably quite similar, although the Santa Marta was about 25% larger (in tonnage) than the Castilla. The menus were in Spanish and English, and are similar to modern luxury cruises 50-80 years later:

Breakfast:
Clam Broth, Orange Juice, Oranges, Grapefruit, Bananas and Cream, Stewed Prunes, Strained Honey, Preserves, Orange Marmalade, Oatmeal, Hominy, Kellogg's Bran, Corn Flakes, Puffed Wheat, Fried Eggs, Poached Eggs, Boiled Eggs, Hot Rolls, Wheat Scones, Corn Muffins, Indian Cakes with Maple Syrup, Dry/Buttered and Cream Toast, Coffee, Tea, Postum, Cocoa; To Order - Finnan Haddle, Broiled Mackerel, Fried Flounder with Butter Sauce, Scrambled Eggs Plain or with Fines Herbs, Omelette Plain or with Cheese, Corned Beef Hash, Breakfast Bacon, Broiled Ham, Boiled Potatoes, Lyonnaise Potates.
Luncheon:
Salami Sausage, Potage Andalouse, Hot or Cold Bouillon, Pickled Beets, Radishes, Sour Pickles, Smelts Saute Meuniere, Boiled Potatoes, Boston Baked Beans, Santa Maria Mixed Grill, Omelette with Minced Ham, Mashed Squash, Steamed Rice, Macaroni au Gratin, Baked Potatoes, Bermuda Potatoes; Cold Buffet - Roast Mutton, Sliced Capon, Corned Beef, Head Cheese, Tomato Salad, Cole Slaw, Bread and Butter Pudding with Custard Sauce, Lunch Cake, Apricot Pie, Macedoine Sherbet, Assorted Cake, Brie Cheese, Swiss Cheese, Crackers, Grapes, Bananas, Tea, Iced Tea, Coffee.
Dinner:
Canape Lucille, Cream Louisette, Consomme Tapioca, Hot or Cold Bouillon, Queen Olives, Iced Celery, Broiled Salmon Maitre d'Hotel, Olivette Potatoes, Sliced Cucumbers, Emince of Chicken with Rice, United Fruit Fritters, Rack of Veal Demiglace, Roast Prime Ribs Beef au Jus, Baked Tomatoes, Steamed Rice, Carrots and Peas, Roast Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Romaine Salad with French Dressing, Cabinet Pudding with Wine Sauce, Fruit Cake, Boston Cream Puffs, Macaroons, French Mixed Ice Cream, Assorted Cake, Stilton Cheese, Pineapple Cheese, Crackers, Fruit in Season, Coffee.
Diner d'Adieu:
Canape Caviar, Cream Argentuil, Clear Green Turtle, Queen Olives, Salted Almonds, Iced Celery, Lobster Newburg en Casserolette, Glaced Virginia Ham with Champagne Sauce, Baked Bananas Tropical Style, Roast Quail with Bread Sauce, Roast Filet of Beef au Jus, Rissole Potatoes, Asparagus with Melted Butter, Endive Salad with French Dressing, Fruit Pudding with Wine Sauce, Raisin Cake, Vanilla Eclairs, Scotch Shortbread, United Fruit Special Banana Ice Cream, Assorted Cake, Roquefort Cheese, Neufchatel Cheese, Crackers, Fruit in Season, Stuffed Dates, Coffee.

1930s ports of the Great White Fleet
1925 brochure (click on picture for larger view)
It is not known if the Hays visited other ports besides Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. The "Great White Fleet" also went to Cuba, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama as well as South America. The ships I found information about in 1922 (the Santa Marta and the Zacapa) that went to Puerto Barrios, also went to Santiago, Kingston, Belize, Puerto Castilla, and Tela. However, these ships were unlikely to visit all these ports in just one trip (these were commercial banana boats after all), so probably these were all the ports these two boats visited in a year. I assume we would have known if Don had visited at least Panama and the Canal, so it seems likely that he only went to Guatemala.

A brochure from 1925 advertised trips from New Orleans starting at $200. Inside the brochure detailed an 11-day Guatemala cruise which had a final destination of Puerto Barrios and included a sidetrip to and from Guatemala City by rail. In 1925, the cruises began on April 11, 1925 and sailed each fortnight thereafter. It is assumed that the Hay family went on a very similar cruise two years later, perhaps at a similar cost, although the length of time may have been different (or perhaps they arranged to stay in Guatemala longer, taking the next ship back).

Don said on his 1943 Navy application that this trip lasted several weeks. Son Bob remembers Don talking about a train trip in Guatemala, and that the sanitation conditions on the train were lacking compared to what he was used to on American trains. In 1904, Guatemalan dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera granted United Fruit a ninety-nine year tax-free concession to construct and maintain the country's main rail line from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios. The line was finished in 1908 and was the first leg of what was to be an 800-mile Central American railway that linked multiple countries. Likely it was the United Fruit train that the Hay family took from the port to Guatemala City. The most memorable part of this trip, to Don, was the snack food on board the train -- he was amazed that vendors came by with buckets full of fried grasshoppers. Bob remembers a story of someone getting sick on board the train -- I wonder if it was Don at the sight of people eating grasshoppers!

As a curious aside, the United Fruit Company had one of the earliest wireless networks to coordinate its Latin American operations, put together around 1908, an interesting coincidence with Don's interest in radios.

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The Depression had a dire impact on United Fruit -- its share prices fell from $158 to a devastated $10 a share in 1932.

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