In January 1933, Einstein did go bananas. Well he was driven in a rail car up to the town of Esperanza in the Chiriqui province of Panama. Briefly, he would have toured some of the huge banana growing farms run by the United Fruit Company. Unfortunately, the rain that day cut short his trip. Historian, and UFCO employee Mark Trafton met the great scientist during this rain filled journey. He drove with Einstein on his trip back to Puerto Armuelles.
What was this trip really about?
This is an excerpt from the Mark Trafton Papers.
NOTE: he mentions driving in a car, but there was no road between Puerto and Esperanza at that time. The "Car" he refers to must have been a small motorized unit used to run along the narrow gauge track.
ALBERT EINSTEIN. and his wife Eloise, were on a Company ship from Panama to California after moving to the States from Germany. During their stopover, Mr. Blair asked me to meet them in Esperanza and show them something of the banana farms. I took advantage of the occasion to go there the night before to visit with friends, among them Duffy Reagan, brother of the accountant. (They came from Taunton, Mass. where I once played with an orchestra in the Roseland ballroom). We celebrated most of the night and the next morning it was pouring rain but the Einsteins arrived there by motorcar, with the storm curtains buttoned down on all sides. I had a "goma" and so did Duffy. He rushed out to the motorcar in the rain, raised the curtain, stuck out his hand and said "Hi, AI, Reagan's the name" and then returned to the bachelor quarters. I got in the motorcar on the seat between Einstein and his wife to ride back to Armuelles with them since we couldn't look at bananas in the rain.
I felt very ill but managed to point out things of interest along the track. His English wasn't much better than my German; he knew nothing about bananas and I knew nothing of the theory of relativity except E=mc2, but we smiled and nodded all the way back to Port.
What an impressive person, that head of frizzly grey hair; those wide-open eyes which had looked into and fathomed secrets of the universe; his appreciative, unassuming manner. A true scientist.
These are two old rail cars in the marshalling shed in Puerto Armuelles (both the shed and the cars are long gone) Did Einstein possibly travel in one of these actual cars?
There was a newspaper report of the Einstein's arriving in Panama but then the reports stopped. We do know they continued their trip to Puerto Armuelles in January of 1933. They travelled by rail car to the small town of Esperanza and were driven back to Puerto by UFC director Mark Trafton Jr. (The Mark Trafton Papers) later, they left Puerto on the USS Oakland bound for California.
Why would the Einsteins be driven through the rain for about an hour on a narrow gauge railway to see a banana plantation?
We still do not have a definitive answer for that.
Hank Blair was head of the United Fruit Company in Panama at that time. He was reportedly also a Freemason. Until the 1960's a Masonic lodge existed close to Blair house. However, This reporter has learned from his friends in the CRAFT, that Einstein was NOT a mason.
Einstein was definitely involved in setting up a 'underground" railway for German Jewish intellectuals and musicians fleeing Nazi persecution.
The United Fruit Company did have passengers on their empty returning banana boats from Europe and there is evidence that these were used by Jewish families escaping persecution. (See story on "Sixty Year Embrace.")
This turned out to be the last voyage of the Oakland as it appears it was scrapped in California after this voyage.