LETTERS READ: Bananas Anyone?

Scrapbook: Quarantine Tour of Central America and Panama by Health Authorities as guests of the United Fruit Company. The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1996.14.17.

July 15, 2021: This podcast comprises readings from the 1905 scrapbook produced contemporaneously with the last documented yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans and the United States. 

Featuring readers William Bowling and Grace Kennedy with audio production by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas Studio.

In photographs and text, this interesting relic presents the idea that bananas imported by the largest importer of them in the world at that time were safe and did not promote the spread of yellow fever.

What was the purpose for this curious piece of ephemera compiled and produced in New Orleans? Documentation of United Fruit’s best practices in sanitation and mosquito abatement? Merely propaganda? For over four years prior, effective protocols for mosquito eradication had already been in place for most American cities. Characteristically, New Orleans lagged behind.

As explained previously in the December 2020 Letters Read Incubator: In 1901, Major Walter Reed, M.D., U.S. Army, and his colleagues confirmed the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and not by human contact. Further:

Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board … many people in New Orleans still did not take the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from wooden cisterns, a breeding ground for the insects.—American Experience, NPR.

In a stubborn manner usual to New Orleanians, preemptive measures had not yet been adopted by all citizens. As a result, in the city that had been ravaged multiple times by catastrophe and disease, in 1905 cases of the saffron scourge did show up presaging another, and final, yellow fever epidemic.

What part did the United Fruit Company play? Listen to the podcast at 6:00 pm CST and anytime thereafter at this LINK as it airs Thursday, July 15. Listen now to other Letters Read podcasts there, too.

You can follow along and browse through the entire photo album HERE.