Donna Darling Collection – Part 52

Hotel Metropole – Panama City, Panama – 20 Feb 1930

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at a menu from the Donna Darling Collection.

According to my memories of talks with Donna, immediately after the 1929 stock market crash, many people stopped going to the theatres for vaudeville shows. Basically, they started canceling the shows they had booked, and the performers were left high and dry. Donna and Sammy decided to go to Panama City, Panama, where the depression hadn’t come to.

While in Panama City, Donna had a birthday. To celebrate, Donna had a birthday dinner at the Hotel Metropole, Santa Ana Plaza, in Panama City, Panama. The menu for that dinner survived. Guests had options of Baked Hallibot [sic], Tenderloin Steak, and Broiled Spring Chicken.

What I found most interesting was that she was celebrating her “25th birthday.” Donna commonly lied about her age. However, the 37-year-old must have been a real beauty (or deluding herself) to have pulled of saying she was only 25.

I suspect that Grandpa Dick was at the dinner and that something happened that Sammy didn’t like. In any event, it was only five weeks after this dinner that Sammy and Donna returned to the States. When they returned, they were estranged. They were in separate cabins, and each was heading “home.” Sammy to his mother’s house in New York City and Donna to her mother’s house in Detroit.

To my knowledge, Donna’s return from Panama signaled the end of Donna’s show business career.

Road Trip & [Clifford] Dick Brown in Corozal, Canal Zone, Panama.

I have never been on a genealogical research trip.  Certainly, I’ve had a desire to go to the
Family History Center in Salt Lake City, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the
National Archives in Washington DC, but until now, I’ve never had a compelling reason for such a
trip.
It all started with a photo.  When my great aunt passed away, my 1st
cousin, once removed, (Beverly) received a large number of photos that my great
grandmother had. Within that set of photos was one of my grandfather as a young
man, part of a basketball team.  A photo I had never seen, nor had my cousin until she received the package.
1928 Corozal (Panama Canal Zone) Basketball Champions
Source: Family photos from either Dick Brown or Mary Manning Brown.  
It is clearly a military basketball team and Grandpa Dick was part of that team — The Corozal 1928 Champions. That begged the question where was Corozal.  A Google search found several Corozals;
however, the one in the Canal Zone, Panama was the obvious location.  First of all, there was an Army post there and
second, family history and other research indicated that my grandparents, Donna
& Dick, had met in Panama City, Panama.  I’ve always wondered if Dick and Donna got together after his military service or if Donna took another trip to Panama that I don’t know of. (She is known to have been in Panama in 1930 but my mother was conceived in 1931.)
I tried to find Dick’s military records before and
learned they were, apparently, lost in the disastrous 1973 fire at the National
Personnel Records Center. Legends about my grandfather Dick abound regarding
him possibly being in Military Intelligence, about his changing his name while
in the service because of his being some kind of spy and that his surname of
Durand came from that time. There are also stories that his first name change came from his military service, but I don’t believe that to be the case.  In either event, I thought
that without his service record we’d probably never know the truth.
It looks like I may be wrong.  The National Archives has “RECORDS OF U.S.
ARMY COMMANDS IN PANAMA 
1915-40” and 49 linear feet of those
records.  Now I expect that the vast majority
of the records are General correspondence, Reports, bulletins, circulars, and
information about the Canal, however, there is one part of the records that
contains General correspondence and orders of Corozal, 1917-39.  Maybe I’ll learn what years Dick was in Panama. 
Wow!  I now know my
grandfather was in Panama in 1928 and in 1931 and that he was, at least, in
Corozal in 1928 and probably there for the entire three years and there are
many records regarding orders and information about the command. I just need to
get to the National Archives to fill in lots of the details of his life there.
Photo of the National Archives II, College Park, MD, By National Archives and Records Administration (The National Archives at College Park, Maryland) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
National Archives, College Park, MD
The National Archives in College Park, MD appears to be the
repository for 1,188 still pictures. Maybe there are photos of his basketball team
from other years.  I know my grandfather
played baseball in later years and was, or so they say, really good.  Maybe there are team photos of him as well.
I’m excited. I just can’t believe there won’t be something in the over 3,500
cubic feet of information at the Archives (Washington & College Park) that
will shed light upon this time in his life and upon his military service. 
I’m excited to plan a trip. 
I can go to the National Archives I can spend the day, maybe two or three (taking the shuttle to College Park one of those days) and my
wife can spend her time at the National Gallery only a block away.