Photo of the Week
January 1, 2017


This week's photo is a photo of an extremely rare Panama Canal Red, White and Blue Troupe Canal Zone Pennant and Swim Team Patch.  I have had these in my collection for many years and was prompted to finally post a photo of them because of another photo that I recent obtained and will post next week.  The Red, White and Blue Troupe has always fascinated me as a former Canal Zone Pool Rat, competitive swimmer, Canal Zone Life Guard, Water Safety Instructor and Canal Zone Pool Manager.  Excerpts from the Panama Canal Review from July 1958 explains the origin of the Red, White and Blue Troupe. See close up photos of the pennant and badge below the article.

Can Canal Zone Youngsters Swim? 

Canal Zone children are not born with fins; they attain such a fishy proficiency at such an early age that it just seems that way.
From time immemorial — well, anyway, since about the time water was let into the Canal — swimming has been a pet pastime of Zonians, young and old. Toddlers tumble into the water fearlessly; teenagers perform amazing feats of speed and skill; and one of the best swimmers hereabouts is a grandmother several times over. 

As early as 1919 no high school student might graduate unless he knew how to swim, and in 1938 there was an extensive “every child a swimmer" drive in the Canal Zone's schools. Today, formal swimming instruction is part of the curriculum of the Balboa Junior and Senior High Schools and of the high schools at Cristobal  and Rainbow City. But any youngster who is tall enough to keep his head above water in the shallow end of a standard pool can learn how to swim much earlier than that in regular classes at any of the Zone pools. 

In the Canal Zone's early days, only those Zonians who lived along the Caribbean had much chance to develop their natatorial skill. During the latter part of 1913, after the water was let into the Canal, officially-sponsored "bathing places" were provided for all the settlements along the Canal between Cristobal and Balboa. 

Except for that at Culebra, which was abandoned after its raft was broken up one night by a "piece of floating equipment," these swimming spots were extremely popular. At Gatun, youngsters and oldsters swam in the forebay of the locks and even held an occasional meet in the locks chambers. 

But by 1916, the Canal was becoming too busy and polluted for swimming, and health officials put their feet down on such capering. After that only special events were allowed in the waterway itself. 

One of the Zone's most avid swimming fans was a carpenter, Henry J. Grieser, who had come to the Isthmus in 1917. The following year he laid aside his saw and hammer to become a swimming instructor at the recently-opened Balboa pool. For a while he also conducted what today would be called "slenderizing" classes for women, but his main enthusiasm was reserved for the children, some only three and four years old.
For many old-time Zonians, the Golden Age of Canal Zone swimming fell in the 1920's and 1930's the heyday of the Red White and Blue Troupe which Henry Grieser founded in 1919 to help entertain our allied soldiers passing through the Canal after the first World War." 

Under his aegis, spurred on by the chocolate bars he gave as prizes, the youngsters developed some spectacular feats. Some of them even swam the length of the pool, trussed up like rolled-roasts. The troupe made several trips to the United States, opened the great in-door pool at
Madison Square Garden and closed it some years later sent water polo and swimming teams to
South America and staged exhibitions for practically any and every dignitary who visited the Isthmus. (Canal Zone officialdom aided and abetted this; they notified shipping agents that swimming exhibitions could be arranged for tourists "on short notice.") 

The troupe developed a number of Olympic and world's record-breaking champions. Josephine McKim, who won four national AAU championships in one meet, swam on several Olympic teams. Alma Mann and Adelaide Lambert were members of Olympic diving teams, and Alan Ford broke a number of world swimming records. 

Other top Canal Zone swimmers of the 1920's and 30's were: Henry Brewerton, George Haldeman, Mack and Jack Walbridge, Eddie Wood, Alan Jacques, and Helen and Marney Dryden. 

Although most of the Canal Zone's attention was focused on these Pacific side stars, there were several active Atlantic side swimming groups. One of these was coached by Homer Baker of Gatun who, in 1922, got permission for a swimming meet in Gatun Locks, "to be stopped if a boat came through."

Certainly, in those days, much wider publicity was given to Canal Zone swimming than it is today; Grantland Rice even brought a film crew here and photographed young Zonians diving from the boom of giant cranes and performing other breath-taking stunts. (Note: More to come on this film.  I hope to convert the film to a file that I can post in a couple of weeks.)

Actually, however, the records set by the past generation have not held up under the assault of today's boys and girls. When Charlene Graves of Cristobal Junior High School, swimming in the Gamboa Civic Council meet this year, broke the 100-yard free style record for women which 
Josephine McKim had set in 1929, only five old records remained unbroken.

Only five records set by yesteryear's swimming stars remain unbroken by today's pool sharks. (Quoted in the 1958 article)

Logo of the Red, White and Blue Troupe

This is the swimming suit patch owned by the owner of the pennant.  I has surely seen some action over the years.

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