The Havana Special

As indicated on the letterhead, the Havana Special was a joint Pennsylvania/RF&P/Atlantic Coast Line/Florida East Coast train that went from New York to Key West, where it met a steamship that took a six-hour journey to Havana. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 wiped out Florida East Coast’s tracks to Key West, and the railroad did not rebuild them, so after that date the train terminated and met a steamship (and later a plane) in Miami. Despite the slightly truncated route, the train was even more popular in 1936 than 1935 and often ran with extra sections.

Click image to download a 213-KB PDF of this letterhead. Click here to download a 139-KB PDF of a matching envelope. Scans of this letterhead and envelope were contributed to Streamliner Memories by a reader.

Since Key West is mentioned on the above letterhead, it must be from 1935 or before. Below is an envelope from the collection of Florida International University with a picture of the train at dockside next to the steamship in Key West. The postmark dates this to 1933 and the penny stamps commemorate Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress fair.

Click image to download a 74-KB PDF of this envelope.

The connection to Havana stopped when Castro’s revolution led the United States to sever relations with that country in 1960. The name remained for a couple of years before being changed to East Coast Special in 1962, and then terminated a few months later due to Florida East Coast’s infamous strike. Below is an undated breakfast menu from the train. From the bathing suit styles on the front and the fonts inside, the menu was from the post-war period. The menu is from the Johnson & Wales collection, which says it has menus up through the 1940s, so the menu probably dates from about 1950 or shortly before.

Click image to download a 3.6-MB PDF of this menu.


The Havana Special — 1 Comment

  1. Their special breakfast for a dollar was a real bargain in 1950 if you were hungry. Most diners had stopped offering a choice of fruit and cereal unless it was on something like a $1.25 or $1.50 breakfast. I don’t get the egg selection though. One was just eggs boiled, fried, or scrambled in butter and the other was you choice of ham or bacon with eggs. I assume, since they used the plural form, that you got two eggs. Even if you got three eggs with no meat, it still wasn’t a very good deal.

    This is one of the few American menus that offered scrambled eggs on toast with “imported” kippers. Doesn’t say where they are imported from but I’d guess England or Germany. That was a typical english breakfast so I guess they must have had some English patrons on the train. It was also another great deal, this time for 85 cents.

    Getting orange juice, cereal, eggs and bacon, toast, and coffee a la carte, all of which were included on the dollar special, would have cost $1.55. Even the 75 cent breakfast with berries and cream, ham and scrambled eggs, toast or muffins, and coffee was a great breakfast and way better than the usual glass of juice and a sweet roll you got for that price. I never had the chance to ride on the FEC and have no idea about how their food was considered but I’m certainly impressed with the selection and prices on this menu.

    It was really unusual to see the bar selections as part of the breakfast menu. Maybe this is how the FEC did it, or people headed to Miami liked to start partying early. 60 cents was a lot of money to pay for an imported (but it doesn’t say from where or what brand) sauterne or claret, two not very good wines no matter where they came from. Coke was uniformly a dime in most bar cars, so I don’t know if they raised the price to compensate for having to run to the bar car to get a bottle. You could finish off breakfast with a nasty Hava Tampa 10 cent cigar or smoke up a pack of any major brand cigarettes, all unfiltered, including Kools. for a whole 20 cents. Times were different back then. 🙂

    Regards, Jim

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