Festive Ferryboats

December 18, 2018 Posted by: Rejane Butler
We have written previously about the creative materials and ingenuity that deep-water sailors employed to celebrate and decorate their ships for the holidays, while they were away from home for months at a time.  I want to talk about how holidays were celebrated aboard ferryboats in the San Francisco Bay, where the crews and passengers had the luxury of going home every evening after work.

One of those festive ferries is here at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and is open for visiting.  She is the ferryboat Eureka (built originally in 1890 as Ukiah), and from 1929 she worked right off Hyde Street Pier, taking passengers and cars across to Sausalito on Sundays.  Because Eureka was owned by the North Western Pacific Railroad, she would be decked out at holiday time with greens from the coast redwoods of the Eel River Canyon area.  There would be greens “festooning the edge of the hurricane deck, the paddle boxes, the upper deck rails and posts, and the stanchions on the main deck,” according to a December 16, 1929 article from the Sausalito Gazette

On Christmas Day, ferry passengers would be given a token gift from Santa Claus, such as coin holders and other small gifts.  According to George Harlan, in his book, San Francisco Bay Ferryboats, Santa was often “caught” in a kiss with a giggling, short-skirted stenographer hamming it up for the press.

Paddle Ferry Bay City decorated for Christmas
Photo caption: The Bay City ferry decked out for the holidays.  The decorations adorning the park’s ferryboat Eureka probably had a similar appearance.

From 1935 to 1937, there were actual Christmas parties held aboard the Eureka.  These were organized by a passenger committee.  They usually started out with Santa arriving on a dog sled for the 8:00 AM morning run.  Santa would then meet visitors at the gangway.  Once the passengers were on the ship, they were invited to hang around the Christmas tree, sing carols, and receive presents of cigarettes, bubble gum, coffee, or motor oil. 

After the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, more people started taking buses and cars across the bridge.  At this time, the passenger committee disbanded, and so the practice of parties and festivities aboard the ferries slowly disappeared, as did the wooden steam ferries themselves. 

Parting thought: What are some holiday traditions that you share with your family or coworkers?

Eureka, Ferryboat, Holidays, San Francisco

Last updated: December 18, 2018

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