The 1940s-1960s are often regarded by some who lived in that period, as the Golden Age of Haiti. And in reading Stars Over Haiti, Anthony Hattenbach’s adventure-filled account of life in Haiti at that time, it leaves no doubt in a reader’s mind, that that period indeed glittered. It glittered and it was gold.
In the early summer of 1958, Hattenbach left Westchester, NY along with his interior designer mother Muriel, sister Jody and his stepfather Ben sister in running Haiti’s famed El Rancho Hotel in Haiti. Hattenbach’s unusual and colorful life would include managing the hotel, and eventually a band, and that’s just the cream of the soup joumou.
Hattenbach’s accounts of life in Haiti during that period are things that most mystery and romance novelists could not fathom, even if they had three muses. There’s the story of James Dent, an American masquerading as a German noble who takes his wife to La Citadelle Lafèrrière and murders her, and attempts to bury her on the island, before her New York blue blood relatives go on an international chase to pin him down. And the intrigue doesn’t stop there. There’s the harassment when Hattenbach unwittingly dances with the girl of one of the most powerful military henchmen of the time, the murder of his loyal friend Lionel Fouchard as he drives a friend’s pregnant wife to the hospital.
On the more jovial side, there are stories of Haiti’s rich and famous: Ti Roro, a world-renowned drummer, who according to Hattenbach knew only four English words, Miami, Chicago, New York, Texas and crafted his drumming lessons for international tourists accordingly. We also meet Pierre D’Adesky, a resort developer, Albert Silvera, the owner of El Rancho, Clifford Brandt, Haiti’s richest man of that era, and an assortment of Haitian beauties Micheline Succard, Claudinette Fouchard, Madeleine Marcel, Lena Assad, Olga Silvera, the Haitian-Palestinian-Haitian entrepreneurs David and Wally Talamas, and debonair bachelors and ladies’ man Gaston Baussan, Jean-Claude Armand, Jean-Claude Appolon, manufacturing mogul Tony Acra, and luminaries of the Haitian cultural scene Odette Wiener, Ti Paris, Herby Widmaier, Ansy Derose, Joe Archer, Gerard Dorsainville and teen sensation Yanique Coupette.
And the international celebrities: Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner, Aristotle and Jackie Kennedy O’nassis, Harry Belafonte, Walter Cronkite, Richard Burton, Italian and Roman royalty, heck you name it…er them, they were there.
This was a time when three ship loads of cruise passengers would visit Haiti a week, not counting private plane and commercial flight passengers; a time when men like Hattenbach got tans to pass off as Haitian to international female tourists who landed in Haiti in search of wild adventures, when the Dominican Republic tourism board next door would be grateful if they only had 1% of Haiti’s tourists come on over.
Once the Shindlers (Hattenbach went by Tony Shindler to avoid name confusions in Haiit) made their mark on El Rancho, they moved on to if not bigger, than at least a fish in which they had a more personal stake in. They acquired Kyona Beach Hotel, which they built into one of Haiti’s finest beach resorts (Muriel Shindler’s ashes were scattered at Kyona when she died in 2001). They weren’t always about business, as Muriel Shindler had an orphanage called La Maison des Enfants, an orphanage that raised 23 street children, and had a nurse and physician on staff.
Hattenbach would leave Haiti for the last time after his mother’s death, his brain sockets filled with marvelous memories, of the Haiti that was, and that perhaps will be again…someday.
Special thanks to Hilary Hattenbach for making this book available to Kreyolicious.com.