Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

MISSING IMAGE

Material Information

Title:
Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers Contest solicitation, overview and entry requirements
Series Title:
Isthmian Historical Society competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal
Physical Description:
Mixed Material
Language:
English
Spanish
Donor:
Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
Publisher:
Isthmian Historical Society
Place of Publication:
Panama

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal

Notes

Scope and Content:
The Contest: In 1963, as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal drew near, the Isthmian Historical Society decided to make a collection of stories of personal experiences of non-U.S. citizens during Construction Days by means of a contest. This contest was publicized in local newspapers, by notices in the food packages given to Disability Relief recipients, and in newspapers in the Caribbean area. The following letter was sent to a total of 15 newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, British Honduras, Trinidad, Antigua, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada: "The Isthmian Historical Society is trying to collect the personal experiences and viewpoints of those West Indians who served in the labor force that dug the Panama Canal. Very little has been written by them or about them. Soon it will be too late to obtain personal accounts. In the hope of making a permanent record of their experiences during the construction of the Canal, our Society is sponsoring a competition for the best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction years. It would be much appreciated if you would assist us in publicizing our competition. I am enclosing a separate sheet with the information for this." The information sheet: "The Isthmian Historical Society announces a competition for the-best true stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The competition is open to West Indians and other non-U.S. citizens who were on the Isthmus prior to 1915. Entries may be handwritten but must be legible. Anyone who is infirm may have his story written for him by someone else, but in this case it must be stated on the entry that it has been written for him in his own words by someone else. Give name, address, year arrived in Panama, where employed there, and type of work done. All entries must be in the mail by November 1, 1963. The winners will be announced in December. All entries become the property of the Isthmian Historical Society. First prize will be: $50 (U.S.); second prize: $30 (U.S.); third prize: $20 (U.S.)…” Brief notices of the contest were placed in several thousand food packages ("Food for Peace" packages have been distributed monthly by the Panama Canal Company-Canal Zone Government). These notices read: "Competition -- For West Indians & other non-U.S. citizens who worked on the Isthmus before 1915. For the best true stories of life & work on the Isthmus during the Canal construction there will be awarded prizes: 1st PRIZE: $50; … Give year arrived in Panama, kind of work & where, name & address. Write of interesting experiences & people, living & working conditions, etc… The Entries: The majority of the contest entries were handwritten. In some cases the handwriting was difficult to read. In making copies of the entries, it occasionally was necessary to omit an undecipherable word, leaving a blank space to indicate the omission. Although an effort was made to reproduce the letters exactly as they were written, it is probable that there are errors. However, they will detract little from what these Old Timers wanted to say. It should be remembered that these letters were written by individuals who labored on the Isthmus prior to 1915. They are no longer young. Some are handicapped by the infirmities of age: failing eyesight, unsteadv and arthritic hands that find it laborious to form words and sentences, and minds that know what they want to say but communicate it imperfectly. Generally, unfamiliar spellings need only to be sounded and their meaning becomes clear. In cases where the entrants wrote as they speak, there may be dropped "H"8s so that "has" is written "as". Other features of West Indian speech will be noted. As spoken language, there is no English more colorful. Mr. Albert Banister's interesting letter is a good example. The Society is most grateful for all the entries and we regret that there could not be a prize for everyone. Ruth C. Stuhl Competition Editor

Record Information

Source Institution:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Holding Location:
Afro-Antillean Museum
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID:
AA00016037:00012


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text






Deckford, hcgain.ld ; Hoy: 22. OClon, F....


I the undersign takes ple: .nu e in (ivinC you a true story
in conect-on with the cocnrtruct.on of the fanina Canal. Seen
from the Atlantic rlde City of Colon whc;e I was born. Colon
had always been the f:ir.t placc of oper-'tion. Be it the Panama
Rail Road, or the J, nn. r Cana.l.

Taking. a t:.lk cn B3ottle v.itch hna. now; been n.cned Balboa
Ave. and 5 Strct. I dent Pcrue'.ner the yvcrr. i saw a eman with
mustache we.ar'in ee '-la.r'cs; r.xiinG a fine lookinC black
horse. I felt at that time tihir he is a man of urominece, be-
co.use their viere other men following hi: on horse back, riding,
-(oing tov:.rds the : s.-hington Hio.ol, which in thcse days was a
frame houne, mivertheless very i.r.osinG. I heard a loud voice
from thon:e people w:ho wocrc stan.'in; around shouted "Roovelt;"
then another voice, Teddy Poovelt. I w:.s not interested, be-
ing a teen age boy at the time Lea.rning the jewelry trade. I
passed that very spot three or four time a day where I saw
Toovelt. I was born not very fOr from where I had seen him.
This man who I saw riding on horse back, wan the signal for.
the buildinC of tbe Tonon. Canal. After many months, I began
to observed that whenever a alid arrives at Colon, many men
!.nd women diseimbi-rks. Fir'n.ly tie "wore contrate by the thou-
sands. What bo l";;rcncd me muc:, was th't so many women were
disembark ng also. i u.n.s dcter .,-ned to know why so many women
were amon- the men. 3 h-& been told th t thev were contracted.
'!en .na '.:nmen.

"It couldn't be a fe-iLber '.:ilht o0 worth without a woman
in it." They c::o3-e fro : the ,4et. Indies. There were of every
Nationality ind roce on this Isth ius. The Vest Indians made
up the majority. The-c- Ibndredi of K-est Ind'ans were first
employed as sanitary men. Cor:' s, n;ow dc:.d was the man who made
the Isthmus Sanit-ry. ainrtt.tion w=. a munt or no Panama Canal.
These Senit:'ry mre :oer lnto to o-'u.sz:ps annd bous-c'r with a can of
deadly w: Ito li::] d, dro-oz a li tle of the poisonous liquid in
the crab, hole-. In r.b. :. fliv --inutes t-c crab comes out and
dies. F.l cF:-cr (not tr ps) c-'c- t epost LU on Lhe top of
louses .nc dr1'k: C L:'... ..hc-o n -es wre C lar-c c-noegh for more
th- n two dozens ]3 hie SI-c 0T -.l]inc:- plf-r.

.Uinlike the rea'c;ch, tihe Am c: i cns ha.d started from the bot-
toar: lip. All vor'. now had bec-n fii its initial stage. Pertaining
to the Canr.l project. '.'crk for nIl w-oh -. .7nted to work. Rates
of paIy war not .1 h'g-h :.*.c of todi:ay. Plenty work; a lot money
in curculation. I loft the je'.: lr9 trM.de. .9n.s first employed
by the lsthmania Canal Co onision ICC as special mesengeb. for












BeckforC, R. p.2


John Burke at t1"2 building in Old CrJr.tobal. .#1 and #2 build-
ings. Old French frame houses. Very large. ImposinS. Spe-
cially built for office work. Left by the French in their fail-
ure. Number one and n-.her two buildings; liter had been
named- I.C.C. bui ldin-s. Those.two, very large. Two stories,
could hold n. cl-ricrl f(rce of fo.rty. Those fr;.ne buildings
were like Ur .bon c rJ.r of tod";/ [i.tuatod exatly in front
of the ort Co.pL.tain's 1.l.incr in Cld Cristobal. Tobey, who
at that time had been Suivcrintcnfent, and had occupied a part
of building el, had rdQ'uested jut before closing time that all
of us return at 7 :30 Cood core bad beenthken to soe that the
order had been obeyed by every one. .'e were at the bottom
floor. Qe were lined up abreast. A few minutes after, I saw
a man decending the ctair: from the top floor, as he came down
be approached the first nt the head of the line (I was second
to the last) and began slk:ing hb-:nds saying a few words. I
stood erect, waiting my turn. (Here comes my turn.) He shook
my hannd and said to me I :an William Howard Taft. You may re-
member that he had been Secretary of 'War during the early con-
truction days. Those two I.C.C. buildings were identical in.
structure; large, and had been built close, to each other by
the French. At the beginin-, the Americans had to use every-
thing that were- ood enoi,'h to be used until they had their
own built, or brought down from the States. As a Special mes-
enLer for Jolhn Burke, I came near losing my life. Letters had
been given to me by my boss to be delivered at dry0ock. From
the I.C.C. building; to the drydock is far. had towalk all the
way. jeelngC a yard locomotive, with two old French flat cars
attached, going.-towa:rd.s .-"onkey Hill which has now been named
I~tl Hope. As the train was near the drydock, I alighted. I
'.as not afraid ac it had been going very slow. I was prevented
from jumpino. cle;.r by p la'zrge na 1 in the old French flat car
which held my r:ants. fr ih-'I to cxtrjc:ttc myself, the letters
dropped nnd scattered. A\ rcn co:..:r- along saw my predicament
and called to the Or'-.er o; the locomotive. The train stopped
suddenly. This man picked up my lct.tiers after helping me to
extricate my nlf. 1 o'rs being drr.ied along about 10 feet,
instead of beinr- b]'ned. 2ib.tas :':..t had naved me from injury,
or death. In in>; opinion, J. think -h:at all persons who had
worked in the CoMntr': Li on : yrn for the I.C.C. should be given
come kind o." reco. ni-.on. .e it one dag:, or twenty five years.
I had sixteen yc yr. Afi.cti LorkiP: lo a mesn-cr for three
ye~rs, and cold not et a rralse in p'.y, I qiut the Job, and
>as reemployed ao !:?.1l clc:. for the I.C.C. As a m.51l clerk,
I became aquaintod with m'nry of the names of hi-h officials
heymen of those construction days. Goethals, Sibert, Leasy
Gorges, Bicid and many, othe's, sone of whom are still alive,











Beckford, R. p.3


especially in Florida. Others have passed on to the Great
Beyond as I h.ve c Seen in the St::r A Herald. I .want to believe
that most of thone who c2om to the lsthlus to build the Canal
came fron Florida. I Incu -:r. Bi-cd. Camp Dierd was named
after birm. After five yc:]n as .-, m-.all clerk, I resirlned. Two
months after I was reempl.oyed .n a psles me.n at the Cristobal
Ccmicsry .at the gold side. 'Torki-'-- at the Cristobal Comisary
brought home to me the Drked truth tha:.t a PaLnama Canal is being
built, with P11 its ramific-tion. Hundreds of deaths and
injured in its train. It hac bccn said that more lives had
been taken in the construction of the Panama Canal than in
,World War 1.

The io -l.lar 4:30 train pull out for Pc.nama with engineer
Billy at the trottle. Billy (now dead) had been a serious
locking m an, but vary I'hmorous. His policy is whetherr he is
talking truth or not) that he will stop his train on the
tracks for a horse, or a cow but not for a human. As a sales
man, I usually works in front of the Commisary where I could see
all trains when they passed. Billy's train beaded for Panama
is now passAr.5.. I saw one of the p.Tssen-c-r coaches gave a
sliprht lift. In a few ecoods, 1 cai w people runing towards
where I had seen the corchc lifted. I ran out (I was not sing-
ular in doinp so) to see the half body of a man laying on the
tracks. The man hd becn cut clean across the abdomen. His
hands untouched, thi eyes orencd. Where are his leEs? His
legs.bad been carried almost a city block. From where the
Old Crictobal Comisory ir. r..t present, .to where the Old Cristo-
bal police station was in tone C.yso. At the crossing near
the rail Eoad tracks. .'.'l.k up '.-th .xants and shoes on.
intact. FPnts and shoes V.0 not been torn. I was not afraid
of losing my job when 1 r *n out to see the half body of a man
on the tracks. The Amnc; e.".ns :ee friendly. The train did
not stop after runin:- ov:r the m n until it reaches Mionkey
Hill (now !:t Iop-e) 0 5ly had boeGn the engineer. He will
stop his train on the tLackc for :: jorz'e or a cow, but not for
a huma.n. Tose v:cre A!i, wordss rcl',ys.

C lclbr --. ",d .'- '.; --o (.:-'- C bis o haI been named Gainboa
, if W;y :'ncmnor:: i v rc : r1, it.). Cul. Cocth'le (who made the dirt
fly) h.n-d been liv:.t ,; nt Clebra. The main artery of the con-
struction in othiir i;or:. It \-.an a picturesque srlht at Cule-
bra. fasen'-ers o t -he Y:in osnlY nets up as train is r:pssins
Culebra to see hun i'cds of :-en-at such a g-eat depth of the
earth. So deep, t'hc:. loc.as like iunredco of small boys moving
around; many steun shovels and cranes looks half their size








Beckford, R. p.5


from the great dept. Pasengers including myself gets up from
their seat when the train is nearing Culebra. Avalanche
covering fifty men at Culebra; sometimes more. Bas Obispo
had taken the greatest death toll in one dynamite explosion
in one day only.

To be continued if God permits
REGINALD BECOKFORD
Jeweler


By this you will know that I am still in the flesh.

God willing Hoping that what I had written previously has
been some interest

I repeat. As a salesman at the Oristobal Commissary in
the construction days, gave me the opportunity of coming in
contact with hundreds of men of every nationality who were
working on the Lines. From Corozal, Matachin, Lascascadas,
Miraflores, Baa Obispo (now Gamboa), Pedro Miguel, Gorgona,
Empire, Barbacoas, Bohio, Frijoles and Gatun. Those old
trunks of trees and stumps projecting out of the water, which
you may have seen yourself, are silent witness of few of
those stations which are under water. Work trains for those
who WOrks at Corozal on the Pacific Side, and lives at the
Atlantic Side, and for those who were employed as far as
Gatun on the Alantic Side and lives in Panama City on the
Pacific Side. Such a -condition was imperitive because their
were no barracks, neither quarters built for those employes
at the early stage of construction. (For example) I had
seen two Panama Rail Road box (Freight) cars like those of the
present time with numbers on the sides converted into two
rooms apartments, with ventilations, not more than about 2
feet by eight, with curtains. In this age, they would have
had Radio, or Television (laugh) Their was one in Front
Street near the Strangers Club, and another at F&lks River
(near Mt Hope). Work train bringing hundreds of men after
a day's work stoping at the Commisary to make their purchases.
As a salesman in the Fruits Ice Cream Meat and Vegetable
department My job was on the Gold sid.e. Their was always
great rush around five o'clock that they could hardly move
freely. I goes over to the Silver side. From these men who
works at the Pacific end and lives on the Atlantic Side, and
those who works on the Atlantic end and lives on the Pacific
Side you are being kept informed. Men covered up by tons of
earth; others blasted to pieces by dynamite accidental; we








Beckford, R. p.5


gets news from the men before it is published in the Star &
herald or Canal Record the following day for they covers the
length and breath of the Canal Contruotion Area. For exam-
ple. After I had finished waited on two men, one of them
gave me two shark teeth; the other fellow gave me.one, from
out of a rock that was blasted in Cut. I said nothing to
him, nor thank-him. They saw where I was skeptical; unbe-
lieveable about shark teeth taken out of rock instead of the
sea. (Fishing is my past time.) Shark teeth like all other
teeth is white. I looked at him with a doubt. He looked at
me and said Man, you have you never heardNthat these two
Oceans had been Joined together? I have heard so said he,
and these shark teeth we got out of the out proves it. I
believed him afterward, because their color were not white.
Their color, dark grey, some, near black and petrify. Many
men in the Cohatruction days could be seen wearing blabk
ribbon watch (pocket) fob with mounted (in Sold) shark tooth
attached. Shark teeth from some of those rooks which had
been blasted by dynamite. For centuries (God only knows how
long) they had been in some of those rocks. As a jeweller
by trade, I had mounted a few in gold. They werb large, the
size of a man's wrist watch in diameter, and larger. Shark
teeth from Culebra Cut and Bas Obispo had been a very good
soveneres of the Construction. On several-ocasions I had
seen many of these men with pieces of rocks in their hands.
Only at a very great depth, in the bowels of the earth, can
such pieces of rocks be found. Pieces as large as they can
hold in the palm of theirhand. Rocks (stones) of different
colors hard near to Diamond. I have never seen such rooks
(stones) before, nor after the completion of the construc-
tion. They became an industry during the construction-days.
They were sent up to the States; cut and polished; and
returned to the Isthmus as Canal Stonest Among them were
Moss 'Agate, Moon Stones; (Two of which I have on display);
others the color of a full ripe tomato; and many other
colors including blood stones. All Canal Stones. A Blood
Stone does not mean that the stone is red as blood. A
blood stone is the color of a very green lime, with small
red spots not larger than the point of a pen. Women in
those days who likes jewelry felt that they must have a
Canal Stone ring. You could purchase one in any jewelry
store on this Isthmus. Burgeoon the American jeweller had
many. I had mounted many in gold. Fort-those women who
likes jewelry, having a Canal Stone ring was a must which
any Old Timer of the Construction days will attest. Their
are a few of them who has made this Isthmus their home.
The present generation knows nothing about Canal Stones.








Beckford, R. p.6

To them, its a bed time story, or a fairy tale. For curiosity,
I have been around all the Jewelry stores In Colon, asking,
Do you have any Canal Stone rings." No is the answer. I
don't need any. I have a few. Petrify shark tbeth from Culebra
Cut and Canal Stones are gone with the completion of the
Construction. Because no barracks nor quarters could be built
fast enough for such a great number of employee. They had to
live somwheres. This was where the house owners in Panama
City and Colon were taking a disadvantage in charging exorbi-
tant prices for one room, much more two rooms apartment.
Thanks to George W. Goethals who knew the condition, and had
barrake and quarters built for'the employee of the Panama
Canal, The Store Keeper of the Cristobal Commisary, whose name
was Belaskie, had a dispute with a salesman, whose name Is
Fowler (now in the States). The altercation began in the Hard-
ware department, which was divided with my department with an
open pace of few feet. During the dispute, he kicked Fowler.
The salesman said to him, "Kick me again" He kicked him the
second time. The salesman did not try to defend himself. Kick
me the third time said Fowler. Belaslaki (the StoreKeeper)
kicked him for the third time. Apparently, that was all their
was to it. The occuronce was reported 'higher up, and Belaskie
was fired from his job as Storekeeper, and given forty eight
hours to leave the Canal Zone. Bevington whose death I read
in the Star & Herald about three months ago had been working
in my department at the time when it odoured. Bevington was
young at the time, like myself. I had thought .he had left for
the States, like many other Old Timers who I remember sometimes.
This Belaskie was not liked in the Commisary by Gold nor Silver
employes. Gatun has taken many lives also; but not as
Culebra nor Bas Obispo. It was nothing unusual to be walking on
Front Steet and suddenly you sees a yard engine with one I.C.C.
flat oar attached with dead men streohed out, whose faces
cannot be seen, because a piece of clean white canvas, the
length of the car covers their faces, moving slowly towards
the old Colon Freight house to the north end near the Washing-
ton Hotel and stops. The people in the vicinity gathers,
including myself, trying to get a glimpse of their faces. You
can't. The canvas covers their faces. A police man is on
duty to prevents the people from going too near. Not only once
but on several occasions, these dead men on flat cars their
faces covered up, were carried to near the end of -the Rail Road
tracks near the Washington Hotel. Colon Hospital was around
the Beach in those days; For sure, these dead men were from
Gatun, on the Atlantic side, which had its death toll as did
the Pacific side of the Isthmus, I hada seen a piece of
mechanism that was being used in the constuation of the Looks
at Gatun. They were called buckets. I am describing what I









Becokford, R. p.7


had seen on the Atlantic, as I lives on the Atlantic aide,
although not forgeting the Pacific in reference to construed,
tion; from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and from the Atlantic
to the Pacifio. The buckets were used in the construction of
the Looks. They were like those old steam shovels which arc
now seen between Gamboa and Miraflores (excepting the teeth),
large enough to hold four to five men, running on large steel
cable wires, sixty to seventy feet from the ground, going as
far as a city block. They could be seen by passengers on the
Rail Road train. Looking at those (not more than four) men,
you are looking at death in their company. "You better
believe it" For sure; one of those cables got broken
carrying all to their death, and their were others to take
their places without hesitation. Not once but twice It
happened. It was a sad comment, (I uan remember) in the whole
construction area. I had been told that those men were paid
a very high salary for-that kind of work. No wonder they.were
replaced without difficulty. The Canal Record always publish
such occurences in those days.
I will write once more, if God permits, then conclude
,before November 1st.

REGINALD BECKFORD
If you does not receive another, you will know that I have
passed on









Beckford, R. p.8


The construction of the Panama Canal was very much
advanced. Living near the sea from where I must see a ship
or ships every day unless I am sick. I had been observing
for a long time a white (small) ship not larger than the S.b.
Advance of the Panama Rail Y3oad line. (I used to go aboard
the S.S. Advance and Alianca for mails from the Purser)
This white ship had been sailing continusouly from the (Mole)
narrow channel south of Sherman which leads to Gatun, to, the
Breakwater not more than a mile and a half and return to the
("Mole") channel. The word "Mole" is used by Old Time fish-
ermen and natives. This white boat had been sailing this
short distance for approximately a year before it had me puz-
zled, sailing days and nights; -could be easily seen at night
by the light, going no farther than the Breakwater and return
to the narrow channel. Neeless to describe that this contin-
uous sailing had been going on for almost three years, I was
determine to know the purpose. So I did. Finally I was told
that the small white ship is the dredge Culebra (by name)
is a suction dredge which is dredging the entrance to the
Canal, thereby making it deeper for larger ships of deep
draft which are expected to transit the Canal. This ship
(dredge) was a familiar asght in the Harbour of Colon unlike
a dredge, which remains stationary, but sailing day and night
for approximately three to four years. Familiar sight to
passenger ships. Approximately three to four years sailing
dredgingn) for not more than about a mile and a half; day
and night, from the narrow channel to the south of Sherman to
the breakwater. One day while I was looking out in harbour,
as I usaly does, I saw that their was something missing. The
white ship (dredge) Culebra, that familiar sight in the Har-
bour of Colon, wqs seen no more. It was like putting the fin-
ishing touches on a good job that had been well done, The
Construction of the Panama Canal. I repeat. I have been
living near the Harbour of Colon all my life. This gives me
the privilege and opportunity of seeing the movement of ships.
The continuous dredgeing of the Harbour brought up hundreds
of beautiful shells from the bottom of the sea, and far
deeper. They were scattered all along the beaches. I have
never seen such beautiful shells (stones for. they were not
hollow like shells) before nor after the Construction
(never). They were picked up by children and adults for
their beauty. I personal have mounted a few in gold, as
earnings I will give you a description. They are half-
round. The shape of a half of a lime, or a tea cup. Solid.
Not hollow like shells, The oval.side of the half lime, or









Beokford, R. p.9


the bottom of the tea cup which Is oval, gives a lustre like
a real pearl. That part of the lime which has been out, or
the top of the cup, in lily white. Their sizes not larger
than a (man's) shirt button. Oocasonally you may find a few
a little larger. After the completion of dredgeing, they
were not so plentiful. Tinaly they disappeared from the
beaches. Gone with the dredging of the Construction days.
In those days, you could walk anywhere in the Construction
area without ristriotion. Myself and friends walked on the
Locks twice during its construction. During the Construo-
tion days, the Americans were very: friendly, especially the
women. (For example) An American teen ager far up in her
teens at that time, whose parents were living in the second
cottage in Old Cristobal, exactly where the Canal Zone fire
station was only a few years ago. Only a stone throw from
the Comminary. Because of its proximity to the Oomminary,
she comes more than once a day to purchase. Her name sla
Florence from Charleston S.C. She was one of many who may
converse a litte before being waited on. Her mother also*
I am giving you a synopsis. I had been living between
fourth -and fifth streets with my mother* We both were Ih-
side the room upstairs. As late as around 8/30 that night,
I had heard a feminine voice inquiring for a dress maker.
I came out to see who she was. She was Florence from Old
Cristobal. (Surprised) "Florence what are you doing this
way?" I had asked. Looking for my dressmaker she retorted.
I told her that their is no dress maker on this building.
She told me the name of her dress maker whom I knew at the
time, and I took her their. Afterwards it had me thinking
how she had walk alone from Old Cristobal in the Canal Zone
at the crossing at eleven street to fifth street in Colon,
seven blocks from her home, around 8/30 at night. At the
opening of the Panama Canal, I used to do jewelry repair
work. An American by the name of Pheobe O'Donell from
Paducah Kentucky passes the shop almost every day in going
home from work. In returning from work one day she came in
the shop and gave me a job. "Will you please repair this
for me? After telling her what- it will cost to do the work,
she said to me, "If you dont see me pass this way tomorrow,
will you please take .it to the Garfield House around the
beach, the women's quarters, and ask for Pheobe 0 Donell."
She did'not return the following day. I had forgotten to
take it to the Garfield .House as she had requested. The
third day she came for her jewelry and told me that she-had
been waiting and did not see me. She then took a number on
a raffle. Another day, an American woman came in. "Can
you do this job for me while I wait?" I said yes. "I want
to get back home before my husband reaches home, he is Cap-









Beckford, R. p.10


tain of the Port" "Have you a chair" certainly I said. I
gave her a chair, and she sat for fifteen minutes until the
job was done. I am only disoribing to you the Construction
days Americans. Many U.S.- soldiers could be seen in the
Colon Park on Sunday nights., as the old Fort De Lesseps is
very near the Park. I was showered with confette on a Carn-
ival night in the Colon Park by Florence who had been walk-
ing with her escort. The distance from Old Cristobal at 11
Street to the Colon Park s seven blocks, They are the
Americans of the Construction- days. You .oan be sure that
which has been written had bden seen and more, except the
dears and other wild animals that wore running to high alti-
tude to escape the rushing waters of the Atlantic and the
Pacific at the time when the Dike was blasted. I lives on
the Atlantic side. I knows nothing about the Pacific aide.
No man nor woman alive can contradict what I have described.
If their is one, I am ready to meet him or her. Canal Zone
policeman (Frank) from New Orleqns died not very long (I had
read in the Star & Herald). Known as -Policeman 88 was very
popular on both sides of the Border, I had eleven years of
(broken) service Two years as a messenger at the IX.C.
building #1 (the Balboa heights in the early Construction
days) Three years C3 mail clerk for the Panama Canal, and
six years at the Commisary. Not a very long time. Nevede-
less the eleven years of service was a great privilege as if
it had been fifty years. (I will describe) When my father
died I became the only support of my mother.. She became ill
that she could not use her right arm,- I took her to a doc-
tor in Colon. He told me it would cost me -40,00 to get her
better and $20.00 for a nurse. I considered it exorbitant.
Being young and having no money saved as yet, I would have
paid $100.00 or more for my mother if I had it at the time.,
As a mother I know that I could never repay her for what she
had done for me. Both of us lives alone and she is suffer-
ing. I decided to take her to the Colon Hopital. I told my
mother to get ready to go. She replied "It's useless be-
cause I am not working for the Panama Canal nor the Panama
Rail at this time." I adid to my mother "I en taking you
their." And so I did. After I had gone in, and sat a few
minutes, the doctor came to me. I told him she is my mother.
"Are you working for the Panama Canal" No sir, I replied.
"Have you never worked for the Panama Canal" "Yes air,"
Eleven years. Seeing me taking out my papers to atest, he
began to examine her sick arm. We sat their for some time.
Finally a nurse returned with a bottle of medicine with
direction on how use same. And gave me. I used the medi-
oine as directed, and my mother's right arm was cured in tMro.










Beckford, R. p.11


weeks. At thG time when I was working at the retail cold
storage commissaryy) a Austrian American had been coming to
the retail cold storage for many months, and whenever he
comes, he buys a pound of bologna sausage, sometimes half a
pound. That tas all he buys for almost a year. Once, some-
times twice in a week. It was fun for us two sales men.
Sometimes we have it prepared before he calls for it. He
came in one day and said to us (two salesmen) "Well this is
my last day,for bologna sausage, I. will be leaving for the
States tomorrow." "Why don't you take me with you, said the
other saleman, I would like to know the States" Oh no, I
would not take you to States we don't want-fellows like you
in the State where I belong. "Why not" he did not elaborA
ate. "I would take that other fellow" reffering to me an
he said "goodbye." This is my own handwriting. Hoping
that you have read my first, second, and last series, with
interest as they are real facts. I now conclude.

Respectfully yours
REGINALD BECKFORD
Jeweller




Full Text
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
REPORT xmlns http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitss xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.fcla.edudlsmddaitssdaitssReport.xsd
INGEST IEID EFXFTC81O_92AN9M INGEST_TIME 2013-07-23T22:40:56Z PACKAGE AA00016037_00012
AGREEMENT_INFO ACCOUNT UF PROJECT UFDC
FILES


xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 standalone no
TEI xmlns http:www.tei-c.orgns1.0
teiHeader
fileDesc
titleStmt
title Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers
publicationStmt
date 2014
distributor University of Florida Digital Collections
email ufdc@uflib.ufl.edu
idno http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00016037/00012
availability status restricted
p All rights reserved by the source institution.
sourceDesc
biblFull
Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers
publisher Isthmian Historical Society
pubPlace Panama
All rights reserved by the source institution.
notesStmt
encodingDesc
classDecl
taxonomy xml:id LCSH bibl Library of Congress Subject Headings
profileDesc
langUsage
language ident eng English
spa Spanish
textClass
keywords
list
item Panama Canal
revisionDesc
change when 2014-07-23 TEI auto-generated from digital resource
text
body
div type Main
pb n 1 facs image0047.jpg
Deckford, hcgain.ld ; Hoy: 22. OClon, F....
I the undersign takes ple: .nu e in (ivinC you a true story
in conect-on with the cocnrtruct.on of the fanina Canal. Seen
from the Atlantic rlde City of Colon whc;e I was born. Colon
had always been the f:ir.t placc of oper-'tion. Be it the Panama
Rail Road, or the J, nn. r Cana.l.
Taking. a t:.lk cn B3ottle v.itch hna. now; been n.cned Balboa
Ave. and 5 Strct. I dent Pcrue'.ner the yvcrr. i saw a eman with
mustache we.ar'in ee '-la.r'cs; r.xiinG a fine lookinC black
horse. I felt at that time tihir he is a man of urominece, be-
co.use their viere other men following hi: on horse back, riding,
-(oing tov:.rds the : s.-hington Hio.ol, which in thcse days was a
frame houne, mivertheless very i.r.osinG. I heard a loud voice
from thon:e people w:ho wocrc stan.'in; around shouted "Roovelt;"
then another voice, Teddy Poovelt. I w:.s not interested, be-
ing a teen age boy at the time Lea.rning the jewelry trade. I
passed that very spot three or four time a day where I saw
Toovelt. I was born not very fOr from where I had seen him.
This man who I saw riding on horse back, wan the signal for.
the buildinC of tbe Tonon. Canal. After many months, I began
to observed that whenever a alid arrives at Colon, many men
!.nd women diseimbi-rks. Fir'n.ly tie "wore contrate by the thou-
sands. What bo l";;rcncd me muc:, was th't so many women were
disembark ng also. i u.n.s dcter .,-ned to know why so many women
were amon- the men. 3 h-& been told th t thev were contracted.
'!en .na '.:nmen.
"It couldn't be a fe-iLber '.:ilht o0 worth without a woman
in it." They c::o3-e fro : the ,4et. Indies. There were of every
Nationality ind roce on this Isth ius. The Vest Indians made
up the majority. The-c- Ibndredi of K-est Ind'ans were first
employed as sanitary men. Cor:' s, n;ow dc:.d was the man who made
the Isthmus Sanit-ry. ainrtt.tion w=. a munt or no Panama Canal.
These Senit:'ry mre :oer lnto to o-'u.sz:ps annd bous-c'r with a can of
deadly w: Ito li::] d, dro-oz a li tle of the poisonous liquid in
the crab, hole-. In r.b. :. fliv --inutes t-c crab comes out and
dies. F.l cF:-cr (not tr ps) c-'c- t epost LU on Lhe top of
louses .nc dr1'k: C L:'... ..hc-o n -es wre C lar-c c-noegh for more
th- n two dozens ]3 hie SI-c 0T -.l]inc:- plf-r.
.Uinlike the rea'c;ch, tihe Am c: i cns ha.d started from the bot-
toar: lip. All vor'. now had bec-n fii its initial stage. Pertaining
to the Canr.l project. '.'crk for nIl w-oh -. .7nted to work. Rates
of paIy war not .1 h'g-h :.*.c of todi:ay. Plenty work; a lot money
in curculation. I loft the je'.: lr9 trM.de. .9n.s first employed
by the lsthmania Canal Co onision ICC as special mesengeb. for
2 image0048.jpg
BeckforC, R. p.2
John Burke at t1"2 building in Old CrJr.tobal. .#1 and #2 build-
ings. Old French frame houses. Very large. ImposinS. Spe-
cially built for office work. Left by the French in their fail-
ure. Number one and n-.her two buildings; liter had been
named- I.C.C. bui ldin-s. Those.two, very large. Two stories,
could hold n. cl-ricrl f(rce of fo.rty. Those fr;.ne buildings
were like Ur .bon c rJ.r of tod";/ [i.tuatod exatly in front
of the ort Co.pL.tain's 1.l.incr in Cld Cristobal. Tobey, who
at that time had been Suivcrintcnfent, and had occupied a part
of building el, had rdQ'uested jut before closing time that all
of us return at 7 :30 Cood core bad beenthken to soe that the
order had been obeyed by every one. .'e were at the bottom
floor. Qe were lined up abreast. A few minutes after, I saw
a man decending the ctair: from the top floor, as he came down
be approached the first nt the head of the line (I was second
to the last) and began slk:ing hb-:nds saying a few words. I
stood erect, waiting my turn. (Here comes my turn.) He shook
my hannd and said to me I :an William Howard Taft. You may re-
member that he had been Secretary of 'War during the early con-
truction days. Those two I.C.C. buildings were identical in.
structure; large, and had been built close, to each other by
the French. At the beginin-, the Americans had to use every-
thing that were- ood enoi,'h to be used until they had their
own built, or brought down from the States. As a Special mes-
enLer for Jolhn Burke, I came near losing my life. Letters had
been given to me by my boss to be delivered at dry0ock. From
the I.C.C. building; to the drydock is far. had towalk all the
way. jeelngC a yard locomotive, with two old French flat cars
attached, going.-towa:rd.s .-"onkey Hill which has now been named
I~tl Hope. As the train was near the drydock, I alighted. I
'.as not afraid ac it had been going very slow. I was prevented
from jumpino. cle;.r by p la'zrge na 1 in the old French flat car
which held my r:ants. fr ih-'I to cxtrjc:ttc myself, the letters
dropped nnd scattered. A\ rcn co:..:r- along saw my predicament
and called to the Or'-.er o; the locomotive. The train stopped
suddenly. This man picked up my lct.tiers after helping me to
extricate my nlf. 1 o'rs being drr.ied along about 10 feet,
instead of beinr- b]'ned. 2ib.tas :':..t had naved me from injury,
or death. In in>; opinion, J. think -h:at all persons who had
worked in the CoMntr': Li on : yrn for the I.C.C. should be given
come kind o." reco. ni-.on. .e it one dag:, or twenty five years.
I had sixteen yc yr. Afi.cti LorkiP: lo a mesn-cr for three
ye~rs, and cold not et a rralse in p'.y, I qiut the Job, and
>as reemployed ao !:?.1l clc:. for the I.C.C. As a m.51l clerk,
I became aquaintod with m'nry of the names of hi-h officials
heymen of those construction days. Goethals, Sibert, Leasy
Gorges, Bicid and many, othe's, sone of whom are still alive,
3 image0049.jpg
Beckford, R. p.3
especially in Florida. Others have passed on to the Great
Beyond as I h.ve c Seen in the St::r A Herald. I .want to believe
that most of thone who c2om to the lsthlus to build the Canal
came fron Florida. I Incu -:r. Bi-cd. Camp Dierd was named
after birm. After five yc:]n as .-, m-.all clerk, I resirlned. Two
months after I was reempl.oyed .n a psles me.n at the Cristobal
Ccmicsry .at the gold side. 'Torki-'-- at the Cristobal Comisary
brought home to me the Drked truth tha:.t a PaLnama Canal is being
built, with P11 its ramific-tion. Hundreds of deaths and
injured in its train. It hac bccn said that more lives had
been taken in the construction of the Panama Canal than in
,World War 1.
The io -l.lar 4:30 train pull out for Pc.nama with engineer
Billy at the trottle. Billy (now dead) had been a serious
locking m an, but vary I'hmorous. His policy is whetherr he is
talking truth or not) that he will stop his train on the
tracks for a horse, or a cow but not for a human. As a sales
man, I usually works in front of the Commisary where I could see
all trains when they passed. Billy's train beaded for Panama
is now passAr.5.. I saw one of the p.Tssen-c-r coaches gave a
sliprht lift. In a few ecoods, 1 cai w people runing towards
where I had seen the corchc lifted. I ran out (I was not sing-
ular in doinp so) to see the half body of a man laying on the
tracks. The man hd becn cut clean across the abdomen. His
hands untouched, thi eyes orencd. Where are his leEs? His
legs.bad been carried almost a city block. From where the
Old Crictobal Comisory ir. r..t present, .to where the Old Cristo-
bal police station was in tone C.yso. At the crossing near
the rail Eoad tracks. .'.'l.k up '.-th .xants and shoes on.
intact. FPnts and shoes V.0 not been torn. I was not afraid
of losing my job when 1 r *n out to see the half body of a man
on the tracks. The Amnc; e.".ns :ee friendly. The train did
not stop after runin:- ov:r the m n until it reaches Mionkey
Hill (now !:t Iop-e) 0 5ly had boeGn the engineer. He will
stop his train on the tLackc for :: jorz'e or a cow, but not for
a huma.n. Tose v:cre A!i, wordss rcl',ys.
C lclbr --. ",d .'- '.; --o (.:-'- C bis o haI been named Gainboa
, if W;y :'ncmnor:: i v rc : r1, it.). Cul. Cocth'le (who made the dirt
fly) h.n-d been liv:.t ,; nt Clebra. The main artery of the con-
struction in othiir i;or:. It \-.an a picturesque srlht at Cule-
bra. fasen'-ers o t -he Y:in osnlY nets up as train is r:pssins
Culebra to see hun i'cds of :-en-at such a g-eat depth of the
earth. So deep, t'hc:. loc.as like iunredco of small boys moving
around; many steun shovels and cranes looks half their size
4 image0050.jpg
Beckford, R. p.5
from the great dept. Pasengers including myself gets up from
their seat when the train is nearing Culebra. Avalanche
covering fifty men at Culebra; sometimes more. Bas Obispo
had taken the greatest death toll in one dynamite explosion
in one day only.
To be continued if God permits
REGINALD BECOKFORD
Jeweler
By this you will know that I am still in the flesh.
God willing Hoping that what I had written previously has
been some interest
I repeat. As a salesman at the Oristobal Commissary in
the construction days, gave me the opportunity of coming in
contact with hundreds of men of every nationality who were
working on the Lines. From Corozal, Matachin, Lascascadas,
Miraflores, Baa Obispo (now Gamboa), Pedro Miguel, Gorgona,
Empire, Barbacoas, Bohio, Frijoles and Gatun. Those old
trunks of trees and stumps projecting out of the water, which
you may have seen yourself, are silent witness of few of
those stations which are under water. Work trains for those
who WOrks at Corozal on the Pacific Side, and lives at the
Atlantic Side, and for those who were employed as far as
Gatun on the Alantic Side and lives in Panama City on the
Pacific Side. Such a -condition was imperitive because their
were no barracks, neither quarters built for those employes
at the early stage of construction. (For example) I had
seen two Panama Rail Road box (Freight) cars like those of the
present time with numbers on the sides converted into two
rooms apartments, with ventilations, not more than about 2
feet by eight, with curtains. In this age, they would have
had Radio, or Television (laugh) Their was one in Front
Street near the Strangers Club, and another at F&lks River
(near Mt Hope). Work train bringing hundreds of men after
a day's work stoping at the Commisary to make their purchases.
As a salesman in the Fruits Ice Cream Meat and Vegetable
department My job was on the Gold sid.e. Their was always
great rush around five o'clock that they could hardly move
freely. I goes over to the Silver side. From these men who
works at the Pacific end and lives on the Atlantic Side, and
those who works on the Atlantic end and lives on the Pacific
Side you are being kept informed. Men covered up by tons of
earth; others blasted to pieces by dynamite accidental; we
5 image0051.jpg
Beckford, R. p.5
gets news from the men before it is published in the Star &
herald or Canal Record the following day for they covers the
length and breath of the Canal Contruotion Area. For exam-
ple. After I had finished waited on two men, one of them
gave me two shark teeth; the other fellow gave me.one, from
out of a rock that was blasted in Cut. I said nothing to
him, nor thank-him. They saw where I was skeptical; unbe-
lieveable about shark teeth taken out of rock instead of the
sea. (Fishing is my past time.) Shark teeth like all other
teeth is white. I looked at him with a doubt. He looked at
me and said Man, you have you never heardNthat these two
Oceans had been Joined together? I have heard so said he,
and these shark teeth we got out of the out proves it. I
believed him afterward, because their color were not white.
Their color, dark grey, some, near black and petrify. Many
men in the Cohatruction days could be seen wearing blabk
ribbon watch (pocket) fob with mounted (in Sold) shark tooth
attached. Shark teeth from some of those rooks which had
been blasted by dynamite. For centuries (God only knows how
long) they had been in some of those rocks. As a jeweller
by trade, I had mounted a few in gold. They werb large, the
size of a man's wrist watch in diameter, and larger. Shark
teeth from Culebra Cut and Bas Obispo had been a very good
soveneres of the Construction. On several-ocasions I had
seen many of these men with pieces of rocks in their hands.
Only at a very great depth, in the bowels of the earth, can
such pieces of rocks be found. Pieces as large as they can
hold in the palm of theirhand. Rocks (stones) of different
colors hard near to Diamond. I have never seen such rooks
(stones) before, nor after the completion of the construc-
tion. They became an industry during the construction-days.
They were sent up to the States; cut and polished; and
returned to the Isthmus as Canal Stonest Among them were
Moss 'Agate, Moon Stones; (Two of which I have on display);
others the color of a full ripe tomato; and many other
colors including blood stones. All Canal Stones. A Blood
Stone does not mean that the stone is red as blood. A
blood stone is the color of a very green lime, with small
red spots not larger than the point of a pen. Women in
those days who likes jewelry felt that they must have a
Canal Stone ring. You could purchase one in any jewelry
store on this Isthmus. Burgeoon the American jeweller had
many. I had mounted many in gold. Fort-those women who
likes jewelry, having a Canal Stone ring was a must which
any Old Timer of the Construction days will attest. Their
are a few of them who has made this Isthmus their home.
The present generation knows nothing about Canal Stones.
6 image0052.jpg
Beckford, R. p.6
To them, its a bed time story, or a fairy tale. For curiosity,
I have been around all the Jewelry stores In Colon, asking,
Do you have any Canal Stone rings." No is the answer. I
don't need any. I have a few. Petrify shark tbeth from Culebra
Cut and Canal Stones are gone with the completion of the
Construction. Because no barracks nor quarters could be built
fast enough for such a great number of employee. They had to
live somwheres. This was where the house owners in Panama
City and Colon were taking a disadvantage in charging exorbi-
tant prices for one room, much more two rooms apartment.
Thanks to George W. Goethals who knew the condition, and had
barrake and quarters built for'the employee of the Panama
Canal, The Store Keeper of the Cristobal Commisary, whose name
was Belaskie, had a dispute with a salesman, whose name Is
Fowler (now in the States). The altercation began in the Hard-
ware department, which was divided with my department with an
open pace of few feet. During the dispute, he kicked Fowler.
The salesman said to him, "Kick me again" He kicked him the
second time. The salesman did not try to defend himself. Kick
me the third time said Fowler. Belaslaki (the StoreKeeper)
kicked him for the third time. Apparently, that was all their
was to it. The occuronce was reported 'higher up, and Belaskie
was fired from his job as Storekeeper, and given forty eight
hours to leave the Canal Zone. Bevington whose death I read
in the Star & Herald about three months ago had been working
in my department at the time when it odoured. Bevington was
young at the time, like myself. I had thought .he had left for
the States, like many other Old Timers who I remember sometimes.
This Belaskie was not liked in the Commisary by Gold nor Silver
employes. Gatun has taken many lives also; but not as
Culebra nor Bas Obispo. It was nothing unusual to be walking on
Front Steet and suddenly you sees a yard engine with one I.C.C.
flat oar attached with dead men streohed out, whose faces
cannot be seen, because a piece of clean white canvas, the
length of the car covers their faces, moving slowly towards
the old Colon Freight house to the north end near the Washing-
ton Hotel and stops. The people in the vicinity gathers,
including myself, trying to get a glimpse of their faces. You
can't. The canvas covers their faces. A police man is on
duty to prevents the people from going too near. Not only once
but on several occasions, these dead men on flat cars their
faces covered up, were carried to near the end of -the Rail Road
tracks near the Washington Hotel. Colon Hospital was around
the Beach in those days; For sure, these dead men were from
Gatun, on the Atlantic side, which had its death toll as did
the Pacific side of the Isthmus, I hada seen a piece of
mechanism that was being used in the constuation of the Looks
at Gatun. They were called buckets. I am describing what I
7 image0053.jpg
Becokford, R. p.7
had seen on the Atlantic, as I lives on the Atlantic aide,
although not forgeting the Pacific in reference to construed,
tion; from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and from the Atlantic
to the Pacifio. The buckets were used in the construction of
the Looks. They were like those old steam shovels which arc
now seen between Gamboa and Miraflores (excepting the teeth),
large enough to hold four to five men, running on large steel
cable wires, sixty to seventy feet from the ground, going as
far as a city block. They could be seen by passengers on the
Rail Road train. Looking at those (not more than four) men,
you are looking at death in their company. "You better
believe it" For sure; one of those cables got broken
carrying all to their death, and their were others to take
their places without hesitation. Not once but twice It
happened. It was a sad comment, (I uan remember) in the whole
construction area. I had been told that those men were paid
a very high salary for-that kind of work. No wonder they.were
replaced without difficulty. The Canal Record always publish
such occurences in those days.
I will write once more, if God permits, then conclude
,before November 1st.
REGINALD BECKFORD
If you does not receive another, you will know that I have
passed on
8 image0054.jpg
Beckford, R. p.8
The construction of the Panama Canal was very much
advanced. Living near the sea from where I must see a ship
or ships every day unless I am sick. I had been observing
for a long time a white (small) ship not larger than the S.b.
Advance of the Panama Rail Y3oad line. (I used to go aboard
the S.S. Advance and Alianca for mails from the Purser)
This white ship had been sailing continusouly from the (Mole)
narrow channel south of Sherman which leads to Gatun, to, the
Breakwater not more than a mile and a half and return to the
("Mole") channel. The word "Mole" is used by Old Time fish-
ermen and natives. This white boat had been sailing this
short distance for approximately a year before it had me puz-
zled, sailing days and nights; -could be easily seen at night
by the light, going no farther than the Breakwater and return
to the narrow channel. Neeless to describe that this contin-
uous sailing had been going on for almost three years, I was
determine to know the purpose. So I did. Finally I was told
that the small white ship is the dredge Culebra (by name)
is a suction dredge which is dredging the entrance to the
Canal, thereby making it deeper for larger ships of deep
draft which are expected to transit the Canal. This ship
(dredge) was a familiar asght in the Harbour of Colon unlike
a dredge, which remains stationary, but sailing day and night
for approximately three to four years. Familiar sight to
passenger ships. Approximately three to four years sailing
dredgingn) for not more than about a mile and a half; day
and night, from the narrow channel to the south of Sherman to
the breakwater. One day while I was looking out in harbour,
as I usaly does, I saw that their was something missing. The
white ship (dredge) Culebra, that familiar sight in the Har-
bour of Colon, wqs seen no more. It was like putting the fin-
ishing touches on a good job that had been well done, The
Construction of the Panama Canal. I repeat. I have been
living near the Harbour of Colon all my life. This gives me
the privilege and opportunity of seeing the movement of ships.
The continuous dredgeing of the Harbour brought up hundreds
of beautiful shells from the bottom of the sea, and far
deeper. They were scattered all along the beaches. I have
never seen such beautiful shells (stones for. they were not
hollow like shells) before nor after the Construction
(never). They were picked up by children and adults for
their beauty. I personal have mounted a few in gold, as
earnings I will give you a description. They are half-
round. The shape of a half of a lime, or a tea cup. Solid.
Not hollow like shells, The oval.side of the half lime, or
9 image0055.jpg
Beokford, R. p.9
the bottom of the tea cup which Is oval, gives a lustre like
a real pearl. That part of the lime which has been out, or
the top of the cup, in lily white. Their sizes not larger
than a (man's) shirt button. Oocasonally you may find a few
a little larger. After the completion of dredgeing, they
were not so plentiful. Tinaly they disappeared from the
beaches. Gone with the dredging of the Construction days.
In those days, you could walk anywhere in the Construction
area without ristriotion. Myself and friends walked on the
Locks twice during its construction. During the Construo-
tion days, the Americans were very: friendly, especially the
women. (For example) An American teen ager far up in her
teens at that time, whose parents were living in the second
cottage in Old Cristobal, exactly where the Canal Zone fire
station was only a few years ago. Only a stone throw from
the Comminary. Because of its proximity to the Oomminary,
she comes more than once a day to purchase. Her name sla
Florence from Charleston S.C. She was one of many who may
converse a litte before being waited on. Her mother also*
I am giving you a synopsis. I had been living between
fourth -and fifth streets with my mother* We both were Ih-
side the room upstairs. As late as around 8/30 that night,
I had heard a feminine voice inquiring for a dress maker.
I came out to see who she was. She was Florence from Old
Cristobal. (Surprised) "Florence what are you doing this
way?" I had asked. Looking for my dressmaker she retorted.
I told her that their is no dress maker on this building.
She told me the name of her dress maker whom I knew at the
time, and I took her their. Afterwards it had me thinking
how she had walk alone from Old Cristobal in the Canal Zone
at the crossing at eleven street to fifth street in Colon,
seven blocks from her home, around 8/30 at night. At the
opening of the Panama Canal, I used to do jewelry repair
work. An American by the name of Pheobe O'Donell from
Paducah Kentucky passes the shop almost every day in going
home from work. In returning from work one day she came in
the shop and gave me a job. "Will you please repair this
for me? After telling her what- it will cost to do the work,
she said to me, "If you dont see me pass this way tomorrow,
will you please take .it to the Garfield House around the
beach, the women's quarters, and ask for Pheobe 0 Donell."
She did'not return the following day. I had forgotten to
take it to the Garfield .House as she had requested. The
third day she came for her jewelry and told me that she-had
been waiting and did not see me. She then took a number on
a raffle. Another day, an American woman came in. "Can
you do this job for me while I wait?" I said yes. "I want
to get back home before my husband reaches home, he is Cap-
10 image0056.jpg
Beckford, R. p.10
tain of the Port" "Have you a chair" certainly I said. I
gave her a chair, and she sat for fifteen minutes until the
job was done. I am only disoribing to you the Construction
days Americans. Many U.S.- soldiers could be seen in the
Colon Park on Sunday nights., as the old Fort De Lesseps is
very near the Park. I was showered with confette on a Carn-
ival night in the Colon Park by Florence who had been walk-
ing with her escort. The distance from Old Cristobal at 11
Street to the Colon Park s seven blocks, They are the
Americans of the Construction- days. You .oan be sure that
which has been written had bden seen and more, except the
dears and other wild animals that wore running to high alti-
tude to escape the rushing waters of the Atlantic and the
Pacific at the time when the Dike was blasted. I lives on
the Atlantic side. I knows nothing about the Pacific aide.
No man nor woman alive can contradict what I have described.
If their is one, I am ready to meet him or her. Canal Zone
policeman (Frank) from New Orleqns died not very long (I had
read in the Star & Herald). Known as -Policeman 88 was very
popular on both sides of the Border, I had eleven years of
(broken) service Two years as a messenger at the IX.C.
building #1 (the Balboa heights in the early Construction
days) Three years C3 mail clerk for the Panama Canal, and
six years at the Commisary. Not a very long time. Nevede-
less the eleven years of service was a great privilege as if
it had been fifty years. (I will describe) When my father
died I became the only support of my mother.. She became ill
that she could not use her right arm,- I took her to a doc-
tor in Colon. He told me it would cost me -40,00 to get her
better and $20.00 for a nurse. I considered it exorbitant.
Being young and having no money saved as yet, I would have
paid $100.00 or more for my mother if I had it at the time.,
As a mother I know that I could never repay her for what she
had done for me. Both of us lives alone and she is suffer-
ing. I decided to take her to the Colon Hopital. I told my
mother to get ready to go. She replied "It's useless be-
cause I am not working for the Panama Canal nor the Panama
Rail at this time." I adid to my mother "I en taking you
their." And so I did. After I had gone in, and sat a few
minutes, the doctor came to me. I told him she is my mother.
"Are you working for the Panama Canal" No sir, I replied.
"Have you never worked for the Panama Canal" "Yes air,"
Eleven years. Seeing me taking out my papers to atest, he
began to examine her sick arm. We sat their for some time.
Finally a nurse returned with a bottle of medicine with
direction on how use same. And gave me. I used the medi-
oine as directed, and my mother's right arm was cured in tMro.
11 image0057.jpg
Beckford, R. p.11
weeks. At thG time when I was working at the retail cold
storage commissaryy) a Austrian American had been coming to
the retail cold storage for many months, and whenever he
comes, he buys a pound of bologna sausage, sometimes half a
pound. That tas all he buys for almost a year. Once, some-
times twice in a week. It was fun for us two sales men.
Sometimes we have it prepared before he calls for it. He
came in one day and said to us (two salesmen) "Well this is
my last day,for bologna sausage, I. will be leaving for the
States tomorrow." "Why don't you take me with you, said the
other saleman, I would like to know the States" Oh no, I
would not take you to States we don't want-fellows like you
in the State where I belong. "Why not" he did not elaborA
ate. "I would take that other fellow" reffering to me an
he said "goodbye." This is my own handwriting. Hoping
that you have read my first, second, and last series, with
interest as they are real facts. I now conclude.
Respectfully yours
REGINALD BECKFORD
Jeweller