Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

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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:
AA00016037:00013


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Beckles, Wbaley; Estafeta Chilibre, Chilibre, R.P.


I arrived hero in Panama In the year 1913 January 9th.
The very next day of the same year I got a job in the Municipal
Division. Worked in the casing hole which was 100 ft. deep
until 1914. That was at Ancon. Then was transferred to Pedro
Miguel (Same Municipal Division) until 1956 when I got retired.
I've worked with S. Boyd, Mr. Clemont, Mr. Ralph Carthurs. At
that time we were paid the sum of 10 cents an hour. In those
days there were so much filth in Central Ave Panama that we had
to take it up by bucketsful, and empty it in the sea. In those
days a loaf of Bread was only 49. I was living on the Canal
Zone, in Red Tank. I was a bachelor then. Many is the times
I've had to work from 6:00 in the morning until 7:00 A.M. the
following morning. One of the experiences that is most vivid
to me is the time when we had to work Albrook Air Base laying
pipeline in mud up to our waist, and that's on the level.
Living conditions weren't so good that time. Due to the fact
of the small salary. Many of the Days I've gone to work with
hunger. Well, in the year 1956 I retired and I'm now getting
a small pension from the Gov. of which I'm extremely grateful.

Respectfully Yours
Mr. WESLEY BECKLEI




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Beckles, Wbaley; Estafeta Chilibre, Chilibre, R.P.
I arrived hero in Panama In the year 1913 January 9th.
The very next day of the same year I got a job in the Municipal
Division. Worked in the casing hole which was 100 ft. deep
until 1914. That was at Ancon. Then was transferred to Pedro
Miguel (Same Municipal Division) until 1956 when I got retired.
I've worked with S. Boyd, Mr. Clemont, Mr. Ralph Carthurs. At
that time we were paid the sum of 10 cents an hour. In those
days there were so much filth in Central Ave Panama that we had
to take it up by bucketsful, and empty it in the sea. In those
days a loaf of Bread was only 49. I was living on the Canal
Zone, in Red Tank. I was a bachelor then. Many is the times
I've had to work from 6:00 in the morning until 7:00 A.M. the
following morning. One of the experiences that is most vivid
to me is the time when we had to work Albrook Air Base laying
pipeline in mud up to our waist, and that's on the level.
Living conditions weren't so good that time. Due to the fact
of the small salary. Many of the Days I've gone to work with
hunger. Well, in the year 1956 I retired and I'm now getting
a small pension from the Gov. of which I'm extremely grateful.
Respectfully Yours
Mr. WESLEY BECKLEI


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