- 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
- Afro-Antillean Museum ( donor )
- Isthmian Historical Society
- Place of Publication:
- Subjects / Keywords:
- Panama Canal
- 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 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
Bowen, Samuel N.; Estafeta Parque Lefevre, Panama, R.P.
I leave Barbados on January 07 Land in Panama on 15.
Started to work on the 16 First place Tabernilla Forman Mr
work Rail Road next Gatun 1908 Mr Mackine work Rail
Road Mr Keller Gatun Locks and Dam Pedro Miguel 1914 Mr.
Sampson Looks and Dam until retired. In those days
experances was great. Conditions were rough we had to have a
ticket to get the food. Without that ticket we could not eat
or sleep. Many other places of work But I think that this is
the most important part. I am
SAMUEL N BOWEN