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:
AA00016037:00027


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Full Text








Carmichael, Leslie; General Delivery, Colon Post Office,
Colon, R.P.



On reaching Panama in January of 1907, I was taken to one
of the old French camps located on the Chagres river. The
following day we were taken to Tabernilla.

Tabernilla was a small section where the work was started
through dense jungles, the tools given to us were a pick,
shovel.and maohette, from there we ware cutting brambles, trees
through swamp lands, across rivers, the condition was of such
that from day to day we were wet leaving the job and returning
the following day with nothing dry to wear.

The first foreman I worked with I don't remember his name,
there were two other foremen Mr. Loftes and Mr. Greenstage who
were preparing the land for dumping from Tabernilla to: Frijoles
Mr. Bob Sheetz was also there.

The work was dangerous we had to be always looking for
snakes which were plentiful and deadly, lions which roamed the
jungle in packs, also tigers. The tigers were the most
ferocious.

An experience that I have always remembered the time while
the gang were laying rails, we were short of drinking water I
was among the men sent to get a supply to be taken from the
Chagres river, we were to use a pump oar to carry the eight
five gallon cans an a fifty gallon barrel. On our way we were
followed by about ten lions running.behind the car, they were
getting closer and closer to us while holding the barrel with
one hand to steady it I took one of the cans and use to scare
them off by hitting it to make a noise that drove them away.

Water to drink was very hard to get to supply so much men
that were working after we had gone so far in the jungle, there
were times when we would lie on our stomach and drink whatever
water in sight to quench our thirst, by drinking water that way
a lot of the workers died from black fever and yellow fever for
there was no other way that water could be acquired.

The work was hard and dangerous with the sight of men











Carmiohael, L.


falling slok and dying from day to days at that time still on
the rails with such hardships around us a little ditty was
sung "Somebody dying every day," another was "Hard work today
Ba Congreja," with those and "Iron Bar" the men would work in
harmony lifting and hauling rails, setting and spiking in
place for the dump cars.

Respectfully
Mr LESLIE CARMICHAEL




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Carmichael, Leslie; General Delivery, Colon Post Office,
Colon, R.P.
On reaching Panama in January of 1907, I was taken to one
of the old French camps located on the Chagres river. The
following day we were taken to Tabernilla.
Tabernilla was a small section where the work was started
through dense jungles, the tools given to us were a pick,
shovel.and maohette, from there we ware cutting brambles, trees
through swamp lands, across rivers, the condition was of such
that from day to day we were wet leaving the job and returning
the following day with nothing dry to wear.
The first foreman I worked with I don't remember his name,
there were two other foremen Mr. Loftes and Mr. Greenstage who
were preparing the land for dumping from Tabernilla to: Frijoles
Mr. Bob Sheetz was also there.
The work was dangerous we had to be always looking for
snakes which were plentiful and deadly, lions which roamed the
jungle in packs, also tigers. The tigers were the most
ferocious.
An experience that I have always remembered the time while
the gang were laying rails, we were short of drinking water I
was among the men sent to get a supply to be taken from the
Chagres river, we were to use a pump oar to carry the eight
five gallon cans an a fifty gallon barrel. On our way we were
followed by about ten lions running.behind the car, they were
getting closer and closer to us while holding the barrel with
one hand to steady it I took one of the cans and use to scare
them off by hitting it to make a noise that drove them away.
Water to drink was very hard to get to supply so much men
that were working after we had gone so far in the jungle, there
were times when we would lie on our stomach and drink whatever
water in sight to quench our thirst, by drinking water that way
a lot of the workers died from black fever and yellow fever for
there was no other way that water could be acquired.
The work was hard and dangerous with the sight of men
2 image0086.jpg
Carmiohael, L.
falling slok and dying from day to days at that time still on
the rails with such hardships around us a little ditty was
sung "Somebody dying every day," another was "Hard work today
Ba Congreja," with those and "Iron Bar" the men would work in
harmony lifting and hauling rails, setting and spiking in
place for the dump cars.
Respectfully
Mr LESLIE CARMICHAEL


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