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:
AA00016037:00058


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Holder. Everton M.; c/o irs. Evelyn Howell, 672, Rainbow
City, C.Z.



I came to the Isthmun of Panama in 1905. My first employ-
ment in the early construction days was at Corozal as a painter
under Supervisor, Mr. Stcwart. Like many other employees, I
suffered much with malaria fever because of the water and
swampy conditions which existed then. We, the employees, often
had to drink water running from the river flowing through
Corozal. Sometimes railroad engines would supply us on even-
ings. Although I had to cook and wash as best I could, I am
truly grateful for the help. of all the great Americans and
others I met during my struggle with the difficulties and hard-
ships that both working conditions and the lack of sanitation
presented. 1 have much to praise God for I was able to retire
with 49 years of good conduct and meritorious service with the
Panama Canal.

Balboa Heigrits can furnish a detailed record of the many
duties which I performed during that time of extremely hard and
hazardous labor. However, I would like to gave a brief history
of my services in the building and maintenance of the Panama
Canal. Besides working at Corozal, I painted quarters and
employees barracks at Parhiso. Under Quartermaster King, I
worked as a foreman paintor at Culebra. At pedro Miguel I was
in charge of supplying materials to men working at distant
stations; and during many engagomentn served as a volunteer
fireman. World ar II found jme working as a foreman painter
with the Commissary Division. Being then a resident of Rainbow
City, then named Silver City, 1 served in the Civilian Defense
as Chief Area 'arden, a service for which I am the happy holder
of a certificate and ribbon of merit, as well as the title of
lieutenant.

To mention some of the officials for whom I have painted
quarters and furniture, etc., i venture the following list.
Col. Gothals, Adm. Fcounscc, Col. Gillard, Col. Hodges, various
Quartermasterc, J. D. Fields of the Building Division, etc.

It was a co'inon thing to have to carry a 112-lb container
of white lead paint on my shoulder all the way through Culebra
Cut from Silver Hill to Gold Hill to do my work as transporta-
tion was not up to date. I hbd to pans many steam shovels








Holder, E. M. p.2


which digging the channel and had to duck so as to get away
from dynamite blasting in the great Culebra Cut. In those
days I witnessed men who were damaged by train accidents and
many who wer blasted when lifting dynamite fuses or by the
explosions of the dynamite itself.

...I have ventured to give you this rhyme of the great
water as it is today.

MY cONG
The Isthmus of Panama is a nairow neck of land;
It joins the North and South as if they were one.
The North Americans w3th their sharp-edged tools,
Cut the neck to make a man-made lake with three brimming pools.

Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the crossroad of the world
It is the nations' hymn.

The North Americans with their engineering skill
Sent the sea waters up and down hill,
From the Atlantic to pacific Side
Where the Caribbean washes with flooding tide.

Panama the crossroad of- the world
Let all the nations sing
Panmuna the crossroad of the world
Carries a mighty ring.

The looks are the controlling of the great waterway.
They do the job by night as well as by day.
They raise the water up to a lcvel bed;
They keep it there just like a dead.

Panama the croosrod of the world
Let all the nationrj nin;
i-ariama the crossro-:d of the world
Let the harmony nf-:.ng.










Holder, E. M. p.3


The depth of the chamber is not very deep
It is not less than seventy-five feot
The width across is one hundred and ton
Not quite as wide as a circus tent.

Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations oinS
Panoma the cronsroad of the world
Land where the Balboa's king.

With some giant machinery that is called the mule
They convey the ships in and out the locks
With lines attached from ship to mule
They tow the ships out the gigantic pool.

Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the cronsroad of the world
The old and new uniting.

Now that the ships are out of the locks,
The funnel of world commerce
They propel their way to distant docks,
Cargo and human load to disperse.

Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the crossroad of the world
It's a perpetual thing.
Amen.


Ecopectfully yours,
:-V1i:TClU M. IC.LDTJ E

D. L. 1o. 6284
Date of birth: Nov. 12, 1887




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Holder. Everton M.; c/o irs. Evelyn Howell, 672, Rainbow
City, C.Z.
I came to the Isthmun of Panama in 1905. My first employ-
ment in the early construction days was at Corozal as a painter
under Supervisor, Mr. Stcwart. Like many other employees, I
suffered much with malaria fever because of the water and
swampy conditions which existed then. We, the employees, often
had to drink water running from the river flowing through
Corozal. Sometimes railroad engines would supply us on even-
ings. Although I had to cook and wash as best I could, I am
truly grateful for the help. of all the great Americans and
others I met during my struggle with the difficulties and hard-
ships that both working conditions and the lack of sanitation
presented. 1 have much to praise God for I was able to retire
with 49 years of good conduct and meritorious service with the
Panama Canal.
Balboa Heigrits can furnish a detailed record of the many
duties which I performed during that time of extremely hard and
hazardous labor. However, I would like to gave a brief history
of my services in the building and maintenance of the Panama
Canal. Besides working at Corozal, I painted quarters and
employees barracks at Parhiso. Under Quartermaster King, I
worked as a foreman paintor at Culebra. At pedro Miguel I was
in charge of supplying materials to men working at distant
stations; and during many engagomentn served as a volunteer
fireman. World ar II found jme working as a foreman painter
with the Commissary Division. Being then a resident of Rainbow
City, then named Silver City, 1 served in the Civilian Defense
as Chief Area 'arden, a service for which I am the happy holder
of a certificate and ribbon of merit, as well as the title of
lieutenant.
To mention some of the officials for whom I have painted
quarters and furniture, etc., i venture the following list.
Col. Gothals, Adm. Fcounscc, Col. Gillard, Col. Hodges, various
Quartermasterc, J. D. Fields of the Building Division, etc.
It was a co'inon thing to have to carry a 112-lb container
of white lead paint on my shoulder all the way through Culebra
Cut from Silver Hill to Gold Hill to do my work as transporta-
tion was not up to date. I hbd to pans many steam shovels
2 image0141.jpg
Holder, E. M. p.2
which digging the channel and had to duck so as to get away
from dynamite blasting in the great Culebra Cut. In those
days I witnessed men who were damaged by train accidents and
many who wer blasted when lifting dynamite fuses or by the
explosions of the dynamite itself.
...I have ventured to give you this rhyme of the great
water as it is today.
MY cONG
The Isthmus of Panama is a nairow neck of land;
It joins the North and South as if they were one.
The North Americans w3th their sharp-edged tools,
Cut the neck to make a man-made lake with three brimming pools.
Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the crossroad of the world
It is the nations' hymn.
The North Americans with their engineering skill
Sent the sea waters up and down hill,
From the Atlantic to pacific Side
Where the Caribbean washes with flooding tide.
Panama the crossroad of- the world
Let all the nations sing
Panmuna the crossroad of the world
Carries a mighty ring.
The looks are the controlling of the great waterway.
They do the job by night as well as by day.
They raise the water up to a lcvel bed;
They keep it there just like a dead.
Panama the croosrod of the world
Let all the nationrj nin;
i-ariama the crossro-:d of the world
Let the harmony nf-:.ng.
3 image0142.jpg
Holder, E. M. p.3
The depth of the chamber is not very deep
It is not less than seventy-five feot
The width across is one hundred and ton
Not quite as wide as a circus tent.
Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations oinS
Panoma the cronsroad of the world
Land where the Balboa's king.
With some giant machinery that is called the mule
They convey the ships in and out the locks
With lines attached from ship to mule
They tow the ships out the gigantic pool.
Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the cronsroad of the world
The old and new uniting.
Now that the ships are out of the locks,
The funnel of world commerce
They propel their way to distant docks,
Cargo and human load to disperse.
Panama the crossroad of the world
Let all the nations sing
Panama the crossroad of the world
It's a perpetual thing.
Amen.
Ecopectfully yours,
:-V1i:TClU M. IC.LDTJ E
D. L. 1o. 6284
Date of birth: Nov. 12, 1887