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:
AA00016037:00060


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Full Text






Hughes, Joseph Theophilu ; !sotcfcta Faroue Lefevre; Panama,



I landed on the Isthmus the 28 of May 1906.
My experiences are the following. The first place I work
was in Lascascadrs as csrpentcr helper with Mr. Vernon an Amer-
ican, at that tl,ce the coal chute was in building in Lascas-
cadase. These coal chute was build with heavy steel and at that
time we had to use our ha.nd to lift those steal, to get them in
their right places .and by lifting those heavy steel is almost
got my finEer and toes cut off, that was my first experiences
in the Canal work. A little before the coal chute was through
I leave Mr. Vernon and went to work in the Sanitary Department
with Mr,. Lebert a Jamaican foreman in Matachin, which is another
experlense I gain i was almost bitten by a great serpent. At
that time many was kill by mosquitos. After that i' leave the
Sanitary Department a'.nd went to work in the Drilling- Department
my foreman was 1tr. B=arncs in lasobispo. During that time-they
was loading powder for the purpose of the Canal work; just two
days before the explosion in Rasobispo I leave the powder De-
partment that was .another thrilling experience. After the
powder Department .1 went and work again for the coal chute my
foreman was ?'r. Lowe an American under the supervision of Yard-
master Mr. 1lugard an American at tht.t time i was a coal
trimer. I could give ;.eny more experiences from 1906 until when
water went in the Canal but i must stop at that.

!'any time i meet death at the door, but thank God i am
alive to see the rrcat improvement the Canal had made and the
wonderful fame it has around the world.

One of the builder of the Canal
JOSEilH T. lHUCGES




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Hughes, Joseph Theophilu ; !sotcfcta Faroue Lefevre; Panama,
I landed on the Isthmus the 28 of May 1906.
My experiences are the following. The first place I work
was in Lascascadrs as csrpentcr helper with Mr. Vernon an Amer-
ican, at that tl,ce the coal chute was in building in Lascas-
cadase. These coal chute was build with heavy steel and at that
time we had to use our ha.nd to lift those steal, to get them in
their right places .and by lifting those heavy steel is almost
got my finEer and toes cut off, that was my first experiences
in the Canal work. A little before the coal chute was through
I leave Mr. Vernon and went to work in the Sanitary Department
with Mr,. Lebert a Jamaican foreman in Matachin, which is another
experlense I gain i was almost bitten by a great serpent. At
that time many was kill by mosquitos. After that i' leave the
Sanitary Department a'.nd went to work in the Drilling- Department
my foreman was 1tr. B=arncs in lasobispo. During that time-they
was loading powder for the purpose of the Canal work; just two
days before the explosion in Rasobispo I leave the powder De-
partment that was .another thrilling experience. After the
powder Department .1 went and work again for the coal chute my
foreman was ?'r. Lowe an American under the supervision of Yard-
master Mr. 1lugard an American at tht.t time i was a coal
trimer. I could give ;.eny more experiences from 1906 until when
water went in the Canal but i must stop at that.
!'any time i meet death at the door, but thank God i am
alive to see the rrcat improvement the Canal had made and the
wonderful fame it has around the world.
One of the builder of the Canal
JOSEilH T. lHUCGES