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:
AA00016037:00065


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text





Kavanagh, Lancelot A.; liver Vic--, Plowden P.O., South
Manchester, Jama.ica.


Seeing your adv in the daily Gleaner of 11 June 1963 I
hereby give you Some of my expcrcinces on the Ismus.

Arriving in Colon on the S.S. Viscania of the
steamship Coy in 1905 at the time when the Libirale and Con-
servites were fighting SCaw a train came in from Panama with
Box Cars marked Coffee ihen sudenly in Colon the Cars was opened
up out came soilders hooting all over the town after many
years many of the shot holes could be seen in the rail way peer
Zinc where the shots marked it was then that the Americans
took over

I got a job as cook at Wa;shington Hotel then Americans
started up a hospital on the beach I took a job there as
Steward had to go in the market early mornings to buy meat &
vegetables that was the Colon market Manager of the hospital
was a Gentleman named Dr Kerr but after the hospital began to
Improve more were coming in I lost the job to a white man
at that time one Mr. Conolly was- Engineer on the Panama Rail
Road -tall big man I taughtt him to. be scotuh-always In his
khaki suit and out on'the Line In came Luiet. FBdrick Mears
Engineer for the Isiamtation Canal Commission I Sot a job as
forman and was the first to put up a flag on Gatun hill and
laid out tent there for the men who wer now coming in from
America but the fever wasao bad many Came and went back on the
next boat colored & white werc dying fast hundreds were
buried at Monkey Hill now called Mount Hope

I will here give an honest joke that happened at Gatun
Hill
Some of the forrmon brourlht their Iothers in Law with them
and on oundays they wouldd clerx t')e tables from the dining tent
and one of the fori.cn .r,.v.'. preach to the rest This foreman
minister rve out it -tnu;>t hbve bcon a terrible day when Johna
allowed the wh.lec one of the old ladies in a corner said
slowly it was e. it'cce not Jolihn followed the whale it was
the whale who :ollo:cJ. Jchna '.id- the f'oreman parson I dent
care a God dain but 1 ]hno'. so:-. 0-i -.'ollowing was being carried
on Took up the bible 1he had and walked out -the camp

I next went to ilolo and worked there as chief cook and
manage for the mean cvmi; There wan a Mir Dorothy Cawsy Chamberlin
and a mr Jack C Home;r a '-rand engineer but a great drunk he
would be dr-unk for 3 d(a.ys for the week but in two days he did
more work than the rest did for the week When the water started
to back up in Bol[hio the camp was transferred to the Governors








Kavanabh, L. A. p.2


house on the Hill for a few months I then went with the
engineers to survey the rail line from gatun to gorgona They
built up a town en route called Frolies The men there lived
in box cars w',itc & coloured workers They had a Commissary
ran by a old f'rench m12an The forman there was Ran Elder a
very h:.rd ;ji kinr; :ia.n

it .ino at thini station that an Engineer slipped at a
switch broke his leg and i:;:en taken to the Hospital found she
was a woman working among the men all the time leaving there
I went to work as less Man.agCer & cook at Miraflores on the hill
I had some friends working at Tivoli Hotel as waiter They told
me how heavy the tips were I left and went got a job and had
two tables out at 5 a.r. got my meals and start serving
520 to 70. or 8 a.m. off at 9 back at 115 my lunch start
12 till 250 back at 1430 till 722 p.m. I had to change my suit
three times for the days a.s was wet through from the running up
and made the tips but within two months had to leave it my
legs started to tiemble

Then 1 went to gatun where they were building the lock. and
the hourly pay was good got a job using a air Hammer on the
out side 4 of us to a board with a hook on each end of the
board to a chain running down their being layers of these dow7
the side with 4 men e'ch The air machine weighed about 28 lbs
Some fool on top of my Doa.rd moved over from his end to get a
cigarett by doing this tie board toppled out the hook and sent
about five boards with men & machine down 4 died instantly
about 10 others gfot broken limbs luckily for me I never got a
scratch but they put me in an electric and shook us up
The doctor told me I would eventually loose all my teeth
which did happen a few years later got so frightened never
went back for the 4I days pay I had there

About thin time they started a railway down at David
pedrogal about three d.yn sail from Panama I went out there
to work with an e-ineecr L C Ha:mmond was t zn out there
for six monthn,/..'hci.ie I trot b).ck to panama my foot on the ground
my hair like a wom:can had to covef up my skin to get into a
walkerover store whlero In which had a hair cut, wash up, break-'
fast, They ir-.vin", taken .naeanirc-eent for my suit they weighed
my old rags- p.id mno for thc;n by the weigh all this after we
had lost every thing.l in the David jungle by the river over
running its b-.nksr in the nrlt:t Instruments, cots tents every
thing I no'.: wonder if this road was ever built?

HIavjng had enough I left in 1912 came to Jamaica and
started business on my own made my self a merchant and
property owner married has four children all married has










Kavanagh, L. A. p.3


Grand children and now an old retired man "oh" many a day I
sit and remember all the b.d and good times I had over on the
Isthmus I lost my wife 11 years ago

Yours truly
LANCELOT A. KAVANAGH




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Kavanagh, Lancelot A.; liver Vic--, Plowden P.O., South
Manchester, Jama.ica.
Seeing your adv in the daily Gleaner of 11 June 1963 I
hereby give you Some of my expcrcinces on the Ismus.
Arriving in Colon on the S.S. Viscania of the
steamship Coy in 1905 at the time when the Libirale and Con-
servites were fighting SCaw a train came in from Panama with
Box Cars marked Coffee ihen sudenly in Colon the Cars was opened
up out came soilders hooting all over the town after many
years many of the shot holes could be seen in the rail way peer
Zinc where the shots marked it was then that the Americans
took over
I got a job as cook at Wa;shington Hotel then Americans
started up a hospital on the beach I took a job there as
Steward had to go in the market early mornings to buy meat &
vegetables that was the Colon market Manager of the hospital
was a Gentleman named Dr Kerr but after the hospital began to
Improve more were coming in I lost the job to a white man
at that time one Mr. Conolly was- Engineer on the Panama Rail
Road -tall big man I taughtt him to. be scotuh-always In his
khaki suit and out on'the Line In came Luiet. FBdrick Mears
Engineer for the Isiamtation Canal Commission I Sot a job as
forman and was the first to put up a flag on Gatun hill and
laid out tent there for the men who wer now coming in from
America but the fever wasao bad many Came and went back on the
next boat colored & white werc dying fast hundreds were
buried at Monkey Hill now called Mount Hope
I will here give an honest joke that happened at Gatun
Hill
Some of the forrmon brourlht their Iothers in Law with them
and on oundays they wouldd clerx t')e tables from the dining tent
and one of the fori.cn .r,.v.'. preach to the rest This foreman
minister rve out it -tnu;>t hbve bcon a terrible day when Johna
allowed the wh.lec one of the old ladies in a corner said
slowly it was e. it'cce not Jolihn followed the whale it was
the whale who :ollo:cJ. Jchna '.id- the f'oreman parson I dent
care a God dain but 1 ]hno'. so:-. 0-i -.'ollowing was being carried
on Took up the bible 1he had and walked out -the camp
I next went to ilolo and worked there as chief cook and
manage for the mean cvmi; There wan a Mir Dorothy Cawsy Chamberlin
and a mr Jack C Home;r a '-rand engineer but a great drunk he
would be dr-unk for 3 d(a.ys for the week but in two days he did
more work than the rest did for the week When the water started
to back up in Bol[hio the camp was transferred to the Governors
2 image0152.jpg
Kavanabh, L. A. p.2
house on the Hill for a few months I then went with the
engineers to survey the rail line from gatun to gorgona They
built up a town en route called Frolies The men there lived
in box cars w',itc & coloured workers They had a Commissary
ran by a old f'rench m12an The forman there was Ran Elder a
very h:.rd ;ji kinr; :ia.n
it .ino at thini station that an Engineer slipped at a
switch broke his leg and i:;:en taken to the Hospital found she
was a woman working among the men all the time leaving there
I went to work as less Man.agCer & cook at Miraflores on the hill
I had some friends working at Tivoli Hotel as waiter They told
me how heavy the tips were I left and went got a job and had
two tables out at 5 a.r. got my meals and start serving
520 to 70. or 8 a.m. off at 9 back at 115 my lunch start
12 till 250 back at 1430 till 722 p.m. I had to change my suit
three times for the days a.s was wet through from the running up
and made the tips but within two months had to leave it my
legs started to tiemble
Then 1 went to gatun where they were building the lock. and
the hourly pay was good got a job using a air Hammer on the
out side 4 of us to a board with a hook on each end of the
board to a chain running down their being layers of these dow7
the side with 4 men e'ch The air machine weighed about 28 lbs
Some fool on top of my Doa.rd moved over from his end to get a
cigarett by doing this tie board toppled out the hook and sent
about five boards with men & machine down 4 died instantly
about 10 others gfot broken limbs luckily for me I never got a
scratch but they put me in an electric and shook us up
The doctor told me I would eventually loose all my teeth
which did happen a few years later got so frightened never
went back for the 4I days pay I had there
About thin time they started a railway down at David
pedrogal about three d.yn sail from Panama I went out there
to work with an e-ineecr L C Ha:mmond was t zn out there
for six monthn,/..'hci.ie I trot b).ck to panama my foot on the ground
my hair like a wom:can had to covef up my skin to get into a
walkerover store whlero In which had a hair cut, wash up, break-'
fast, They ir-.vin", taken .naeanirc-eent for my suit they weighed
my old rags- p.id mno for thc;n by the weigh all this after we
had lost every thing.l in the David jungle by the river over
running its b-.nksr in the nrlt:t Instruments, cots tents every
thing I no'.: wonder if this road was ever built?
HIavjng had enough I left in 1912 came to Jamaica and
started business on my own made my self a merchant and
property owner married has four children all married has
3 image0153.jpg
Kavanagh, L. A. p.3
Grand children and now an old retired man "oh" many a day I
sit and remember all the b.d and good times I had over on the
Isthmus I lost my wife 11 years ago
Yours truly
LANCELOT A. KAVANAGH