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:
AA00016037:00074


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MOKenzie, Z. H.; 7-i iiartin Strect, Spanish Town P.O., Jamaica.


Reading my daily news px.per the Gleancr Jamaica where the
Isthmain Historical Society annunces a competition for the best
true Stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama. In year
1906. I leave Juiaica my native Island for Panama arrived at
Colon on one of those EPrglish Pansenger Steamer that ply between
Jamaica & Colon. about 48 brs run reached Colon at about eight
o'clock a.m. Having no relative In the Town I had to make
friends there. In order for me to get by. Around 10 o'clock a.m.
I was told to get ready for the Train to Panama City. So I did.
By twelve oc. P.m/. the train leave for Panama City. by five or
Six oc. P.M. I were landed in the City of Panama You can Judge
the Conditions in Panama City In those days. I was taken to a
Hotel on Central Ave. Bun by a Jamaican old timer, he treated
us Kindly & Hospitable, for a few days. Getting short of cash
I then Insist in ,cttinr a Job. the following day I went to the
American Hospital Ancon on the Hill. fortunately I Eot a Job
from the Chief Nurse. to u-.rk from 6 oc. P.M. To 6 A.M. It was
a tough Shift but I accep.d it. free meals & free Bed. Within
a few months I leave the ilospit-l1 for a better Job. more money.
In the Canal Engenering Dep Balboa. One month later I was
Transfered to Culebra C.Z. as a Foreman In the Lumber yard Dep.
There I spent many months. Condition did not Suitable to me So
I Transfered to the Time KEopinr Department Empire C.Z. There I
worked until the Canal be came a' thorugh water way. My exper-
ience I gathered from the Canal I cannot express, my brain get-
tinG old & weak hence 1 cannot rebr.in all that I Saw. History
from the Canal will tell you of the great Explosion we had in
Bas Obispo C.Z. Pren.ration wac m:'.de to Shoot down a high Hill
In the Centre of the water way on Sunday A.M. Unfortainly on
Saturday about 1230 P..A. the bl-.st went off killing hundreds of
people. I Just leave the C?.nr to eat my lunc. at the office a
half mile away when I he-?.rd the .1-bone rang. I went to ans. the
report calling for help. I ran to the Spot & Saw what happened
oh it was a day of Sorrowv for the living. After a rough it be
came calm. the Caial Construction coame to closed. My life has
been Spared to Sec the being oud the end of this greatt water
way. The Completion of the watrv- way Brought great Desolation
on the W.I. DEnployees. Son:e of us wore Tr&.nsfered to other
Pl-.ces. others were :ecnl.. 1 c.c.ll urin- the C.n:'il Corrncrut: on wa.s So S-nll that we could
not put by Aany .:1in- ii the iik. hence the majority of ous
left L.mpty: handed. to live or die. of which many died from a
weak heart.
Terminated from the Compleation of the water way I were
Sent back to the e];clth Derartmrent at Corozal C.Z. There I
worked many years as a Store )Keeer until the end of my Service
for the Panama Canal Company. i5 years Services. 55 Retire-
ment Pay. I deserve better Consideration. But who is to be
blaimd? I have 4 Children 3 Boys 1 Girl all was Born on the






McKenzie, Z. 11. p.2.


C.Z. 1 Boy is living in Panama City others are Here in
Jamaica. In Case of death Communicate to my Son Mr. Arthur
McKenzie 38 White Church St. Spanish Town P.O. Jamaica.

I am
Yrs truly
Z.HI. McKENZIE
Dr. 5271




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MOKenzie, Z. H.; 7-i iiartin Strect, Spanish Town P.O., Jamaica.
Reading my daily news px.per the Gleancr Jamaica where the
Isthmain Historical Society annunces a competition for the best
true Stories of life and work on the Isthmus of Panama. In year
1906. I leave Juiaica my native Island for Panama arrived at
Colon on one of those EPrglish Pansenger Steamer that ply between
Jamaica & Colon. about 48 brs run reached Colon at about eight
o'clock a.m. Having no relative In the Town I had to make
friends there. In order for me to get by. Around 10 o'clock a.m.
I was told to get ready for the Train to Panama City. So I did.
By twelve oc. P.m/. the train leave for Panama City. by five or
Six oc. P.M. I were landed in the City of Panama You can Judge
the Conditions in Panama City In those days. I was taken to a
Hotel on Central Ave. Bun by a Jamaican old timer, he treated
us Kindly & Hospitable, for a few days. Getting short of cash
I then Insist in ,cttinr a Job. the following day I went to the
American Hospital Ancon on the Hill. fortunately I Eot a Job
from the Chief Nurse. to u-.rk from 6 oc. P.M. To 6 A.M. It was
a tough Shift but I accep.d it. free meals & free Bed. Within
a few months I leave the ilospit-l1 for a better Job. more money.
In the Canal Engenering Dep Balboa. One month later I was
Transfered to Culebra C.Z. as a Foreman In the Lumber yard Dep.
There I spent many months. Condition did not Suitable to me So
I Transfered to the Time KEopinr Department Empire C.Z. There I
worked until the Canal be came a' thorugh water way. My exper-
ience I gathered from the Canal I cannot express, my brain get-
tinG old & weak hence 1 cannot rebr.in all that I Saw. History
from the Canal will tell you of the great Explosion we had in
Bas Obispo C.Z. Pren.ration wac m:'.de to Shoot down a high Hill
In the Centre of the water way on Sunday A.M. Unfortainly on
Saturday about 1230 P..A. the bl-.st went off killing hundreds of
people. I Just leave the C?.nr to eat my lunc. at the office a
half mile away when I he-?.rd the .1-bone rang. I went to ans. the
report calling for help. I ran to the Spot & Saw what happened
oh it was a day of Sorrowv for the living. After a rough it be
came calm. the Caial Construction coame to closed. My life has
been Spared to Sec the being oud the end of this greatt water
way. The Completion of the watrv- way Brought great Desolation
on the W.I. DEnployees. Son:e of us wore Tr&.nsfered to other
Pl-.ces. others were :ecnl.. 1 c.c.ll urin- the C.n:'il Corrncrut: on wa.s So S-nll that we could
not put by Aany .:1in- ii the iik. hence the majority of ous
left L.mpty: handed. to live or die. of which many died from a
weak heart.
Terminated from the Compleation of the water way I were
Sent back to the e];clth Derartmrent at Corozal C.Z. There I
worked many years as a Store )Keeer until the end of my Service
for the Panama Canal Company. i5 years Services. 55 Retire-
ment Pay. I deserve better Consideration. But who is to be
blaimd? I have 4 Children 3 Boys 1 Girl all was Born on the
2 image0183.jpg
McKenzie, Z. 11. p.2.
C.Z. 1 Boy is living in Panama City others are Here in
Jamaica. In Case of death Communicate to my Son Mr. Arthur
McKenzie 38 White Church St. Spanish Town P.O. Jamaica.
I am
Yrs truly
Z.HI. McKENZIE
Dr. 5271