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:
AA00016037:00075


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Mark, John Thomas; Box 1497, Colon, R.P.


I the undersign, arrived in Panama July 29th 1907, on the
S.S. Laplata, R.M. at 8 a.m. Monday morning, I was taken to the
then Section Qorgona, arriving there by train about 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday 30th I started to work in:the lumber yard from thence
to the Machine Shop, as"blacksmith Helper, Then to Bas Obispo
Shop in Dec of same year at Gatun Commissary, as a utility man
opening of the Mindi Sec of the Canal, I work in the drilling
gang, Blacksmith Shop, Car-repairs Dept., other Points of ser-
vice, according to your ability, fireman on the Derrick that
unload the-rook from Porto Bello for the erection of the present
locks (Gatun) Transferec to Mt. Hope as fireman on the derrick
Crane which dug the foundation for the present water work,
(Plants) next on a pile driver, same place, as a driver, next
to Gatun as Electrical Helper, until the opening of the locks as
Telephone operator in the Control House

Interesting Experience & People
I note with care how the gold Employees was served with
their supplies from the Comsy, Truck was driven by @ules, from
the various corrals Some one was employed to prepare wood &
coal for the kitchen, Electric light was scarce, street lamps on
poles & hand lantern had tas to be used, I experience how the
water was pumped out of the Mindi Canal, over flowed by the
Chagres River 1908-or-1909- two hydrolic pumps was set up on the
side of the channel & thro the water out before further excava-
tion could go on, the making of the locks from the foundation,
metal form was put in place for the culvert in the Center wall,
also wooden forms for the bottom of the locks, stony gate
valves, float well's etc, running of cables from the various
transformer room, chain fenders, up the Control House which
now can be seen, Building of the miter gate by McClintic &
Marshall lot of death meantime by falling off scaffolds, etc.
75 ft. belows also the great tower with take the concrete in
bucks to be lowred down from the bottom of the look until its
completion, men was also employed to go around to each gang in
the digging of the Canal with quinine 2 gal bottle each for the
men to keep away fever one was white & the other read which
we drank cheerfully their was no time to jAjIL, your meal ticket
was your logging check for you to sleep in the Camps, or you be
taken to the Judge the next morning to find out why you don't









Mark, J. T. p.2


work The People to whom we have to deal with was of genial
disposition, all American at that time, working condition was
good no time to idle, whether it be storm or otherwise, we went
through bravely, living conditions was fair Very little to com-
plain about we did everything with satisfaction to our selves &
our superior officers; I was never privilege to see a native of
this country working on the Canal

I also experience the removing of the former rail road to
its present location. Same was remove from the direction of the
north approach wall west side, their was a town of colored people
residing their, so called Jamaica Town, the cemetery was duged
up & the remains carried away.-to be dump for building othersite
of the Canal, the main road for the train was through the posi-
tion of the gatun lake, use to be called Black Swamp, lots of
marshes water & bird inhabit, until to go further to the other
small settlement where people live, in the direction of San,
Pablo, their was a large iron bridge to cross, with said R.R.
on the side of the Gatun spillway was a small village, people
lived, & a Catholic church bell ring from outside in the yard.
This was demolish, piles was driven to keep back a small river
between their & Jamaica Town. This complete with the excavation
dug out of the various section of the Canal, drawn by several
Engines (Locomotive) only one trip could be made per day over
the P.R.

In preparing the new F.R. piles had was to be driven hill
remove, by steam shovels use of dynamite to blass down the hill
lots of life lost in the meantime. I also experience how elec-
tricity was formed on the locks by Testing Engineers,
& rnhitehead Stillwell & myself was their helper, this was done
by filling a barrel of water, & the resistant was place in it,
in the Transformer room 749 Gatun, also the handling of the
switchboard in the Control house, putting through the tugboat
Gatun, as the first telephone operation.

... It is not for the Frize co much, but a recognition
from a who is able to reflect on the Past I have to
give God thanks to spare my life, knowing that thousands has
past on through accident & otherwise, I have to thank the giver
& the one who gave U.S. Government, with lasting gratitude

Yrs. Obediently
JOHN THOMAS MARK
DR 1335




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Mark, John Thomas; Box 1497, Colon, R.P.
I the undersign, arrived in Panama July 29th 1907, on the
S.S. Laplata, R.M. at 8 a.m. Monday morning, I was taken to the
then Section Qorgona, arriving there by train about 10:30 a.m.
Tuesday 30th I started to work in:the lumber yard from thence
to the Machine Shop, as"blacksmith Helper, Then to Bas Obispo
Shop in Dec of same year at Gatun Commissary, as a utility man
opening of the Mindi Sec of the Canal, I work in the drilling
gang, Blacksmith Shop, Car-repairs Dept., other Points of ser-
vice, according to your ability, fireman on the Derrick that
unload the-rook from Porto Bello for the erection of the present
locks (Gatun) Transferec to Mt. Hope as fireman on the derrick
Crane which dug the foundation for the present water work,
(Plants) next on a pile driver, same place, as a driver, next
to Gatun as Electrical Helper, until the opening of the locks as
Telephone operator in the Control House
Interesting Experience & People
I note with care how the gold Employees was served with
their supplies from the Comsy, Truck was driven by @ules, from
the various corrals Some one was employed to prepare wood &
coal for the kitchen, Electric light was scarce, street lamps on
poles & hand lantern had tas to be used, I experience how the
water was pumped out of the Mindi Canal, over flowed by the
Chagres River 1908-or-1909- two hydrolic pumps was set up on the
side of the channel & thro the water out before further excava-
tion could go on, the making of the locks from the foundation,
metal form was put in place for the culvert in the Center wall,
also wooden forms for the bottom of the locks, stony gate
valves, float well's etc, running of cables from the various
transformer room, chain fenders, up the Control House which
now can be seen, Building of the miter gate by McClintic &
Marshall lot of death meantime by falling off scaffolds, etc.
75 ft. belows also the great tower with take the concrete in
bucks to be lowred down from the bottom of the look until its
completion, men was also employed to go around to each gang in
the digging of the Canal with quinine 2 gal bottle each for the
men to keep away fever one was white & the other read which
we drank cheerfully their was no time to jAjIL, your meal ticket
was your logging check for you to sleep in the Camps, or you be
taken to the Judge the next morning to find out why you don't
2 image0185.jpg
Mark, J. T. p.2
work The People to whom we have to deal with was of genial
disposition, all American at that time, working condition was
good no time to idle, whether it be storm or otherwise, we went
through bravely, living conditions was fair Very little to com-
plain about we did everything with satisfaction to our selves &
our superior officers; I was never privilege to see a native of
this country working on the Canal
I also experience the removing of the former rail road to
its present location. Same was remove from the direction of the
north approach wall west side, their was a town of colored people
residing their, so called Jamaica Town, the cemetery was duged
up & the remains carried away.-to be dump for building othersite
of the Canal, the main road for the train was through the posi-
tion of the gatun lake, use to be called Black Swamp, lots of
marshes water & bird inhabit, until to go further to the other
small settlement where people live, in the direction of San,
Pablo, their was a large iron bridge to cross, with said R.R.
on the side of the Gatun spillway was a small village, people
lived, & a Catholic church bell ring from outside in the yard.
This was demolish, piles was driven to keep back a small river
between their & Jamaica Town. This complete with the excavation
dug out of the various section of the Canal, drawn by several
Engines (Locomotive) only one trip could be made per day over
the P.R.
In preparing the new F.R. piles had was to be driven hill
remove, by steam shovels use of dynamite to blass down the hill
lots of life lost in the meantime. I also experience how elec-
tricity was formed on the locks by Testing Engineers,
& rnhitehead Stillwell & myself was their helper, this was done
by filling a barrel of water, & the resistant was place in it,
in the Transformer room 749 Gatun, also the handling of the
switchboard in the Control house, putting through the tugboat
Gatun, as the first telephone operation.
... It is not for the Frize co much, but a recognition
from a who is able to reflect on the Past I have to
give God thanks to spare my life, knowing that thousands has
past on through accident & otherwise, I have to thank the giver
& the one who gave U.S. Government, with lasting gratitude
Yrs. Obediently
JOHN THOMAS MARK
DR 1335


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