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:
AA00016037:00080


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Full Text





Mitchell S., Alfred; c/o ronald Chessman, Electrical Dept.,
Tela rail Road Company; El Progreso, Yoro., Honduras.


I was brought from Jamaica at the age of 1i years old in
the year of 1904, with my mother. I lef school in 3 grade or
3 standard. W.,ell, Mother was working and fortunately I got a
job as water-boy on the Pan-.ma Eail Road docks, and same year
Mother took me on the lines, to a place called Bas-Obispo Canal
Zone. I worked there carrying water for a drilling gang; then
I heard the transportation was employing youngsters for steam-
shovel checkers.: There when I asked the yard-master at Lascae-
cadas, then he anked me if I could read and write, I told him
"a little;" that yard-mastor was Boreguard, and then J.C.
Barnett. Then he gave me a book and Mother bought me a 1.00
watch. I worked there keeping around and my witts, also.
Then the yard-master, JGC. Barnett called me one morning told
me "you are going to do some braking on train, you are along
with Conductor C. A. Shaw and Engineer W. G. Ford, they will
take care of you." So I did as he told me. Well, I kept on
being a brakeman for a long time, then he pulled me off the
train and put me back in the office. Well, Siru, I can tell
you what I really saw and knew Bae Obispo and Lascascadas.
Must really say those two places were the hardest spots, with
a steam shovel; digging and meeting up against dynamite caps
that were not exploded when the dynamite miners left, causes
a lot of lives. Steam shovel- pit men, they were called, also
steam shovel engineers a.nd crane men Americans Negroes and
Spain Spaniards. I don't know how myself and my conductor
did not get killed. It was an awful time.

Then I left there and went on working for the Panama R.R.
Company. I knew General Ggorge W'. Goethals and Mr. D. D.
Galliard that'ss why the n:une of Culebra Cut was changed to
Galliard Cut) -'r. G. W. Goothals would walk on the right
hand side of Cane'l bank from Culebra Cut, stop looking at
the works going on below, until he reached a place they called
Matachin, there boa-rd his motor-car by rail to Culebra, his
resident a.nd office. IIls motorman was an American by the name
of SGuallwood. How, Sr. D. D. G:.lli-.rd., he would walked down
the Canal among drills steam shovel dynamite hole looking
right dow.Jn in 30 feet hole where they were loading dynamite.
lie would go to a steam shovel wien it was not working and would
ask the steam shovel operator "what's the matter?" The
operator would m:-de a reply "Wie are going to blow these big
rocks with dynamites." lie would say "good-by, take care of
yourself." You should see Mr. Galli-.rd getting out of sight








Mitchell S., A. p.2


9ver rocks, old ties and rails. Thats what I see and what
happen I was braking on Eng. 211. I saw President Roosevelt
and President Taft when they arrive there inspecting the Canal
with a special first clans coach and observation car, when I
was on the P.n.rja 1Pail Road I handle Govenor McAdors of
Texas on special train from Dal.boa to Cristobal docks, also
handle Generanl Jers' ;lu of c':orld '.-ar I from Criotobal Dock to
Gatun Locks, thlre board a motor boat from Gatun through the
Canal to Pedro ?Mipruel .nd took him to Balboa Railroad Station.
I haxx handle Princces Mary of Batten-burg, England, her
motorcar by rail; she wu.s coming from Colon or Cristobal and
her car brake down at a place called Quebrancha Siding. I
was on the passenger train when the conductor called me and the
rest of the crcw to pick the princess at Quebrancha. We
stopped, I took my bench from the coach, put on the ground,
for the place was to hi:h and sh1e gave me her hand to help hax
on the coach they called Parlor Car.

I have seen the H. .4. S. Battleship Hood, the Renown
with Prince Edward coin;g; through the Canal and many of ships
such as the Grace Line, Lukenbach and the Japanese ships. All
that I witness or see.

Life was alrij)ht, alaryy was small, but things were cheap.
We did not feel it so hr.rd. Lots of fevers: black water
fever, typoid fever and .yellow fever. But Doctor Gorgas try
his best by killing out a lot of mosquitoes, fumigating the
houses useinp a lot of oil in the swamps or water that stand
still, so as to do away with the malaria. So when the Canal
was finish, boats passing through, people going home to their
native land, I decided to leave, so I join the United Fruit
Company and come on to Honduras, that's where I am making life
right now.


ALFRED :1ITCuELL S.




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Mitchell S., Alfred; c/o ronald Chessman, Electrical Dept.,
Tela rail Road Company; El Progreso, Yoro., Honduras.
I was brought from Jamaica at the age of 1i years old in
the year of 1904, with my mother. I lef school in 3 grade or
3 standard. W.,ell, Mother was working and fortunately I got a
job as water-boy on the Pan-.ma Eail Road docks, and same year
Mother took me on the lines, to a place called Bas-Obispo Canal
Zone. I worked there carrying water for a drilling gang; then
I heard the transportation was employing youngsters for steam-
shovel checkers.: There when I asked the yard-master at Lascae-
cadas, then he anked me if I could read and write, I told him
"a little;" that yard-mastor was Boreguard, and then J.C.
Barnett. Then he gave me a book and Mother bought me a 1.00
watch. I worked there keeping around and my witts, also.
Then the yard-master, JGC. Barnett called me one morning told
me "you are going to do some braking on train, you are along
with Conductor C. A. Shaw and Engineer W. G. Ford, they will
take care of you." So I did as he told me. Well, I kept on
being a brakeman for a long time, then he pulled me off the
train and put me back in the office. Well, Siru, I can tell
you what I really saw and knew Bae Obispo and Lascascadas.
Must really say those two places were the hardest spots, with
a steam shovel; digging and meeting up against dynamite caps
that were not exploded when the dynamite miners left, causes
a lot of lives. Steam shovel- pit men, they were called, also
steam shovel engineers a.nd crane men Americans Negroes and
Spain Spaniards. I don't know how myself and my conductor
did not get killed. It was an awful time.
Then I left there and went on working for the Panama R.R.
Company. I knew General Ggorge W'. Goethals and Mr. D. D.
Galliard that'ss why the n:une of Culebra Cut was changed to
Galliard Cut) -'r. G. W. Goothals would walk on the right
hand side of Cane'l bank from Culebra Cut, stop looking at
the works going on below, until he reached a place they called
Matachin, there boa-rd his motor-car by rail to Culebra, his
resident a.nd office. IIls motorman was an American by the name
of SGuallwood. How, Sr. D. D. G:.lli-.rd., he would walked down
the Canal among drills steam shovel dynamite hole looking
right dow.Jn in 30 feet hole where they were loading dynamite.
lie would go to a steam shovel wien it was not working and would
ask the steam shovel operator "what's the matter?" The
operator would m:-de a reply "Wie are going to blow these big
rocks with dynamites." lie would say "good-by, take care of
yourself." You should see Mr. Galli-.rd getting out of sight
2 image0196.jpg
Mitchell S., A. p.2
9ver rocks, old ties and rails. Thats what I see and what
happen I was braking on Eng. 211. I saw President Roosevelt
and President Taft when they arrive there inspecting the Canal
with a special first clans coach and observation car, when I
was on the P.n.rja 1Pail Road I handle Govenor McAdors of
Texas on special train from Dal.boa to Cristobal docks, also
handle Generanl Jers' ;lu of c':orld '.-ar I from Criotobal Dock to
Gatun Locks, thlre board a motor boat from Gatun through the
Canal to Pedro ?Mipruel .nd took him to Balboa Railroad Station.
I haxx handle Princces Mary of Batten-burg, England, her
motorcar by rail; she wu.s coming from Colon or Cristobal and
her car brake down at a place called Quebrancha Siding. I
was on the passenger train when the conductor called me and the
rest of the crcw to pick the princess at Quebrancha. We
stopped, I took my bench from the coach, put on the ground,
for the place was to hi:h and sh1e gave me her hand to help hax
on the coach they called Parlor Car.
I have seen the H. .4. S. Battleship Hood, the Renown
with Prince Edward coin;g; through the Canal and many of ships
such as the Grace Line, Lukenbach and the Japanese ships. All
that I witness or see.
Life was alrij)ht, alaryy was small, but things were cheap.
We did not feel it so hr.rd. Lots of fevers: black water
fever, typoid fever and .yellow fever. But Doctor Gorgas try
his best by killing out a lot of mosquitoes, fumigating the
houses useinp a lot of oil in the swamps or water that stand
still, so as to do away with the malaria. So when the Canal
was finish, boats passing through, people going home to their
native land, I decided to leave, so I join the United Fruit
Company and come on to Honduras, that's where I am making life
right now.
ALFRED :1ITCuELL S.


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