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:
AA00016037:00087


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text





Parka, Amos; General Delivery, Colon, R.P.


In the year 1914 I arrived on the Isthmus from Barbados
on September 14th living in Colon at the time. There were a
lot of West Indians around here and we certainly get along
very nice. It took me a little time before I could land a job.
My first job was I worked on the track line for John English of
Frijoles. He was very nice to me and was very kind and consid-
erate. I worked with him for a period of time. Then my second
assignment was at Toro Point all these time no Panamanians was
around much only bare IWest Indians was going too and fro, from
home to work daily. Then on Sunday we all go to church regular.
In those days People take Church more serious than today, maybe
because in construction days. The amount of West Indians ,that
lose their lives on the job was mournful to talk about. I could
remember one instance a boat loaded with about 250 was going
through Culebra cut when all of a sudden there was a crash, and
many lives were lost, only a few were saved by the mercy of God.
That's why of today when I hear the Spaniards talk that they
want the Canal, I ask them on many occasion how many Panamanians
ever worked during construction days, and how many lost their
lives. None of them could answer. Thats the reason we all use
to go to Church more regular than tcday, because in those days
you see today and tomorrow you are a dead man. You had to pray
everyday for God to carry you safe, and bring you back. Those
days were horrible days to remember. Those wore the times you
go to bed at niChts and the next day you may be a dead man.
There are many more I could tell you, but I just cant recall.
Cn many occas ion I have seen truck loaded with men go down to
their doom, and many were buried alive by shovels of sand.
Construction days will never be forgotten by the West Indian
People who gave their lives for the digging of the Canal.
Thats why I always say the younger generation of today whose
parents lose their lives they should be recompense greatly. My
third job was at Colon Hospital where I worked as third cook for
a number of years at that time i was living on the Zone house
number 6025 Painbow City, bachelor quarters. My 4th job was at
Mount Hope Albatorr for quite a while. Ny foreman name was Mr.
J. Miller, a very nice man to deal with, after that I worked on
the dock as laborer until I retire with 34 years service on May
10th 1953. My foreman name was :r. Ward. I then return to
Colon to live until this present day.
Yours Respectfully,
AiOS PA KS #5562




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Parka, Amos; General Delivery, Colon, R.P.
In the year 1914 I arrived on the Isthmus from Barbados
on September 14th living in Colon at the time. There were a
lot of West Indians around here and we certainly get along
very nice. It took me a little time before I could land a job.
My first job was I worked on the track line for John English of
Frijoles. He was very nice to me and was very kind and consid-
erate. I worked with him for a period of time. Then my second
assignment was at Toro Point all these time no Panamanians was
around much only bare IWest Indians was going too and fro, from
home to work daily. Then on Sunday we all go to church regular.
In those days People take Church more serious than today, maybe
because in construction days. The amount of West Indians ,that
lose their lives on the job was mournful to talk about. I could
remember one instance a boat loaded with about 250 was going
through Culebra cut when all of a sudden there was a crash, and
many lives were lost, only a few were saved by the mercy of God.
That's why of today when I hear the Spaniards talk that they
want the Canal, I ask them on many occasion how many Panamanians
ever worked during construction days, and how many lost their
lives. None of them could answer. Thats the reason we all use
to go to Church more regular than tcday, because in those days
you see today and tomorrow you are a dead man. You had to pray
everyday for God to carry you safe, and bring you back. Those
days were horrible days to remember. Those wore the times you
go to bed at niChts and the next day you may be a dead man.
There are many more I could tell you, but I just cant recall.
Cn many occas ion I have seen truck loaded with men go down to
their doom, and many were buried alive by shovels of sand.
Construction days will never be forgotten by the West Indian
People who gave their lives for the digging of the Canal.
Thats why I always say the younger generation of today whose
parents lose their lives they should be recompense greatly. My
third job was at Colon Hospital where I worked as third cook for
a number of years at that time i was living on the Zone house
number 6025 Painbow City, bachelor quarters. My 4th job was at
Mount Hope Albatorr for quite a while. Ny foreman name was Mr.
J. Miller, a very nice man to deal with, after that I worked on
the dock as laborer until I retire with 34 years service on May
10th 1953. My foreman name was :r. Ward. I then return to
Colon to live until this present day.
Yours Respectfully,
AiOS PA KS #5562


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