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:
AA00016037:00092


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Richards, John Altyman; Box 1781, Panama, R.P.


Many years ago while still yet a young man in Jamaica I
was intrigued by the Canal Construction done in this beautiful
tropical country. I discussed the possibilities of working in
a different country and of learning a strange language with my
relatives; as soon as permission was granted I -partook for Pan-
ama in 191'.

Still quiet and a green young man bursting with energy I
arrived in Panama and while unable to get a position in the
-actual building or construction of the Canal I started on March
9, 1914 to work on the baseball diamond in Pedro Miguel as a
laborer--leveling off the diamond. The foreman was Mr. Loman
and General Foreman Mr. Boyd, while doing this job for one year
I met various men from other countries and we swapped many ideas
and interesting stories among each other thus making working
conditions rather enjoyable to a certain extent.

My next job on this Isthmus was with Mr. Chedwick in the
Quartermaster Department for one year, as a janitor.

I next saw an opportunity for a better position as a soda
fountain attendant in the Pedro >;iguel Clubhouse and worked
there from 1916 to 1917. There I had the honor of serving the
Executive Secretary at that time. The manager there was Mr.
Tom Booz.

My next transfer was to the Paraiso Clubhouse where I put
in 18 faithful years of service under a rather pleasant boss,
Mr. Walla until 1936. While working and living as a bachelor
and then as a family man there I had the joy of when many times
my neighbors came to the clubhouse many would wait patiently
until I had gotten around to them.

I then got a next job in a fairly new community, La Boca.
In 1942 I worked as a soda fountain attendant for a few years
and enjoyed the change and the chance to make new friends,
listen to their troubles and give so'ie advice at times.

Seeing anoportunity to make a better provision for my ever
growing family I went and worked for the Mecanical Division for
two straight years. After that time i got reduction of force












Richards, J. A. p.2


for three months. Having a family to look after I looked high
and low for work not caring how humble it .was just so we won t
starve.

I prayed day and night along with my family to get some-
thing to do and my prayers were answered when Mr. E. C. Lombard
sent me to work in the Pacific Clubhouse. I first worked as a
janitor, then I moved up to a soda fountain attendant; while there
I got the opportunity to serve different local politician at that
time. Many I knew just from pictures and there I was able to
meet them personally and at times say a few words with them.

Mr. Callender, the manager, then gave me .a chance to work
as a billar room attendant. This was my last job which I held
while in the Pacific Clubhouse after working there for three
years. In this job I came into contact with many youngsters
and although they many times tried hard to outsmart me in many
ways my last few years of working in the Pan Canal ended rather
pleasantly.


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Richards, John Altyman; Box 1781, Panama, R.P.
Many years ago while still yet a young man in Jamaica I
was intrigued by the Canal Construction done in this beautiful
tropical country. I discussed the possibilities of working in
a different country and of learning a strange language with my
relatives; as soon as permission was granted I -partook for Pan-
ama in 191'.
Still quiet and a green young man bursting with energy I
arrived in Panama and while unable to get a position in the
-actual building or construction of the Canal I started on March
9, 1914 to work on the baseball diamond in Pedro Miguel as a
laborer--leveling off the diamond. The foreman was Mr. Loman
and General Foreman Mr. Boyd, while doing this job for one year
I met various men from other countries and we swapped many ideas
and interesting stories among each other thus making working
conditions rather enjoyable to a certain extent.
My next job on this Isthmus was with Mr. Chedwick in the
Quartermaster Department for one year, as a janitor.
I next saw an opportunity for a better position as a soda
fountain attendant in the Pedro >;iguel Clubhouse and worked
there from 1916 to 1917. There I had the honor of serving the
Executive Secretary at that time. The manager there was Mr.
Tom Booz.
My next transfer was to the Paraiso Clubhouse where I put
in 18 faithful years of service under a rather pleasant boss,
Mr. Walla until 1936. While working and living as a bachelor
and then as a family man there I had the joy of when many times
my neighbors came to the clubhouse many would wait patiently
until I had gotten around to them.
I then got a next job in a fairly new community, La Boca.
In 1942 I worked as a soda fountain attendant for a few years
and enjoyed the change and the chance to make new friends,
listen to their troubles and give so'ie advice at times.
Seeing anoportunity to make a better provision for my ever
growing family I went and worked for the Mecanical Division for
two straight years. After that time i got reduction of force
2 image0016.jpg
Richards, J. A. p.2
for three months. Having a family to look after I looked high
and low for work not caring how humble it .was just so we won t
starve.
I prayed day and night along with my family to get some-
thing to do and my prayers were answered when Mr. E. C. Lombard
sent me to work in the Pacific Clubhouse. I first worked as a
janitor, then I moved up to a soda fountain attendant; while there
I got the opportunity to serve different local politician at that
time. Many I knew just from pictures and there I was able to
meet them personally and at times say a few words with them.
Mr. Callender, the manager, then gave me .a chance to work
as a billar room attendant. This was my last job which I held
while in the Pacific Clubhouse after working there for three
years. In this job I came into contact with many youngsters
and although they many times tried hard to outsmart me in many
ways my last few years of working in the Pan Canal ended rather
pleasantly.
no signature