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:
AA00016037:00099


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text








St. John, Clifford; Bld-. 9084, 10th St., Room No. 5B, Colon,
R.P.



I am a native of Barbados. 1 arrived in the Isthmus on
the 7th August, 1905, at the age of 17 years. First place of
residence was ilo Grande. 1 came to the Isthmus on contract,
and did a variety of work, including work with a Steam Shovel
gang, using a Pioneer Shovel, at a place which existed then,
known as Gold Hill,

While working at Gold Hill, I got my foot injured from a
rock falling from the hill, as a result of which was sent to a
Rest Home, which was the customary procedure in those days.
The injury did not improve duly, and I was sent to Ancon Hos-
pital. While in the hospital one of the nurses was instrument-
al in securing work for me there (having got thi sanction of Dr.
Herrick). There I worked for approximately two years.

The next jub vwas with the Fanama Railroad Company, running
telephone wires from Panama to Colon. This job I held for
approximately three years. At that time I lived in box cars
along the line. These cars kept moving from one location to
another. While working at Worme Grands I contracted Typhoid
Fever. As a result I was hospitalized for a period of about a
month in Colon Hospital. After being discharged from the hos-
pital I did not return to the same job, instead I got a job with
the Panama Railroad as a Watchman. My duty was to watch a barge
which had been loaded with barley. I developed Black Water
Fever by drinking the water on the barge. I was again sent to
Colon Hospital and was confined there for two months.

Upon my discharge from the hospital I lived at Capp Beinr
and worked as a Longshoreman at the Cristobal docks.

I later rot a job in Catun for the Isthmian Canal Commission
(I.C.C.) between 1907 to 1910, as a File Driver, driving Trussels
from Gatun East Bank to the Spillway across the Chagres River.
This job was completed in 1910.

During that year I got a job with McClinkett-Marshall, run-
ning a Reamer for boxing holes into gates to put rivets. This














St. John, C. p.2


job lasted for about four months. While working with this outfit
I saw a man fall 85 feet to his death. The same could have hap-
pened to me but I was saved when someone held me back. I several
short-term jobs thereafter, including work in Fortobelo on a
Steam Shovel, between 1909 and 1910.

My last job was with the Dredging Division, Surveyor Gang,
from 1910 until my retirement in 1954.


no signature




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St. John, Clifford; Bld-. 9084, 10th St., Room No. 5B, Colon,
R.P.
I am a native of Barbados. 1 arrived in the Isthmus on
the 7th August, 1905, at the age of 17 years. First place of
residence was ilo Grande. 1 came to the Isthmus on contract,
and did a variety of work, including work with a Steam Shovel
gang, using a Pioneer Shovel, at a place which existed then,
known as Gold Hill,
While working at Gold Hill, I got my foot injured from a
rock falling from the hill, as a result of which was sent to a
Rest Home, which was the customary procedure in those days.
The injury did not improve duly, and I was sent to Ancon Hos-
pital. While in the hospital one of the nurses was instrument-
al in securing work for me there (having got thi sanction of Dr.
Herrick). There I worked for approximately two years.
The next jub vwas with the Fanama Railroad Company, running
telephone wires from Panama to Colon. This job I held for
approximately three years. At that time I lived in box cars
along the line. These cars kept moving from one location to
another. While working at Worme Grands I contracted Typhoid
Fever. As a result I was hospitalized for a period of about a
month in Colon Hospital. After being discharged from the hos-
pital I did not return to the same job, instead I got a job with
the Panama Railroad as a Watchman. My duty was to watch a barge
which had been loaded with barley. I developed Black Water
Fever by drinking the water on the barge. I was again sent to
Colon Hospital and was confined there for two months.
Upon my discharge from the hospital I lived at Capp Beinr
and worked as a Longshoreman at the Cristobal docks.
I later rot a job in Catun for the Isthmian Canal Commission
(I.C.C.) between 1907 to 1910, as a File Driver, driving Trussels
from Gatun East Bank to the Spillway across the Chagres River.
This job was completed in 1910.
During that year I got a job with McClinkett-Marshall, run-
ning a Reamer for boxing holes into gates to put rivets. This
2 image0027.jpg
St. John, C. p.2
job lasted for about four months. While working with this outfit
I saw a man fall 85 feet to his death. The same could have hap-
pened to me but I was saved when someone held me back. I several
short-term jobs thereafter, including work in Fortobelo on a
Steam Shovel, between 1909 and 1910.
My last job was with the Dredging Division, Surveyor Gang,
from 1910 until my retirement in 1954.
no signature


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