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Letters from Isthmian Canal construction workers

SAMAAP (The Society of Friends of the West Indian Museum of Panama)
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00016037/00001
 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.
Resource Identifier:
Classification:
System ID: AA00016037:00104

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00016037/00001
 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.
Resource Identifier:
Classification:
System ID: AA00016037:00104

Full Text






Thomas, Charlles 7. ; Block V. Art. 8 Hi. h Street, Castries,
St. Incia.


I noticed in our loc.'l news inper on the 15 June 1963,
that you arc asking for Information in roegnrds to workers of
the early dt.ys of :,he F n",mn Canal to 1915
.ay I inifo;r you .d:mn I can help In giving you some of
my experience o." the io...,n. Canal -"rom mce'ory, I have no dates
of these ha'.pcnings.

I am now 7'2 years of a::e and till quite active. I was
in the isthtWmu of Pan-inma rom the year 1913 to 26 February
1916 when I *left for mry native home on account of ill health.
I have still in me so:oe knowledge of the Panama Canal & the
places I worked.

MIy fir:t j"b v.'s ,n the const action of lFedro M:1guel
locks & dam. the Conybructoiq Engineers were clinicntc ?Iar-
shall & Compo'ny. I Pt.t quite youn'z at that time I used to
select rivits aciordinq to lcigth,, and pass them on to the
rivitors. I worked there for a good while at 13 cts an hour.

From t-ere I ;was e-.ployed as P, Labourer at Dalboa near the
foundir-y takli-q r.ron n- --et from an open truck to pile them up
near the fonndm-.

I did not do much. I w-s fired when I had two days; I
reT-mber thn forcem.n c",ll to me & "?.jd to me you are firsd,
you a,.re loo-in; tired, be send me .o the office x.tith a slip
of paper to get my time,

I was not exactly t-ed but I was feeling quite sick &
just trying to make a oeek so that I could get a commissary
book for P2.50 to Cet oo-oCthing to cat & drink.

I went ;'.:aI ( .fr ':cct at ti,-t ti'yr I used to live at
22 n'uash .pal..- :S -t. iunt opn;olit. the train station in
-aI; T- n..

;i thiL h rl ::' *". 1" in[J'o I had n. job there, three
of u.: pu) P;(-. 1., tr- h-- hour 7I th a, Ar. er ican we were listing
how ior the rock In n-on the mud. ; ,.. '.ha.t tino they were
buildin- the loM.ti-.n li..ion on the n.acific 'end of the Canal, I
worked t.:c ..cr a .f ont, at taos u:e had quite a lot of
diffIculty I-.o ct :v.. to the maij land when the tide was up.

i wale..d :bro u -. -')r tu: nels in'thl.t Fort when it w's
in srogrear.






Thomas, C. .;. p.2


My next job was at Balboa le:15hts at the Administration
Building, 1 work around t.ere from the starting to finish at
the foundation.

I was one time a c.ignm.l mp. rE.ttinE under a biG tree,
there was trolley just heind I.he tree about 20 yards away,
pulling up the mnateri;l' for the Building. It was worked by
a long cable, and a ca.le was rcosed around the tree with a
large shackle, to switch the materials on to the Building yard
I was the switch man

During that constructAon one man was killed who was work-
ing in a concrete gr.ng, be fell from the elevator to the
ground and broke his neck.

My next job I used to n.'ork in the flat by Balboa, at the
eastern end where they were extending the wharf. I saw two
West Indians men, one Joe Velox & one 3Bently died In a deep
pit they were oinking to from.part of the dock. These two men
died from some gas which accumulate in that pit during the
night; because they worked there the previous day up to the
time of the whistle both men wore from St. Vincent. I knew
them quite well.

My next & final job was on w.oard the Rock Breaker Vulcan.
I started to work Urom Int October 191J until I quit the Canal
Zone in 1916 on account oi ill health.

The Vulcan was .a rock brea'.r we used to w-ork in Balboa
Harbour all around by Corozal until the last dyke at Mkrafloris
locks wo.s opened. I was one of the early Woet Indians who went
through that part o: the c.nal u.c to Culabara cut. I spent
many days ni.-ht ;orkin- in tlhe'. locality.

I could remember one '-r>t -"illt the ship was working,
the hughe iron ram of the V'ulcan .-s pmnch into something at
the bottom of the C-.n .l Lhe machine of the Vulcan could not
pull the ram.

The nz::t d-1;. a l th- i of0'icir.l0 oi' thfo anal came with
the a.id of P. .-.r- c C.'r ne; n, livy: n;ct dcNn it was discovered
that this r:v': -.ent ic;.O .<.lcr of a !;hip which was exploded
in that p.i t ol' the C: :nal '-mce t :Ae ecrlicr.

I worked on the V:,lc mn Intl the job x;ns finished & we
were laid off. Th'.;e Cptc-.i of the Vulcan w;as one Irwin an
American, tie iLntineor was one Jtlincon a CermDan America. My










Thomas, C. .. -n.-5


job on the Vulban ras oiler;. the dary fireman was name Castro,

the nir.ht .Ciro;.'im %as n. T:b.d.1i/n don't remember his name.

I was :o..xO:in on tbhc 7'J.c.can u'icn the hu'bh fire in Colon
burnt out over 100 P.1o0k;..

I was there b..chrn thc irst drillJ5n boat named Theredo
v:as blown up in 3-.1ibo. !!T.r'our Just outside the Panama Rail-
road dock -:nc in jured ,anr' of its crew.

I was in the C:.l -.o'ie when all the craves of the Anoon
Cemetry wes ex)ur-ed :\ud re 'tins were burnt In an oven in the
Said Cemetry, t':o.t v:.% 'i:? the Construction of the Admin-
istration bu ildinc..

My lu .jeset period oI 'ork was at Cula-bra cut.

My ln't pl:.:..e of rcu.1ence was San :.eguel not far from
the rail lines

I am not ->ite rurc of iy hheck numbribr, I believe one was
44382 not :.urc, in [-:.oc wd:.y I was quite young & inexperience
Now; I am 1. RetAired Police :'crent.

I re ?.ii yours Fincerely
iAP3EJ THICLA8