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:
AA00016037:00108


This item is only available as the following downloads:


Full Text







Webb, Samuel; iicKie's bill, KingCstown, St. Vincent, B.W.I.


I arrived on the Isthmus of Pa.n:Dna in August of 1907. I
sailed on a boat c:.alled the "solcnt." on my arrival I soon
Obtained work with The Isthmian Canal Co:mnission. I was put,
first of all, on the job of Grading lands at San Pablo. But,
later on, I was sent to work at Gatum. Here I worked on the
building of a dock for the landing of cement, stone and sand,
which w.:as needed An the construction of the Gatum Spillway.
Where the locks and darn now st:-.nd there wore houses which had
to be removed. They were removed to the eaOtern side of the
railroad. This work was done with steam shovels. The earth
was carried away by dirt train to where it was needed. Steel
towers were set up on both sides of the locks to convey con-
crete across from the mixer to the place where it was needed.
Cn the towers were very large cable wires on which the buckets
ran. This was worked by electricity. At Gatum Spillway with
its wall and po.;or station were two mixers worked by a steam
boiler. There was a suall dock there for unloading stone,
sand and cement. Here there w-ore fourteen gates which were
used for the pur-cose of releasing pressure from the guard
Cates at the southern of GOtu:n Lake. Two officers wre sta-
tioned at Gatum. They wec Colonel Sybert and Major Harding.

In the early days of the construction of the Canal, sani-
tation was not very good. qoscuitoes abounded and there was
always the danger of catching malaria. Nevertheless, we were
well taken care of by the nmerican Governmnent, which sent out
doctors to look after the health and physical well-beinG of
the workers on the Canal.

During my stay in lan:,:na, I worked from Cristobal to Fort
Amaor. For sometime 3 worked on the building of the sub-
station at liayfloerr. ,.iid also at Balboa.

ecnt In3dian i w ao well tr( '.Lcd by the Ccoupany which sup-
plied us 1ith boa, :-.nd lod;ning until the opening of the Canal.

For most of ,ny stay .in banr:.:;a I lived at Gatum.

In the year 1913 a little boat p.ssc-d through the Gatum
Locks and went up the C'.tuin LaB- fur .but ten miles. This
was one of the very first boats to make the trip up. It was
a highly ruccensful one.











Webb, S. p.2


I continued wvor'kin :'.t G: Atu where 1 lived until 1917.
I worked between nt. :!ope and Cristobal.

In the year 1913 I Uot, D'n.r] ied to a. Vincentian, Beatrice
Later, who was living and working at Gatum. After our
marriaao my wife continued to wurk there.

In the year 1919 mny work wiLh the Co.pany was finished
and I returned to St. Vincent accompanied by my wife.



signature is on separate letter
which accompanied this.




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Webb, Samuel; iicKie's bill, KingCstown, St. Vincent, B.W.I.
I arrived on the Isthmus of Pa.n:Dna in August of 1907. I
sailed on a boat c:.alled the "solcnt." on my arrival I soon
Obtained work with The Isthmian Canal Co:mnission. I was put,
first of all, on the job of Grading lands at San Pablo. But,
later on, I was sent to work at Gatum. Here I worked on the
building of a dock for the landing of cement, stone and sand,
which w.:as needed An the construction of the Gatum Spillway.
Where the locks and darn now st:-.nd there wore houses which had
to be removed. They were removed to the eaOtern side of the
railroad. This work was done with steam shovels. The earth
was carried away by dirt train to where it was needed. Steel
towers were set up on both sides of the locks to convey con-
crete across from the mixer to the place where it was needed.
Cn the towers were very large cable wires on which the buckets
ran. This was worked by electricity. At Gatum Spillway with
its wall and po.;or station were two mixers worked by a steam
boiler. There was a suall dock there for unloading stone,
sand and cement. Here there w-ore fourteen gates which were
used for the pur-cose of releasing pressure from the guard
Cates at the southern of GOtu:n Lake. Two officers wre sta-
tioned at Gatum. They wec Colonel Sybert and Major Harding.
In the early days of the construction of the Canal, sani-
tation was not very good. qoscuitoes abounded and there was
always the danger of catching malaria. Nevertheless, we were
well taken care of by the nmerican Governmnent, which sent out
doctors to look after the health and physical well-beinG of
the workers on the Canal.
During my stay in lan:,:na, I worked from Cristobal to Fort
Amaor. For sometime 3 worked on the building of the sub-
station at liayfloerr. ,.iid also at Balboa.
ecnt In3dian i w ao well tr( '.Lcd by the Ccoupany which sup-
plied us 1ith boa, :-.nd lod;ning until the opening of the Canal.
For most of ,ny stay .in banr:.:;a I lived at Gatum.
In the year 1913 a little boat p.ssc-d through the Gatum
Locks and went up the C'.tuin LaB- fur .but ten miles. This
was one of the very first boats to make the trip up. It was
a highly ruccensful one.
2 image0050.jpg
Webb, S. p.2
I continued wvor'kin :'.t G: Atu where 1 lived until 1917.
I worked between nt. :!ope and Cristobal.
In the year 1913 I Uot, D'n.r] ied to a. Vincentian, Beatrice
Later, who was living and working at Gatum. After our
marriaao my wife continued to wurk there.
In the year 1919 mny work wiLh the Co.pany was finished
and I returned to St. Vincent accompanied by my wife.
signature is on separate letter
which accompanied this.


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