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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: AA00016037:00109

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: AA00016037:00109

Full Text








Weeks, Castilla M.; no address given, envelope postmarked
Gamboa.



I arrived on the Isthmus of Panama on the 22 June 1906,
aboard a ship by the name of "Trent". From the ship we were
taken to the Paraiso Camp.

The following morning, equipped with picks and shovels we
were ready for manual labor. There were no roads, just foot
tracks along Paraiso, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. It appears
as if things were just starting, we had to pave the way, build-
ing roads and tracks with very little equipment to do the-
necessaries.

It appears an If there were no natives around. Sanitation
was very poor, with very little shelter. It was nothing but
woodland, we were open to sun and rain. Things were so tough
on arrival that many were force to return to their homelands,
while others seek employment with private contractors. Many
had to cultivate on open lands, in order to have something to
live by.

The first four years Malaria was to its heights, with just
a few doctors and very little medicine, most of us had to refer
back to the old reliable Vest Indian home remedies.

The filling between Paraino and Pedro Miguel to Corozal,
was the most spaceable filling for western dump, receiving the
material from the canal.

The Panama Railroad Depot was located opposite the Spill-
way Bridge, until the new relocation in 1909. After the filling
we worked back and forth with the new relocation (Track Line).

A quarter mile from Gatun Failroad Station we laid the
first switch for the new relocation. The job became hazardous
when we got to the two mile area, this task involved the blast-
ing of hills with dynailite.

One Sunday morning, I had a vision and I did not go to work,
a gang of 30 men were carrying two carloads of dynamite, one box








Weeks, C. M.


fell off and the wheels ran over it and everyone was blasted to
bits. Only the supervisor Mr. C. G. Jones, the timekeeper and
myself were saved from the explosion. Fortunately I did not
go to work that tragic morning. I must say, it was only
through prayers and the worked of GOD that stopped me from going
to work day.

The new relocation was completed in time to greet President
Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. Going back to 1906 when I arrived
in Panama, the President of Panama was Belisario Parras. From
Paraiso to Cvvozal they were only foot tracks approximately two
feet wide. There was no electricity, the streets were lumin-
ated with Kerosene Lamp Posts and horse and buggy were the only
means of transportation.

Panama City was extended as far as Casinov Bella Vista,
San Francisco, Vista Hermosa, Sabanas, Pueble Nuevo, Rio Abajo,
Old Panama, Juan Diaz, Pedregal and many other towns in the
outskirts were nothing but woodland.

In those days they were no law or order in Panama, you
might take a walk to see what the City looks like, and find
yourself in jail without committing an infraction. Not knowing
the native language or the native knowing your language, you
was thrown in jail without any consideration with fines beyond
your earnings.

Henceforth, many of us were forced to keep out of Panama
City in order not to get involved.

After working a short period of time clearing the woodland
in Portobelo, I was hit by malariaa for approximately 4 days in
the Colon Hospital. After survival, I began to work for the
Maintenance Division as a grass barber. My first Quartermaster
was Mr. Pat Morgan, who died recently. After things began to
shape up, I started to work for Mr. F. A. CARTER, Municipal
Division, where I-worked until I was retired on 15 February
1948.

V\-Y TRULY YOURS

C WEEKS
PAD-3569