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:
AA00016037:00110


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Full Text










:est, Alonzo F.; Colon Post Office, Colon, R.P.



I arrived here in Panama on the 18th day of July 1912,
and two days after I got a job in Gatun Cement Shed over Spill-
way the General Foreman were Mr Gay. After being laid off
from there I worked for McClintic and Marshall on the building
of the gates in Gatun locks. I worked there for 82 months at
that time convenience were very scarce so at times I had to
olimb on rope or cable wire like amonkey to get to the scaffle
where I- has to work, but thank God, I saw many of my comrades
fall'and lay dead, but the only reward that I got was a cut
over my right eye with a hot rivit and after being laid off
from there I got a job working for the first division. Pulling
cables that works the Power house and under the tunnels. and
doing electric work all around and I worked there until after
the opening of the waterway, then the first thing to pass
through were the tug boat Gatun. There were many white men
around there whose name I really don't remember, but one was
Mr Delong. After being laid off from that I did a few more
short jobs which did not last long. I worked on the trans-
mission line, the wires running along the railroad on the
poles, the last two days of the month, sometime in the end of
1914, and I never got no pay for it,. it were 13Y per hour
9 hre per day. On the Pay day when I went for the check, tnere
was none for me, and I ask the foreman, and he said, maybe
through being the last two days of the month, that may be the
cause of the mistake, and the next month there were none. So I
became the loser of 2.34. And in 1915, February I begun to
work on Railroad Docks in Cristobal, until 1917 July, I joined
the British ELpedicionary force in world war I, and went on to
Europe. I returned back.here from France July 24th 1919, and
two months later I worked again on the docks until the end of
1953. Old age catch up on me and my service were terminated.
Please excuse me for any mistakes, for old age takes away
rememberance.

I Re::ain Your Servant
ALODLO 21T
Dr- No. 6216




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:est, Alonzo F.; Colon Post Office, Colon, R.P.
I arrived here in Panama on the 18th day of July 1912,
and two days after I got a job in Gatun Cement Shed over Spill-
way the General Foreman were Mr Gay. After being laid off
from there I worked for McClintic and Marshall on the building
of the gates in Gatun locks. I worked there for 82 months at
that time convenience were very scarce so at times I had to
olimb on rope or cable wire like amonkey to get to the scaffle
where I- has to work, but thank God, I saw many of my comrades
fall'and lay dead, but the only reward that I got was a cut
over my right eye with a hot rivit and after being laid off
from there I got a job working for the first division. Pulling
cables that works the Power house and under the tunnels. and
doing electric work all around and I worked there until after
the opening of the waterway, then the first thing to pass
through were the tug boat Gatun. There were many white men
around there whose name I really don't remember, but one was
Mr Delong. After being laid off from that I did a few more
short jobs which did not last long. I worked on the trans-
mission line, the wires running along the railroad on the
poles, the last two days of the month, sometime in the end of
1914, and I never got no pay for it,. it were 13Y per hour
9 hre per day. On the Pay day when I went for the check, tnere
was none for me, and I ask the foreman, and he said, maybe
through being the last two days of the month, that may be the
cause of the mistake, and the next month there were none. So I
became the loser of 2.34. And in 1915, February I begun to
work on Railroad Docks in Cristobal, until 1917 July, I joined
the British ELpedicionary force in world war I, and went on to
Europe. I returned back.here from France July 24th 1919, and
two months later I worked again on the docks until the end of
1953. Old age catch up on me and my service were terminated.
Please excuse me for any mistakes, for old age takes away
rememberance.
I Re::ain Your Servant
ALODLO 21T
Dr- No. 6216