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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: AA00016037:00113

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: AA00016037:00113

Full Text






Williams, James A.; Justo Arosemena Street, Post Office
Box 4673, Panama R.P.


I endeavor to give a brief history of my experience in
the old construction period of the I.C.C. days. I landed on
the 4th day of March 1910 in Colon, on the S.S. Metapah, with
my Aunt Kra. Greenidge, who had her home in the Section called
San Pablo, C.Z. Her house was right against the hotel. my
first job that I tackled was janitor for the labour camps in
that section under Mr. Farr as the District Quartermaster.
As a boy in those days I find that I was n6o so quali-
fied with that kind of work and the Foreman.Mr. Farmer shifted
me over to the Subsistont Department as a Helper in the Kit-
chen in said Section. San Pablo. There I had to work 12 and
13 hours each day. This place was situated on the bank of
the Shagres River, where mosquitoes frequent especially, at
nights. Consequently, I began to get fever.
One morning the Doctor making his usual visit to the
kitchen some one reported to him that I am having fever. The
Doctor immediately advanced to me and gelt my pulse, I could
remember he said to me "you are going to be sick boy," go
right over to the "Sick Camp" and tell the Clerk to write you
up to the Hospital, right a way. He further asked me, Are
you a God fearing ran? I replied yes. He said to me you are
going to die. It was hear time for the midday train and the
Doctor ran over to the Sick Camp and assisted to write up the
necessary papers and I was placed on the train to the Anoon
hospital. Dr. Beard was the name of the Doctor in that
Section.
I was placed on a bed on the train to the hospital all
the way and when the train arrived in the Panama Station,
there were many horse drawn ambulances awaiting to receive
the patients to the hoeptial. We then arrived in the big
Ward 30 to be lined up and a very pleasant American nurse
was right on the job and started to feel the pulses and
assigned each patient to the different bed. As I notice
when she came to me and took my hand, she appeared to be
frightened and she called to the Orderly and said to him do
not put this patioit under the shower, give him a bed bath.
I wondered to myself what as to what is this bed bath.
Because I h_d never been in an Hospital before. However, I
was escorted to the Ward by the Orderly Mr. St. Hill and he
turned me over to one ;Ir. Norman Piercy right from my home
in Portland, Jamaica, W.I. but we at that time did not
recognized each other. St. Hill said to Piercy, Give this
patient a bed bath. While kept wondering in my mind what do
they mean by this bed-bath when I saw this 2Mr. Piercy placed








Williams, J. A. -.p.2


a heavy water-proof Blanket in the bed and two buckets full
of heavy crushed ice and sevBral buckets of water and not
even the courtesy as to consult me but stripped me naked and
threw me in that cold deadly water. To be truthful, I thought
I could not any longer live. However, he gave me a thorough
bathing and took me out and dried me with a towel and placed
me in a white clean bed. I felt cool for a moment but still
fretting over the Iced bath as I had never heard or seen
anything of that kind before.
This Ward was where the Engineer of Maintenance is being.
housed today. Ward 30 -32.
The next shock I had while I felt a little thirsty and
when I saw some one coming (Nurse) with a wing glass of water
I felt glad as I thought it was some cool water which I felt
so much the need and the kindly Nurse handed it to me and
said drink it. So thirsty for a drink of water, I hurried
and as it reached my lips it was down my stomach. I tell
you, I had never before tasted anything so terribly bitter.
I always hearing about Quinine but I thought it Vas something
tasty and nice. And every two hours I was dosed with that
bitter liquid night and day and instead of getting rid of
the fever it was growing worse.
Then the nest thing that happened. I was placed in front
of the Nurse a desk and a basin with clean water was placed
on the stand beside me, I then thought it was water placed
there for me to drink As I felt thirsty at the time I used
my hand and took three hand full three times and swollow and
when I heard the Nurse called to me and asked what, that you
do drink it? I could not answer her but I saw when she picked
up the Telephone I really did not know what happened until
I discovered about five Doctors over me and find myself
throwing up. And a few hours after I was settled I noticed
they drew some blood from my arm. I then noticed from that
time there no more of that bitter liquid. The whole night I
was not bothered with that stuff.
The next morning two men came with a Stretcher and
lifted me from the bed and placed me on the Stretcher and
carried me off out of the Ward. I thought they were going
to bury me as I was actually given over as dead. However,
I was taken to Ward 24, as it was called- just where the
Governor's house, that was the place where typhoid patients
were being treated. They found out that the fever I had was
typhoid and not malaria.
What I can truthfully say Those American Nurses my own
dear mother could not be more kind and tender to me. They
did every thing lics humonly even to let me take a little
nourishment so to keep life in rmp my body. I should right
here tell of the incident with the water I drank from the









Williams, J. A. p.3


basin on the stand beside my bed. It was poisoned water to
kill flies that buzzed around when I thought it was placed
there for ma to drink as I had never, before entered an
hospital.
I could never, never in life forget the tender kindness
those American Nuroes administered to us especially in that
particular Ward-24. I had no desire for nourishment of any
kind, my life was bbbing out. But how they plead with me
to take some nourishment. Not only that, but they closely
watched the colored Orderlies how they handle the patients.
One night, the hurne on duty came to me, she said to me
now, bed 6, if you don't take some nourishment you would never
get well and the tone she spoke to me with her hand on my
head I forced to aseollow a little milk and from that I con-
tinued to take little by little and a few days past4and she
came on duty the night and took my temperature ashe said to
me you are getting better "bed 6.' I began to feel a desire
for the milk now, very fast. Then they started to give egg-
nog twice a day also real American Whiskey every day. I was
not allowed to raise my head from the pillow even though I
am felling well. I began to feel real hungry but only liquid
diet was given me for over three weeks after the fever left
me. One mid day at breakfast I was given a toasted Potato*
Oh. how I enjoyed it. Even that did not satisfied my star-
ving appetite. I was therefore convinced by the Nurses and
Doctors such starvation was for my good.
One morning in the month of May Dr. coonor the Night
Doctor came in, that Ward were then run by himself and Dr.
Bates. Dr. Connor came to my bed side with the Nurse and
took up my Chart, asked me how you feeling James? I replied,
ok. doctor. He asked me you hungry? I replied yes doctor.
He turned and ordered her to give me light diet and pair of
Pajamas.
The morning in question when I was given the Pajamas and
was told to get out of the bed and tried to walk, every step
that tried I had to be supported. That morning I was given a
bowl of porridge, two eggs, nice bread and butter, a lovely
slice of melon. But they never oeaced to give the Whiskey
and Eggnog during the days, and a week later I was given
"FULL DIET." I was then feeling happy and good as when at
meal time when we are told that what ever we like having
that's not on the table just call.
I was disoharged in May and the treatment had me so fat
an robuo that when I went home to 5an Pablo Aunt was surprise
to see how good I was looking.
I took sick in April and was in the Hospital until May











Williams, J.. A. p.4


1910, My next j'ob after in the Mechanics Shop in Gorgona,
0.,Z. After that I worked for the Transportation Division
between Miraflores and Balboa as telephone Operator and
switchtender under Mr. Pennman.
When the water was put in the Canal when the Dyke burst
I was working at.the Corozal Commissary as Salesman, Working
for that Division up until 1920 1 was terminated and I went
to Cuba and returned in October 1921. I was reoaployed in.
October 1922 in the Commissary in Pedro Miguel, Canal Zone,
between that Coinmmissary, and Anoon also La Boca, terminated
from the La Boca Commissary in 1926, I never was again em-
ployed until February 1927 in the Dredgins Division, Office
Helper.
Terminated from. the Dredging Division I worked for the
Anoon Post Office for a few months when I resigned and was
reemployed in the Miunioipal En-ineering Division in October
1928 as Office Helper. At the Alajuela Road where I was
terminated and went over to the Constructing Quartermaster
Division up to 1932. Due to cessation of work. I went over
to the Pacific Lock Ovorhaul in 19,33 as Checker to the end
of that Project.
I did not remember to mention that in 1918, Ma'oh, I
was a Salesman in the Gamboa Commissary when that Terrible
Train Accident when the engine of the North bound Passenger
train slipped from Coach which caused the biggest paseorger
train accident on the Isthmus.
At-that time through error I was golng by the name of
George Williams,
1934 I was then reemployed in the DrodgirG Division And
due to cessation of work I was let out in 19355
Reemployed in 1939 in the M,E. Division where I worked
up to 1942, and was terminated. Reemployed in the Building
as messenSer and was transferred to the Division where I
worked up 1926 and reemployed in Duplicating Plant at Diablo,
C.Z. Terminated there I was reemployed in the Building as a
Messenger. There I was Retired from the Ranama Canal ser-
vice as Physical Disability, in 1949.
Respectfully yours
JAMES A. WILLIAMS, DR #4111 -

P/S
So fLr I can say of a truth, the terrible effects of
that fever is still telling on my nerves.