Preserving the Heritage of Zonians
February 25, 2008 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Canal Zone Images is a collection of stories and images about the Panama Canal Zone. Did you know that the construction workers were paid in gold and silver ('spiggoty' dollars)? "Paper money was not used on the pay car at all. In the first place, there was always a danger of its blowing away, and in the second place paper money in the hands of negro workmen soon assumed a most unsanitary condition."

A couple more: The story of Submarine 0-5 [4 times! What do you have to do to get gold?]. A train wreck at Miraflores (here is the other postcard [different site] that he mentions).
posted by tellurian (12 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"Paper money was not used on the pay car at all. In the first place, there was always a danger of its blowing away...

Yeah, it's a drag when that happens.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:11 PM on February 25, 2008

Did you know that John McCain was born there and therefore cannot be president?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2008

Did you know that John McCain was born there and therefore cannot be president?

I really hope you're kidding.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:51 PM on February 25, 2008

Coco Solo
posted by tellurian at 8:06 PM on February 25, 2008

posted by tellurian at 8:11 PM on February 25, 2008

Did you know that John McCain was born there and therefore cannot be president?

Sorry for the derail, but what's the policy on that? I always thought that if you weren't born a US citizen (regardless of technical location), then you couldn't run; since he was born on a Navy base, it makes him a natural US citizen, right?

In either case, thanks for the links, tellurian.
posted by spiderskull at 8:46 PM on February 25, 2008

I believe paper money was not used in the tropics because it doesn't last long. It gets moldy and rots away.
posted by mattoxic at 9:02 PM on February 25, 2008

Panamanian banknotes, denominated in balboas, were printed in 1941 by President Arnulfo Arias. They were recalled several days later, giving them the name "The Seven Day Dollar." These were the only banknotes issued by Panama and US notes have circulated both before and since.
posted by tellurian at 9:44 PM on February 25, 2008

...US notes have circulated both before and since.

Unfortunately, they almost all blow away.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:30 PM on February 25, 2008

This must have been some kind of unit competition

Don't ask, don't tell.

Sorry for the derail, but what's the policy on that?

I think it was written down somewhere once. Oh yes.

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States ... shall be eligible to the Office of President;

Given that Obama was born in Hawaii, and we all know that its possession by the United States is blatantly illegal, we might have a bit of a problem. (Finally, a reason to vote Nader! The only true citizen in the race!) But then Goldwater and Romney pere were both potential natural-born citizen non-passers, too. Oddly, Dred Scott figures into the question, so I wonder how that works out for the GOP's dog-whistle politics this time around.

For reals, though, McCain was born on a US military base, not in the Canal Zone proper. Hmm, another angle here. If Guantanamo is outside U.S. jurisdiction ... what about Coco Solo? But much as these petard-hoisting scenarios tempt, the only actual question is whether he had one parent who was a citizen.
posted by dhartung at 12:32 AM on February 26, 2008

Previous Panama Canal Goodness 1, & 2. Probably the best print history of this "wonder of the world" is "The Path Between the Seas" written by David McCullough.
The total death toll for the construction of the canal was around 27,500.
posted by adamvasco at 4:18 AM on February 26, 2008

My Mom’s family spent time living there later on: here’s a brief of their story, FWIW…

While my granddad wasn’t involved in the construction of the canal, the family lived there before and during a good part of WWII. He was a master machinist working in the shops. He went over first, followed later on by my grandmom, and their two girls (one is my Mom).

The Panama Canal Company (?) ran their own cruise line to ferry personnel to and from the States. It embarked from NY, NY. Granddad had a bit of wanderlust, so he signed on and departed, with my Mom’s family soon to follow. Well, the war developed, and they didn’t get to follow him, so he came back. Soon after, the whole family went over (exactly how that transpired is unknown to my Mom, as she was a teenager at the time.)

So, the family sells everything they own except for one trunk of goods. With the war on and many items were scarce, a man who was starting a family purchased everything, and moved into their rental home. Since Granddad was often following a new trajectory, it seemed normal to his family to pack up a few possessions and move on. They re-purchased everything needed upon arrival, including a nicely miss-matching set of dishes and a few pots and pans. People didn’t need many possessions back then…They did purchase locally crafted furniture – a few pieces which remain in the family to this day.

Mom describes their time in the canal zone much like anyone else during the war. Many items were in short supply. And, since the local produce was questionably fertilized with “night soil”, it was for the most part shunned. The canal company provided their 2-story apartment complex. It was up on stilts with the first level being about 8 or 10 feet off the ground. They had a second floor unit. Windows were open at all times – there was no glass enclosure as the weather was comfortable – not variable, except for the dry and wet seasons.

Of course, news traveled fast when a supply ship was in port. Often it would have something nobody wanted or needed. Say they needed pepper; none would arrive. Instead, a shipload of watermelons showed up, or something else not needed.

Schooling was provided in the Canal Zone, but it was accelerated with 11th grade being equivalent to 12th grade. (Explanation unknown). Mom and her older sister walked to high school. Mom had the ration coupons and did all the grocery shopping and cooking since her parents worked different shifts. On days when shopping happened, someone that had access to a car would pick her up.

The ships that the canal company ran were turned into troop transports, so passage back to the States was limited. Mom did get to travel back, solo, to visit family in Portsmouth and Rocky Mount a couple of times. She describes being fortunate enough to be on the top bunk as seas were frequently rough and many people were sick. Being a teenager, she was fine. They landed in New Orleans. From there, she would catch a train. Great adventures for a young teenager, but it seemed normal for her.
posted by mightshould at 7:25 AM on February 26, 2008

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