If You Build It–Apparently, They Do Come!
When the 48-mile long Panama Canal was finally finished in 1914 it was described as the “eighth wonder of the world” and observers said it would have an impact akin to “shifting the nations on a map”.
August 15, 2014, marked the 100-year-anniversary o the Panama Canal opening. And, today tourism to Panama Beach is booming. Panama’s beaches have been some of the best-kept secrets in Central America for some time now. But the secret is out. There’s an influx of international tourism, especially to Panama’s Pacific coast beaches. Big resorts are there and now offering attractive vacation packages that include white sand, sun, and easy access to airports and major roadways. Travel agencies say it looks like visits to Panama’s beaches will be a trend that continues to grow over the next few years and beyond. But, Panama wasn’t always a tourist resort.
A few of my family’s ancestors when seeking work left North America for Central America’s Panama Zone with their families in tow, despite their fears of yellow fever, There, they helped build the bridge between North and South America which also created waterway passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
From passenger ships’ records, it appears Frank Latta Chambers and his wife Maude Johnston (my paternal great-great-grandparents originally from Pennsylvania) were in Cristobal, Canal Zone, Panama, between the years 1907 and 1917. Page 3 of the Canal Record, dated May 1, 1912, shows that my great-great-grandfather on July 9, 1911, had completed four years of active employment on the Panama Canal. And also from the Canal Record of August 10, 1910–great-great-grandfather, John Latta Chambers, was appointed as one of the Gorgona Pool Room Committee. So, we can see that he did have some form of social life while in the Panama Zone area. [Gorgona is a beach town 79 km west of Panama City.]
My paternal great-grandfather Frank Maynard Chambers (son of John) and his wife Lottie Taylor were also there with my grandmother, Helen Louise Chambers (b. 07/01/11), who was a young child. Frank and Lottie gave birth to another daughter while in Cristobal. Her name was Bessie Charlotte Chambers (b. 07/26/13). Lottie left Panama with the girls on May 27, 1914. Unfortunately, Bessie died on July 4 of a gastrointestinal illness. My great-grandfather, Frank, returned to Culpeper, Virginia to be with his family following Bessie’s death.
My great-great-grandfather, John Latta Chambers, died in Cristobal, Canal Zone, Panama on July 14, 1917, at age 56–just one month from the canal’s 3-year anniversary. The following is an article that provides a broader perspective of the Panama Canal’s History.
Article from Newspapers.com; Posted on August 1, 2014
American newspapers had been closely following every aspect of the building of the Panama Canal for 10 years. Every breakthrough and scandal was covered in detail, and hardly a week went by when the canal wasn’t making news in some way. But on the day the canal finally opened, August 15, 1914, it didn’t get the main headline—instead, it was overshadowed by news of the developing European war, which had begun just a few weeks earlier. Despite the Panama Canal’s demotion to secondary headlines, its completion was still important news, as it highlighted America’s engineering might and the country’s new place as a major player on the world stage.
An American-built Panama Canal was the pet project of President Theodore Roosevelt. In the late 1800s, the French had tried and failed to build the canal, and the whole thing ended in a major scandal. So when Roosevelt took on the canal, all eyes were on the project from the beginning.
Construction began in 1904, with a majority of workers coming from the West Indies. But after the initial enthusiasm abated, it quickly appeared that the American canal would go the way of the French attempt. Progress was slow and dangerous, and the threat of yellow fever terrified the workers. The first chief engineer quit after only a year, as did the second one after a year and a half. With negative press beginning to dominate coverage of the canal, Roosevelt himself visited in 1906 to improve the canal’s public image.
In 1907, work on the canal finally began to take off. Yellow fever had largely been eradicated, living conditions had improved (mainly for whites), and the railroads for removing the dirt had been finished. The year 1907 also saw the first issue of the Canal Record, the Panama Canal’s own newspaper.
By 1913, the biggest challenge—digging the Culebra Cut through a mountain range—was completed and the locks had been built. In January 1914, the first unofficial ship sailed through the canal from ocean to ocean, and that August marked the official—if overshadowed—opening. The Panama Canal remained in American hands until the end of 1999, when control was handed over to Panama.