Tag Archives: death-tolls

Gatun Cemetery

This is the stairway to the entrance of Gatun Cemetery.

This is the stairway to the entrance of Gatun Cemetery.

Home to about 90 tombs, the Gatun Cemetery is the resting place of primarily Westindian workers and family members.

Home to about 90 tombs, the Gatun Cemetery is the resting place of primarily Westindian workers and family members.

By Lydia M. Reid

The small town of Gatun in Colon has seen the evolution of the Panama Canal for more than a century, and its cemetery, the sacred burial ground of scores of Westindian (Antillean) workers of the French and American construction periods, has been witness to many significant historical phenomena. It saw the arrival and departure of the frenzied crowds of California Gold Rush hopefuls, the French period settlers, the American period workers and the American military come and go. Once it had outlived its usefulness, however, it was abandoned by the (American) Panama Canal Commission and left to its own destiny and the tropical elements, as was the fate of many Canal Zone towns. Continue reading

The Panama Canal Death Tolls

A crew of West Indian "Powder Men" transporting 50 lb. boxes of dynamite on their heads.

A crew of West Indian "Powder Men" transporting 50 lb. boxes of dynamite on their heads.

By Lydia M. Reid

The actual building of the Panama Canal which, unknown to many, was carried out in two phases, brought in a whole new series of factors in calculating the cost of building an engineering marvel of the kind that was inaugurated in 1914 in the tiny republic of Panama.  The first building phase known as the French Period lasted ten years from 1881-1889.  It, as well as the American Period, 1904-1914, will be remembered for its audacity but, more than for its boldness and engineering innovation, it will recall the enormous price paid in human life. Continue reading

The Numbers- The Panama Railroad Part I

A logo image of the Panama Railroad

A logo image of the Panama Railroad

by Lydia M. Reid

It is one thing to read the cold death statistics provided in official sources but clearly another to actually experience, through traveller’s accounts, of how men (and women) braved one of the deadliest localities on the face on the earth at the time, the Isthmus of Panama, to participate in the building of what was once considered an impossible dream.  We must not lose sight of the historical and well documented facts, however, that the death tolls were accumulated over a period of more than sixty five years.  The large bulk of the fatalities in the building of the Canal actually occurred during the building of the Panama Railroad by Yankee entrepreneurs during the years 1849-1855.

Continue reading