From the Canal Record, March, 1986

This souvenir, along with a small medal with the Seal of the Canal Zone, Isthmus of Panama, struck in commemoration of the Exposition, was obtained by Robert G. Provost, BHS '38, at an auction in North Carolina a few years ago. The medal was inserted in a small block of wood, and labeled, "Souvenir, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915." The label also bears the signature of Agnes Sulliven, October 4, 1915. The reverse of the medal shows: Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915 - Souvenir of Cocoabola Wood used as Railroad Tie across the Isthmus of Panama since 1849.

A Life For Every Tie
Official Panama Souvenir
Panama-Pacific International Exposition,
San Francisco, 1915

The Panama Railroad, an American enterprise, was started May, 1850, and finished on the 27th of January, 1855. It was one of the boldest and grandest enterprises ever attempted. Recruits were brought from the four corners of the earth. The sturdy Irishman, the hard-working German and the European peasant did little but die of the tropical fevers. One thousand Chinese Coolies imported and set to work became so demoralized by the daily deaths of their companions that they were seized with a passion to commit suicide and scarcely two hundred of them left the Isthmus after a few weeks of work to die soon afterwards.

Fever haunted swamps filled to the brim with disease through which the hundreds and thousands of new workers forced their way through tangled vines, knee-deep in mud, surrounded by death-dealing insects, now drenched from above and again to be roasted by the tropical sun, kept the workers in a quivering and fearing state .....

At night they dragged themselves back to their quarters to toss until morning among the pitiless mosquitoes. Nobody knew how to fight the fevers, there was no Governor Goethals, nor Doctor Gorgas to look after the men's welfare.

Everywhere did they die, on the wayside, in trenches, on the way to their homes, in their tents, and were buried wherever they fell. Others would fill the hospitals, which day by day emptied their deaths and filled themselves again with other unfortunates.


So the Panamanian natives claim was paid, but no monument marks the place in remembrance of the brave lives given up.

We describe the horrible facts not to shock, but to realize that human progress prevented the recurrence of such horrors when building the world's greatest wonder, the Panama Canal,when the same black swamps and the same malaria stench, with its fever carrying mosquitoes, had to be encountered again.

550 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA

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Last Update: October 6, 1998
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