Farewell Reception to Mr. Stevens --
Ex-Chief Engineer Leaves the Isthmus
Star and Herald - April 9, 1907
John F. Stevens sailed for the United States at noon, Sunday, on the Panama Rail Road steamer Panama.
The crowd on the wharf was probably the largest that has waved adieu to any ship leaving Colon since the Americans have been in charge of canal work. The Panama was flying all her signal flags in honor of her distinguished passenger, and when the Allianca dropped out into the bay to salute the departing ship as it passed, Captain Sukeforth had her dressed from bow to stern. It was exactly noon when the Panama left the wharf. Almost every one had shaken hands with Mr. Stevens and his son, John F., junior, and shortly after the Canal Commissioners left the ship she moved out to sea. The Allianca and other vessels in the harbor whistled their salutes, the crowd waved hats and handkerchiefs and many shed tears while the I.C.C. band played Auld Lang Syne. Mr. Stevens stood at the rail, and as long as he could be recognized his face was pale and sad.
The reception in his honor on Saturday night brought together all the Americans at Cristobal and as many from the Canal Zone as could be brought in by six regular and special trains, each car of which was crowded when it arrived at Colon. Three special trains left Colon for points along the Canal Zone after the reception Saturday night; but, notwithstanding the departure of the passengers they arrived, the hotels of Colon and the homes of the people at Cristobal was taxed to their utmost to accommodate the number of people who wanted to remain over until Sunday morning to witness Mr. Stevens' departure.
Pier 11, where so many receptions have been held, has now been so much improved that it was possible to make the arrangements for the guests and the decorations for this reception more elaborate than has ever been attempted before. Flags, lights, and palms were in the usual profusion. The new waiting room built for the use of the passengers on the Panama Railroad steamships afforded an admirable dressing-room for the ladies, and seats for the dancers had been built around the engines on the wharf, the machinery having been covered with bunting and greens.
The last special train was about forty-five minutes late in reaching Colon, but Mr. Stevens and the reception committee waited until it had arrived and its passengers reached the pier. On the receiving stand Commissioners Jackson Smith, Colonel Gorgas, Assistant Chief Engineer Riply, and Messrs. Noble, Stearns, and Freeman (the consulting engineers who accompanied Mr. Taft), Executive Secretary Reed, Consul General Shanklin, Captain Shanton, and a number of ladies were gathered to receive Mr. Stevens. About nine-thirty he was escorted to the wharf by Mr. Bierd, Mr. Tubby, and Mr. Maltby. Mr. Stevens escorted Mrs. Tubby and immediately after them came Mrs. Bierd and Mr. Tubby, who were followed by Mr. and Mrs. Maltby. While the band played the Conquering Hero Comes, the assembled guests made an aisle through which Mr. Stevens and his party passed to the receiving stand. His entrance was the signal for a burst of applause which continued until Mr. Bierd, as the presiding officer of the occasion, arose to say good-by to Mr. Stevens in the name of the men on the canal work.
With a great deal of feeling Mr. Bierd said it was unnecessary for him to make any announcement of the reasons for the gathering, that its one common and inspiring cause was so deeply impressed in the heart of every one present that the speaker could hope only inadequately to make Mr. Stevens understand the full measure of the regard and affection in which he is held by the men who have served under him. Mr. Bierd reviewed in a general way the work of the last two years and said that while Mr. Stevens had not been an easy taskmaster, he had won the respect and even the love of all of his employees because had convinced them they were serving a man able at all times to overcome all the problems involved; to keep together all the details making for the success of the whole work; and whose decisions always impressed his subordinates with the belief that they had been made for what he believed to be right. As Mr. Bierd said, it was to bid such a chief Godspeed that they had assembled.
Mr. Stevens modestly gave credit to Mr. Wallace for the organization he found on the Isthmus and which Mr. Stevens said he has modified only as necessity required. Two years ago the speaker said he would admit that he was almost as overawed as was the President, the Cabinet, and the people at large in the United States, by the amount of preparation, construction, railroad and sanitary work required. Until Colonel Gorgas had lifted the dark cloud which the unsanitary conditions placed over the work, Mr. Stevens said that he was in doubt as to the measure of his possible success. When Colonel Gorgas had removed that doubt Mr. Stevens knew the men with him would put through the canal, and that what it is today is due to the loyalty of every unit among the employees.
Mr. Stevens said he felt justified in resigning because he undertook command of the work under protest and now conditions are such that he feels absolutely assured that the canal be be opened on January 1, 1915.
As to the future, Mr. Stevens asked the men on the Isthmus as their sincere friend, not to even think of taking any little differences and complaints to Washington, but to Colonel Goethals, for whom he asked the same loyalty heretofore shown to himself.
Mr. Bierd then told Mr. Stevens that the men on the work have subscribed for some tokens of their regard that will be sent to him as soon as they are completed. The nature of the gifts selected was not stated to Mr. Stevens, but they will include a silver service, a watch, and a ring. Three were selected because of the desire to let Mr. Stevens have from the men on the canal something he may pass on to each of his sons. For years he had worn a plain gold ring, of which he was especially fond. this ring was stolen from him twice and as many times recovered, but a third time it disappeared and has never been regained. Those that know him have planned to make the ring given by the canal men as nearly like as possible to this favorite of his.
Just before leaving, Mr. Stevens was presented with the petition circulated and signed the moment his resignation became known on the Isthmus. This was prepared in two volumes. One containing all the signatures sent by the men in the different departments of the Isthmian Canal Commission and the other all the signatures of the men on the Panama Railroad. The Isthmian Canal Commission bindery bound both volumes and with the case made to hold both of them they make a souvenir which appeared to and affected Mr. Stevens very much.
January 31, 2000
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