A Westporter at the Panama Canal

From our intern Mark Allen

The Panama Canal is one of the greatest achievements in American ingenuity, and serves as the perfect symbol of an entire era of our politics. Despite the moral quandaries one might have with how we procured the land (starting a revolution in a sovereign nation and all), the Panama Canal serves as an example of three great developments in America that would only be truly noticed by the world in the 20th Century; that the United States was incredibly wealthy, filled with innovative minds, and ready to enter the global stage. Besides the sheer symbolism, the Canal did and does serve a strategic role, that being connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, allowing trade and traffic to cut directly through the Americas. The importance of the Canal cannot be understated, as now travelers can simply pass through the Western Hemisphere instead of having to make the decision between the dangerous route of the Magellan Strait or the grand expense of traveling across the United States by rail. The Canal was especially important to the Navy, allowing ships built in the Atlantic to be stationed in the Pacific (and vise-versa) far quicker and easier. The Navy has always had a presence in Panama, and we can see what life was like for those sailors stationed there through this letter home reprinted for a newspaper – a Westporter no less! Ernest Macomber was in the Naval Reserve during the First World War, and was stationed in Panama throughout. His writing home details adventures in the exotic jungle, as well as a short biography of the Panamanian locals and a brief look into his daily life. If one is interested in learning more about this specific time and place, Macomber’s letter is a rather quick read.

You can read the article here. 2009.029.005