Modern history


I wish to express my gratitude to the numbers of persons who over the years have generously helped me with the preparatory work for this book.

First, to my editor, Peter Schwed of Simon and Schuster, who had the idea and who is a steadfast source of creative advice and encouragement; to my literary agents, Paul R. Reynolds and John W. Hawkins, for their counsel; to Captain Miles P. DuVal, Jr., a lifelong student of canal history and author of two fine books on the subject, who offered valuable suggestions at the start of my research; to my sons David and William, who at the ages of fourteen and twelve went with me to Panama and observed things I might otherwise have missed; to my wife, Rosalee, whose confident spirit was never failing, and to whom the book is dedicated. Her part in the work was important beyond measure.

Of enormous value, year by year, were my conversations with numbers of actual participants in the American effort in Panama prior to 1914 and with the descendants and friends of many of the central figures in the book—American, French, Panamanian, and West Indian. The names of twenty-nine of these persons, several since deceased, are listed in the Sources.

Many interviews lasted two to three hours; the majority were taped in part or whole, depending on the wishes of the individual being interviewed. And though all who participated helped tremendously, recalling what life and work on the Isthmus meant in human terms, several supplied explanations, recollections of events, and people, of the kind that no amount of conventional research could ever produce.

Especially in this respect do I acknowledge my indebtedness to Mme. Hervé Alphand, who by a former marriage was the daughter-in-law of Philippe Bunau-Varilla; Alice Anderson, who recalled her childhood beside the canal “diggings” and what the coming of the Americans meant to her family and others of Panama’s West Indian community; Crede Calhoun of Panama City; Arthur H. Dean, who as a young man was a protégé of William Nelson Cromwell’s; Katharine Harding Deeble, whose father, Chester Harding, served on Goethal’s staff and afterward became Governor of the Canal Zone; John Fitzgerald; David St. Pierre Gaillard; Mrs. Thomas Goethals; Alice Roosevelt Longworth; Aminta Meléndez of Colón.

Hubert de Lesseps, whom I interviewed in his office on the Boulevard Haussmann, had not only a fund of sparkling stories about his famous grandfather, Ferdinand, but a clear memory of his Uncle Charles. Moreover, with his physical appearance and bearing, his exceeding charm, M. de Lesseps provided the author with a living example of the legendary family personality.

Professor Elting E. Morison of M.I.T., historian, author, authority on Theodore Roosevelt, guided me in my research into the career of his great-uncle, George Shattuck Morison, and read and commented on portions of the manuscript. The late Richard H. Whitehead of Laconia, New Hampshire, with whom I spent days and with whom I corresponded over several years, was then the last surviving member of Goethals’ staff. Aileen Gorgas Wrightson, not long before her death, reminisced at length about her father, William Crawford Gorgas.

In the course of my reading, more than four hundred books were consulted (the listing in Sources is a “select” bibliography) and nearly a hundred different newspapers, magazines, and technical journals. Many months—well over a year in total—were spent combing through collections of unpublished correspondence, diaries, field journals and notebooks, company reports, bulletins, contracts, meteorological records, maps, surveys, boxes of press clippings, scrapbooks, photograph albums—often in out-of-the-way places. The background material has been pieced together from libraries and archives and private collections in twelve different states, in Paris, in Bogotá, in Panama and the Canal Zone, and in Washington, where the major portion of the surviving record of both the French and the American efforts is on file at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. (A rough idea of the volume of material in Washington alone can be conveyed with a few statistics. The general records of the two French canal companies take up 111 feet of shelf space at the National Archives; the general correspondence of the Isthmian Canal Commission from 1905–1914 occupies 186 feet. The papers of Philippe Bunau-Varilla at the Library of Congress include approximately ten thousand items; the Goethals’ papers, fifteen thousand items.)

Yet a remarkable amount of rare material has been within arm’s reach on my own office shelves, thanks to the interest and generosity of Elinor T. Douglas of Santa Barbara, who let me borrow the pick of what was once General Goethals’ own collection of Panama history—books long since out of print, some extremely rare, all hard to come by; Mrs. James B. Moore, Jr., of Plandome, New York, who loaned letters, private memoranda, and technical reports passed down from her grandfather, the eminent civil engineer Alfred Noble (this collection has since been given to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor); and again to Richard H. Whitehead, who contributed volumes of material collected over a lifetime (as well as a suitcase to carry it all off in).

For their assistance with translation I wish to thank Harold Bell (in Paris), Annie Geohegan, Constance C. Jewett, and Alfred E. Street. Keith L. Oberg worked with newspaper files in Bogotá. Anne Rauffet of the Paris office of The Reader’s Digest helped with introductions and interviews at the Société de Géographie and the École Polytechnique. Kate Lewin (Paris) and Judith Harkison (Washington) helped track down old photographs. I am a strong believer in the research value of photographs and literally thousands have been examined.

The help and cooperation received from the Canal Zone Library at Balboa and from the staff of the Panama Canal Information Office were unstinting. Especially am I indebted to Librarian Emily J. Price and the late Ruth C. Stuhl, and to Mrs. Nan S. Chong, who is the Panama Collection Librarian; to Frank A. Baldwin, Panama Canal Information Officer, and his able associates Victor G. Canel and Annie R. Rathgeber. (They answered my many queries as time went on. They arranged interviews, provided statistics, photographs, and a complete transcript of the written reminiscences of 112 canal laborers, most of them West Indians and all veterans of construction years—an invaluable collection assembled in 1963 by the Isthmian Historical Society.)

Others in Panama who gave of their time and knowledge and hospitality were Major General David S. Parker, then Governor of the Canal Zone; Ruth Rickarby; and Frank H. Robinson. Dr. Patricia A. Webb of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine kindly guided me in my reading on yellow fever.

To the following I am also indebted in many different ways: James C. Andrews, Director of Libraries, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Thomas Alton Ashley; the Baker Library, Dartmouth College; Clarence A. Barnes, Jr.; Doreen Kane Barnes; Peter McC. Barnes; Samuel E. Barnes; Mrs. Ira Barrows; Roy P. Basler, John C. Broderick, Carolyn H. Sung, and the other staff members of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; Dr. William B. Bean of the University of Iowa; A. L. Bentley, Jr.; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Stephen Birmingham; the Boston Public Library; Jean-François Burgelin, Secrétaire Général de la Première Présidence de la Cour d’Appel de Paris; Roger Butterfield; the Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh; Charleton Coulter, III; Mrs. Gerrit Duys; the staff of the Da Rosa Corporation; Maria Ealand; the Eastern Massachusetts Regional Public Library System and in particular Ann Haddad of the Falmouth Public Library; Gerald Feuille; Mrs. Harry A. Franck and her daughter, Patricia Sheffield; Valarie Franco of the Huntington Library; François Geoffroy of The Reader’s Digest, Paris; George W. Goethals, II; Peter Goethals; Herbert R. Hands of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Mrs. John U. Hawks; Henry B. Hough; Paula R. Hymes of the American Geographical Society; Kathleen Moore Knight; Mrs. Bronislaw Lesnikowski, Librarian, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School; the staff of the newspaper files, Library of Congress; Dennis Longwell of the Museum of Modern Art; Maria Look; H. H. McClintic, Jr.; John McCullough; the late John McKenna, Director of the Middlebury College Library; Leonard Martin; W. V. Graham Matthews, whose own determined explorations into the career of Philippe Bunau-Varilla have been an inspiration; Burroughs Mitchell; Hazel M. Murdock of the Washington office of the Panama Canal Company; the National Geographic Society; the staff of the New York Historical Society Library; the staff of the Science and Technology Room, New York Public Library; Norah Nicholls; Royall and Sally O’Brien; Charleton and Vera Ogburn; Professor Aimé Perpillou of the Société de Géographie; Eulalie Morris Regan of the Vineyard Haven Public Library and her staff, Margaret Cunningham and Carol McCulloch; Robert L. Reynolds; Mme. Giselle Bunau-Varilla Rocco, daughter of Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who corresponded from her home in Kenya; Soeur Lucie Rogé, Supérieure Générale de la Compagnie des Filles de la Charité de Saint Vincent de Paul, Paris; Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt; Betty Ross; John B. Rothrock; Colonel Charles H. Schilling and Marie T. Capps of the United States Military Academy; Cecil O. Smith, Jr., of Drexel University; John F. Stevens, Jr.; Carolyn T. Stewart, Director, Gorgas Home and Library, University of Alabama; Margot Barnes Street; the University of North Carolina Library; the University of Vermont Library; Robert Vogel of the Smithsonian Institution; James D. Walker and Joel Barker of the National Archives; Richard H. Whitehead, Jr.; Nancy Whiting of the West Tisbury Library; the Widener Library, Harvard University; the Yale University Library.

Finally, I wish to thank my mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. C. Hax McCullough of Pittsburgh, for their abiding interest and encouragement; Audre Proctor, who typed the manuscript; Pat Miller, the copy editor; Frank Metz; Sophie Sorkin; Rafael D. Palacios; Wendell Minor; Edith Fowler, the designer; my daughter Melissa, who did a variety of chores; my son Geoffrey; and Dorie McCullough, who at age seven cannot remember when her father was not working on a book about the Panama Canal.

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