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Panama and Beyond

Letters from Cuba, Panama,
and from Steamships on Atlantic and Pacific Coasts

After the dramas of the French failure in Panama, the Spanish-American War, and the conquest of the dreaded “yellow jack,” an American family gathered in Cuba.

George, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, was sent to Camp Columbia as a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps with his wife, Ruth, and children.

Ruth’s brother William, a surveyor who described himself as a rolling stone, came to Cuba for work on the railroad.

William’s father, “The Doctor,” probably having retired from his ophthalmology practice, came to visit his daughter and, I suppose, his grandchildren, although he paid little attention to them.

William’s brother Carl, an aspiring artist (a century later, Carl Frederick Hobby’s paintings bring a fair price at art auctions) accompanied his father.

Cousin Mabel, taking a break from settlement work in Boston and advocating Women’s suffrage, visited because, like her father, she never found a place that didn’t fascinate her.

Finally, Mabel’s father, “Uncle Charley,” arrived. In the letters he wrote to his wife from the steamship, he quoted Kipling’s and Whittier’s poems, noted sailing past where the first Black company of Civil War soldiers trained, and enjoyed an evening talking with “a fine man some 70 years old who had been a Louisiana sugar planter.”

Within a few weeks after the Cuban interlude, William began his seven years’ work on the Panama Canal.

In 1914, Will’s canal work ended with the 28-day steamship voyage from Panama to San Francisco, during which Will wrote the Journal which Cousin Mabel kept, and I found a hundred years later.

Coming soon…tentatively early June…

I transcribed the letters and journal and took my own vicarious journeys to find Central American volcanoes, long-wrecked ships, tortilla-baking in Amapala , Honduras, the former penal colony of Coiba Island, Panama, and so much more.

The book has been edited with a professional’s welcome assistance and is being prepared for the printers.

I invite you, also, to enjoy these adventures in history and the colorful personalities who enticed me to join them a century after.

Been there? Done that? Read the book? What do you think?