Monday, June 15, 2015

A Man A Plan A Canal Panama

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

             In 1907, Moses Goldstein got bored.  The 22-year-old Elmiran was an active man, an athlete, who played football, boxed and was a member of the Kanaweola Bicycle Club.  Since graduating high school he’d been stuck working as a clerk in his father’s Water Street clothing store.  So he did what any bored 22-year-old man would do: run away from home to go work on the Panama Canal.

Postcard of the Canal Commission headquarters, 1907
            The French began working on a canal across Panama in 1884, but didn’t make it very far on account of engineering difficulties and rampant tropical diseases.  America took over in 1904 and spent the next ten years working to complete the project.  When it was finally opened for shipping on August 15, 1914, it drastically cut down on the time and expense of shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vise versa). 

Moses Goldstein's Canal Commission employee ID
         In June of 1907, Goldstein was hired by the Isthmian Canal Commission to work as a guard and policeman.  It was a fairly good-paying job ($75 a month) but, once again, he got bored and instead took a position as a track foreman overseeing a team laying rail lines to move construction supplies.  He traveled extensively in the Caribbean during his time off and enjoyed every minute of it.  “You would be surprised to see how were treated,” he wrote to his family on April 22, 1908 after a trip to Costa Rica.  “I don’t believe that if some party of aristocrats would have come that they would have been treated as good as we were.” 

Photo postcard of Goldstein's track team, 1908
            Still, Goldstein’s life abroad wasn’t all fun and games.  “No more getting up at 7 o’clock and getting to work at 8 o’clock and working a couple of hours,” he wrote on April 30, 1908.  “Now I get up at 5:30 and work my 10 hours.”  He enjoyed the long hours, but was getting restless again.  “I may get dissatisfied and leave for I have been here for some time and you know that I have been staying here a longer time than I have stayed before.” 

            Within a year he had quit and taken a new job as a track foreman with May & Jeckel, an engineering firm constructing a railroad near the headwaters of the Amazon in Brazil.  Malaria was rampant in the area and dozens of workers died every week.  Goldstein himself suffered a severe bout of it and was hospitalized for a week in July 1909. 
Note from the doctor excusing Moses Goldstein from work on account of malaria, 1909
             Ultimately, the malaria killed him.  While visiting Elmira in January of 1910, Goldstein suffered a relapse.  He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on January 13, 1910 at the age of 24.  His adventures abroad may have lead to his death, but, before he fell ill, he had been planning to go back, this time working for a fruit export company. 

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating story. We are lucky Moses Goldstein left a written "trail" of his adventures.