Country Focus: Panama
Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time—the Building of the Panama Canal
By Matthew Parker
Originally published as Hell’s Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal by Hutchinson, 2007
My edition published by Doubleday, 2007.
About the author: Parker’s other works of nonfiction include: Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony, Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica, The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies, Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II, and The Battle of Britain: July-October 1940.
The [Culebra] Cut was the “special wonder” of the canal,” “one of the great spectacles of the ages.” Over 70 percent of the vast total canal excavation cam from its nine miles. For the increasing number of tourists, gazing down into the great man-made canyon from its edge high above, it was an inspiring sight. “The Cut is a tremendous demonstration of human and mechanical energy,” wrote a British visitor. “It is simply the transformation of a mountain into a valley.” It was more than “heroic human endeavor,” said another. It was a “geologic event.” The scale was overwhelming. “From the crest,” wrote an American tourist, “you looked down upon a mighty rift in the earth’s crust, at the base of which pygmy engines and antlike forms were rushing to and fro without seeming plan or reason. Through the murky atmosphere strange sounds rose up and smote the ear of the onlooker with resounding clamor.” These included the “strident clink, clink, clink of the drills…the shrill whistles of the locomotives…the constant and uninterupted rumble” of the ever-moving dirt trains, the “clanking of chains” of the shovels, “the cries of men, and the booming of blasts. Collectively the sounds were harsh, deafening, brutal such as we might fancy would arise from hell.”