UF's Panama Canal Centennial Celebration

Erica Brough/Staff photographer Museum studies student and volunteer Megan Daly helps with the “Voices from the Panama Canal” exhibit in the second floor gallery of the Smathers Library on the University of Florida campus on Aug. 8.

Published: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.

One hundred years ago, construction was completed on an undertaking now considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, links 144 trading routes and manages 5 percent of the world's shipments.


Panama Canal events planned

-- Lecture: “Health Issues During Canal Construction” by Dr. Richard Cheville, Health Science Center, Communicore, C1-7, noon-12:50 p.m.
-- Exhibit Curator Meet and Greet: “From Microscopic to Massive — Worker Health Challenges in the Construction Era,” Health Science Center Library, 1-2:30 p.m.
-- Summerfest 2014 Orchestra Concert: Produced by Symphony of the Americas, featuring conductor James Brooks-Bruzzese, Phillips Center, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15, performingarts.ufl.edu

-- Panama Canal Zone Day: Pollera dancers, storytelling, butterflies, oral history interviews, mola art activity, family photos, fossils from Panama and the exhibit “Panaman, Tropical Ecosystem,” Florida Museum of Natural History, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

-- Exhibit Open House: “Voices from the Panama Canal,” “Bigger, Better, Best: The Panama Canal Through American Children's Literature,” “Revealing the Right Route: Cartographic Evidence of Early Canal Plans” and “Canal Model,” Smathers Library, 10 a.m.-noon.
-- Lecture and exhibit: Author Edith Crouch speaks on “The Mola: Traditional Kuna Textile Art,” accompanying the exhibit “Patterns Past & Present: Arts of Panama,” Harn Museum of Art, 1:15 p.m.-2:15 p.m.

-- “Big Business: The Panama Canal Expansion,” Gerson Hall Commemorative Gallery, through Nov. 24
-- “Building the Canal,” Marston Science Library, through Dec. 12
-- “From Microscopic to Massive: Worker Health Challenges in the Construction Era,” Health Science Center Library, through Feb. 1.
-- “Voices from the Panama Canal,” Smathers Library Gallery, through Oct. 24.
-- “Revealing the Right Route: Cartographic Evidence of Early Canal Plans,” Map and Imagery Library, Smathers Library, through Nov. 14.
-- “Panama: Tropical Ecosystem,” Florida Museum of Natural History, through May 31, 2015
-- “Legal History of the Panama Canal,” Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, through December 2014.
-- “Panama Canal Model,” Smathers Library, Room 100, through Oct. 2014.
-- “Bigger, Better, Best: The Panama Canal Through American Children's Literature,” Smathers Library, through Oct. 10.
-- “Patterns Past and Present: Arts of Panama,” Harn Museum of Art, through June 7, 2015.
-- “Teddy Roosevelt: Believe You Can and You're Halfway There,” Library West, third floor, through Oct. 31.
-- “Life in the Canal Zone,” Library West, second floor, through Oct. 31.
Panama Canal Trail, various locations

The Panama Canal and its centennial will be celebrated at the University of Florida starting this weekend with a host of events featuring music, lectures and exhibits.

Friday night at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale's Symphony of the Americas will host the Mission Chamber Orchestra of Rome in the performance of a newly commissioned orchestral piece dedicated to the canal's centennial.

James Brooks-Bruzzese, artistic director of the Symphony of the Americas, says the piece, composed by Panamanian oboist Juan Castillo, will feature melodies of Panamanian folksongs.

“Panamanian music is lively, rhythmic and thematic,” he says. “The audience will feel like they're in Panama. They'll feel the joy and the happiness.”

Saturday is Panama Canal Zone Day at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The event, which ties into the museum's new exhibit of Panama's tropical ecosystem, will feature dancing, storytelling, art activities, Panamanian butterflies and more from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. New fossil discoveries also will be on display.

Sunday at the Harn Museum of Art, author Edith Crouch will lecture on mola, a textile art form that originated among the Kuna Indians of Panama. Molas from a large collection will be on display.

Meanwhile at the Smathers Libraries, an open house Sunday with curators of four new exhibits — including a 40-foot model of the Panama Canal — will introduce visitors to some of the 16,500 items of memorabilia capturing life in the Canal Zone. The items include books, photos, yearbooks from Canal Zone schools, government documents, worker ID tags, railroad spikes and technical drawings from the canal's construction.

A total of 12 exhibits, which include others at Gerson Hall, the Marston Science Library and the Health Science Center Library, will continue the celebration through the fall and in some cases through spring 2015.

Lee Herring, communications assistant for UF's Smathers Libraries, says the events and exhibits aim to preserve the history of Zonians, people who lived and worked near the Panama Canal.

“Those who lived in the Canal Zone still feel an affinity for that community. They still feel a part of it even though their hometown no longer exists. This collection came with a fan club. They're passionate about their history and they're eager to help make this collection more accessible. This way, people won't forget what happened 100 years ago,” Herring says.

Joe Wood worked in the Canal Zone from 1960 to 1993, serving as the director of the Office of Executive Administration. He later became a founding member of the Panama Canal Museum in Seminole, which has since closed its doors and transferred its collection to the Smathers Libraries. He remembers his 57 years living and working in the Canal Zone as idyllic.

“It was a melting pot of languages, cultures and social interactions. Everyone benefited from the exchange of cultures, and everyone had the same goals and objectives. There was a common bond. It was their canal. It wasn't the United States' canal, it wasn't Panama's canal. It was their canal. There was a fierce loyalty and all were dedicated,” he says.

Wood says he hopes visitors to the UF exhibits will appreciate the efforts of the canal's laborers as well as the government officials who oversaw its operations. In 1979, The Torrijos-Carter Treaty set in motion a 20-year withdrawal of the United States from canal operations. Since 1999, the canal has been run by the Panama Canal Authority.

“When it was completed, it was the most dynamic engineering feat in the world. It was the moon shot of its day,” he says. “Every American should be proud of the way the United States handled the transfer of the canal to Panama. It was handled fairly and there was 20 years of training which guaranteed the continued success of the canal.”

Currently, work is being completed on a $5 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, doubling its capacity and providing two new locks, wider shipping lanes and bigger ports.

“It's a real undertaking,” Wood says. “It's almost as big a job as the original construction.”

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