When the Panama Canal opened to traffic 100 years ago on Aug. 15, 1914, it was a great feat of innovation and skill and connected the world’s two largest oceans. The opening event drew many news outlets and photographers. Its appeal has continued throughout the years as evidenced by this photograph produced by the Galloway Company of New York. Native Kentuckian, Ewing Galloway (1881-1953) who was born in “Little Dixie,” in Henderson, started his career as a lawyer and city prosecutor. In 1920, he opened his own photographic company which would become the largest stock photograph agency in the United States. His studio trained many photographers who traveled worldwide taking images that focused on native peoples, transportation and commerce. The agency today has photographic image holdings that amount to over four hundred thousand. In 1937, Galloway donated nearly 1000 photographs to the Kentucky Library. The photographs cover a wide variety of national and international themes. The image shown here showcases the Panama Canal’s Pedro Miguel Locks, with Gaillard Cut (formerly Culebra) in the distance, and features a large steamship leaving one of the locks for Miraflores on to the Pacific.
The Panama Canal’s original cost came in at about $375 million, but for a mere five cents, early 20th-century movie-goers could marvel at “Life Motion Pictures” showing the construction of “the greatest piece of civil engineering attempted by any one country.” So declared a flyer inviting patrons to the Dixie Theatre for a one-day-only screening.
President Theodore Roosevelt would have been highly pleased by such an exhibition, since he considered the Panama Canal one of his greatest foreign policy successes. It is likely that, in addition to scenes of technological wizardry, the Dixie Theatre film would have shown Roosevelt himself during his 1906 visit to inspect the construction—the first trip outside the U.S. by a president while in office. Clad in a splendid white suit and hat, Roosevelt even climbed into a massive steam shovel to experience the project firsthand.
By 1911, Bowling Green, Kentucky had four theatres: the Bowling Green Opera House, the Columbia, and the Princess Theatre. An earlier theatre, the Crescent, was located on Park Row. The location of the Dixie Theatre is uncertain, but it was possibly a temporary venue set up by enterprising showmen to capitalize on both the technical marvel unfolding down in Panama and the novelty of “Life Motion Pictures.”
The Dixie Theatre’s advertisement is part of the Kentucky Library Research Collections and is one of our featured collections as we observe the Panama Canal Centennial this month.
Maria Lewis, Library Assistant in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), recently completed the 2013-2014 year-long training through the Staff Leadership Institute. This program is for WKU staff members who have demonstrated advancement potential in their work. Over the past months, Maria attended classes and workshops that taught and tested, improved leadership competencies, the ability to apply basic leadership principles and to employ knowledge of WKU resources campus wide. The program is sponsored by the Staff Council and Human Resources. Selection for participation in the program is competitive and requires recommendation and approval by supervisors and departments. The program notes that it “seeks to enhance job performance and personal development skills while challenging the spirit of each individual who participates.” Maria enjoyed the diversity of people and tasks in the program and learning more about the life of campus and how things work together. The Library Special Collections department is pleased that Maria was chosen to participate and was among the 2014 recent graduates. Congratulations to Maria!
A native of Alabama, William L. Sibert was born on October 12, 1860. Studying at the University of Alabama and the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, he graduated as one of the top cadets in his class in 1884. Prior to his work on the Panama Canal, Second Lt. Sibert was assigned to oversee improvements as the lock and dam system on the Green and Barren Rivers near Bowling Green, Kentucky was transferred from private ownership to the Federal government. In a letter currently housed in WKU’s Manuscripts Collection dated April 9, 1889, Sibert notified Mr. Morgan of Green Castle, Kentucky, that the United States was taking “possession of the fifteen acres of land at Lock No. 1 Barren River, for which it holds the deed.” Sibert’s next assignment was to construct a new lock in a lock-and-dam system which would enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.
On March 16, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Major Sibert as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission. As the head engineer of the Atlantic Division, Sibert was in charge of building the Gatun Locks and Gatun Dam. Gatum Dam is one and one-half miles long, built across two deep gorges which were formerly soft sea muddy beds of the Chagres River. Sibert knew that water pressure would exist under the floor of the upper flight of locks at Gatun and under the floor of the spillway channel below the dam. Thus, the Gatun Locks were built to resist upward water pressure induced by the huge lake which the dam created.
Sibert’s superiors expected his assignment to take two years longer than any other part of the Panama Canal construction. Determined to prove them wrong, Sibert had to pour concrete at a faster rate than had ever been done. He doubled the world’s maximum rate despite the fact that it was necessary to tow the required stone and sand from Porto Bello across an arm of the Carribean Sea to the job site. The Gatun Locks were operational on September 26, 1913, before Culebra Cut and the Pacific Locks at Miraflores and Pedro Miguel were finished. Sibert also built the wet breakwater, Colon Harbor, and excavated the channel from Gatun to the Atlantic Ocean. He was relieved from duty with the Canal when the commission was abolished on March 31, 1914.
At the outbreak of World War I, Sibert became the first commanding general of the First Infantry Division, known as “the Big Red One,” supervising their combat training and leading them to France in 1917. Soon thereafter, advancing to the rank of Major General, Sibert was named commander of the newly formed Chemical Warfare Service. For his war service, he received the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
In December 1918, Sibert accepted membership in Bowling Green’s XV Club, stating “This act makes me feel sure that when I come back to Bowling Green to live I will be among friends . . . . There is nothing that brings the same satisfaction in life as the good will of those whom you know and who know you.” When asked why he chose to retire to Bowling Green, he replied, “….in Bowling Green there are more men than anywhere else who will stop whatever they’re doing, no matter how busy they are, to go fishin’ or fox-huntin’ with me. (New York Times Magazine, Nov. 2, 1924) On the centennial of Sibert’s birth, a Bowling Green newspaper man wrote: “If the late Maj. Gen. William L. Sibert loved anything better than his slide rule and the thrill of getting big tough jobs done in jig time — perhaps it was his foxhounds and the stir the pack brought deep within him as it closed on quarry at full cry.” Sibert died at his country home near Bowling Green on October 16, 1935 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
This biographical sketch was researched using Kentucky Library Research Collections in the Kentucky Building.
Almost from the beginning, the 1903 treaty granting the United States perpetual rights to a 10-mile strip across the Isthmus of Panama for canal construction became a political problem. By the late 1950s, Panamanian grievances against the U.S. over the Canal Zone were well defined: insufficient payments for its use, wage and employment discrimination against Panamanian workers, and nationalist resentment over American control of the territory itself. A particularly sensitive question, one with enormous symbolic significance, was whether the Panamanian flag should be flown alongside the Stars and Stripes in the Canal Zone.
As Panama observed the anniversary of its independence, on November 3, 1959 some 2,000 student demonstrators attempted to enter the Canal Zone to raise the flag of their country. Tensions quickly escalated. The students threw rocks at Canal Zone police, who responded with fire hoses and tear gas. Finally, the Governor of the Canal Zone, Major General William E. Potter, frustrated by the lukewarm response of the Panamanian authorities, called in U.S. troops to quell the violence.
When the Panamanians criticized Governor Potter’s actions, Kentucky Congressman Frank Chelf was livid, and wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploring the calls for Potter’s resignation. Having recently visited the Canal Zone and met “real” Panamanians who had nothing but admiration for the U.S., he believed the riots to be a cynical move by Communist-inspired opportunists. No doubt referring to presidential candidate Aquilino Boyd, a leader of the “flag invasion,” Chelf accused “free-loading politicians” of casting their lot with “flea-bitten, cheap Communist demagogues” in order to poison public opinion against the U.S. and gain votes on election day. Meanwhile, America’s long friendship with Panama went unrecognized. “We gave them more than a just trade for the original Canal Zone by and through a fair and honorable treaty,” Chelf wrote Eisenhower. “We ended yellow fever, completed the job the French had left undone and started the ships moving.” With Canal Zone operations pumping some $180 million annually into Panama’s economy, seeing his country portrayed as the “big bad wolf” was a bitter pill for Chelf to swallow. Nevertheless, in September 1960 Eisenhower authorized the flying of both the Panamanian and U.S. flags in the Canal Zone.
The Frank Chelf Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections includes his letter to President Eisenhower and is one of our featured collections as we observe the Panama Canal Centennial this month.
Nancy Richey, Visual Resources Librarian in the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), recently received “Collections Care” certification from the The Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies in Mount Carroll, Illinois. Over several years, Richey has completed the following courses at the Campbell Center: three sections of progressively intensive classes titled Care of Photographic Collections, Care of Historic Scrapbooks, Archives Principles and Practices, and Digitizing Museum Collections.
“Because of the diversity of materials in my care,” noted Richey, “the training I received at the Campbell Center in Collections Care, enables me to more carefully identify the nature of the material in question and the cause of its deterioration and subsequently prescribe preservation remedies.” Richey currently manages illustrative material in the Kentucky Library Research Collections, including photographs in many formats, maps, broadsides, prints, and postcards. “We are always pleased when faculty proactively seek out additional training to add to their expertise,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, DLSC Department Head. “Besides completing an arduous curriculum of courses, Nancy helped procure funding to assist her in attaining this certification. She has enchanced her own professional resume, while concurrently boosting the reputation and expertise of our department.”
Founded in the mid-1980s and located on a historic school property, The Campbell Center provides interdisciplinary and continuing education to meet the evolving training needs of individuals who work to preserve historic landscapes, and cultural, historic, and artistic properties. Workshop topics range greatly and include hands-on training in areas such as art restoration, tombstone repair, historic masonry, preservation of historic properties and landscapes, basic archives training, and document preservation.
Edgar Bryant Stansbury, son of Emmet and Mable Stansbury was born 1906 in Corbin, Kentucky. He attended Shepherdsville high school and came to WKU in 1926 where he played basketball and football. Upon graduation Ed coached in Greenville and Lancaster, Kentucky high schools, married and attended Peabody where he received his master’s degree. Returning to WKU in 1935 Stansbury became assistant coach to E.A. Diddle. After World War II he returned briefly as athletic director in 1946-1947. Stansbury returned to the air force in 1947 and later worked for Honeywell. A lifelong WKU supporter, he died in Largo, Florida in 2009 at the age of 103.
He left his personal papers and photographs to WKU Archives. This is a photo of Ed Stansbury aboard the Regent Sun touring the Panama Canal in 1988. He and his wife Edith enjoyed many cruises during their retirement years.
Summer is quickly drawing to a close and thanks to our student worker Jack, we have quite a lot to show for our summer. He has been diligently scanning scrapbooks, photographs, negatives and original documents. Here’s a taste of some of the new old items now available on TopScholar.
College Heights Herald, Vol. 54, Nos. 1-21 [the remaining numbers will be available soon]
The Fourth Estate, Sigma Delta Chi publication
Gary Ransdell Installation negatives
Stickles History Club Minute Books, 1924-1957
University Senate – Executive Committee Meeting Minutes
Voices, publication of the Western Writers group
Western Players Scrapbooks 1934-1960
WKU Advertising Club newsletters
Thank you, Jack!
Native Bowling Greener, Ruel Sullivan Love (1903-1987), suffered from wanderlust. He tried his hand at several occupations early in life before settling into a position as a court reporter in Chicago. When Judge Richard Curd Pope Thomas (1872-1939) asked Ruel to serve as his personal secretary and court reporter in the Panama Canal Zone, the young man jumped at the opportunity. Shortly after Ruel’s arrival, Judge Thomas, who was also from Bowling Green, wrote the young man’s father that his son was doing a fine job in the work, enjoyed plenty of rest, received a “good salary” of $27 per month, had a cozy home, and most importantly “married a fine little woman.” Thomas reassured him that Ruel had picked out a woman “of good common sense” and was “sensible in every particular and much better looking” than Ruel had led the family to believe.
When Ruel took time to write, he informed his father that he was enjoying his work and asked about ways that he could invest his money in Bowling Green. In one letter he mentioned a recent court incident in which “They arraigned a Chinaman for murder. He killed two of his countrymen on one of the Dollar line boats. The case will come up soon before the Judge, and I imagine the Judge will have to pass the death sentence.”
President Franklin Roosevelt appointed R.C.P. Thomas as the District Judge of the Panama Canal Zone in June 1933. As he prepared to leave the U.S., local poet and friend John A. Logan penned a poetic tribute: “We send him away that the world may known/That hospitality/With justice and mercy go hand in hand/With Kentucky gallantry.” Thomas did an admirable job in Panama, but declined reappointment after his four-year term ended in 1937. He returned to Bowling Green, retired from his law practice, and spent time working with a herd of Jersey cows on his farm until he died in 1939.
Ruel also returned to Bowling Green after Thomas’s term ended. He and his “sensible” wife divorced soon afterward. In 1943 Ruel moved to Louisville, where he established a court reporting business. Later he became a court reporter in New Orleans, where he remained until his retirement. Ruel died in 1987; both he and Judge Thomas are buried in Bowling Green’s Fairview Cemetery.
In celebration of the Panama Canal’s centennial, the Department of Library Special Collections will feature items from the collection during the month of August.
Librarian Chris Robinson-Nkongola welcomes patrons to the newly renovated Glasgow Library. This renovation is phase 1 of the makeover. Phase 2 will take place next year with a new circulation desk and carpets.
The circulating collection will include a McNaughton Leisure Reading Collection. We have new laptop chairs with swiveling tables and a Courtesy Charging Station.
WKU Glasgow will also have 10 new state of the art all-in-one widescreen Dell computers (approximately 24 inches).