The University of Florida, which will hold a three-day celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal next weekend, has perhaps the richest collection of canal memorabilia outside Panama.
Many of the items came from the old Panama Canal Museum, which finished transferring its massive collection from its storefront in Seminole, a town near St. Petersburg, to the UF library system in 2012.
Since then, it has been a process of sorting, cataloging and collecting data on thousands of items, from old photos, letters and other documents to accounts of daily life during the American era of the canal, which ended Dec. 31, 1999, with the turnover of the canal to Panama.
“The centennial celebration gives us the opportunity to display a lot of the collection,” said Lee Herring, communications assistant for the collection.
But its future is as a research collection for scholars and source material for classes. Many items have been digitized and are available for viewing online at ufdc.ufl.edu/pcm.
The digital collection includes more than 40 oral-history interviews with former residents of the Panama Canal Zone. Here are excerpts from those histories and other stories archived by the Panama Canal Museum that illustrate key moments in the history of the Panama Canal:
— Dr. Richard Cheville, whose first stint in the canal zone was 1961-63 as an intern in tropical medicine. He came back to work as a doctor and raise his family from 1970 to 1994.
— Cheville, who also was president of the Pacific Civic Council, the zone equivalent of an elected mayor, from 1976 until just after the Panama Canal treaties took effect in 1979.
— Marjory Burns Shanard, first and only woman to be a member of the board of directors of the Panama Canal Co., writing on the debate over ratification of the new Panama Canal Treaties in 1977.
— C.W. “Chuck” Hummer Jr., who lived in the Canal Zone and traced his family history to the construction of the canal.