Picking Up the Threads in Haiti and Panama
Oh, did I say I was back? I meant in about a year. If anyone is still following this blog, thank you for hanging in there with me. Getting it back up and running is at the top of my list of goals for 2018. My beleaguered foot is doing much, much better now, and my two-year-old “new” job is becoming slightly less all-consuming (tech startups are difficult, People), so it’s time for me to return to this, my passion project. I’m contemplating a few changes to my approach, but haven’t made any decisions on that yet. Until I do, I’ll just pick up where I left off.
1926 was a big travel year for the Lessiack family. Leo’s job with the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line provided the family with lots of opportunities for adventure, and from the looks of it, they took full advantage. Leo typed up this set of notes for some unknown purpose, but they’ve proven very helpful in dating the photos that will appear in this and future posts.
The following are a selection of photos from Lessiack family travels to Haiti and Panama in 1926. Needless to say, the Panama images are dear to my heart because they show so many of my childhood stomping grounds.
First, some vintage travel documents. You’ve already seen the 1925 edition of Leo’s “all access” pass. Here is the 1926 edition.
Next up, the passport that includes one of my all-time favorite photos of my Great-grandmother Margaret and my beloved Grandpa Bob.
The family sailed on the SS Ancon, a vessel well known to anyone with strong ties to the Panama Canal. The SS Ancon was a cargo and passenger ship acquired by the Panama Railroad Steamship Line to serve between New York and the Atlantic terminus at Cristobal during canal construction. The vessel has the distinction of being the very first ship to officially transit the Panama Canal in 1914. It wasn’t a complete transit, just a ceremonial one, but she carried some two hundred dignitaries across that important threshold. She also saw brief service during WWI returning American troops stationed in France back home to New York City.
My family boarded her in New York on Jan. 14, 1926 to begin their travels to the Caribbean. Grandpa Bob’s cute little sailor suits are just about killing me. He looks for all the world like Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh, haircut and all.
Great-grandma Margaret and Grandpa Bob on the SS Ancon, Jan. 1926
Great-grandpa Leo and Grandpa Bob on the SS Ancon Jan 1926. Note Leo’s characteristic pipe.
Grandpa Bob playing on the deck of the SS Ancon en route to Port Au Prince, Haiti, 1926
More play on the deck of the SS Ancon, Jan. 1926
Oh, and here is the cover of the album these photos came from, with Great-grandma Margaret’s handwritten inscription inside the front cover.
It appears that they stopped in Port au Prince, Haiti first.
“Port Au Prince, Jan 1926” in Margaret’s handwriting
Great-grandma Margaret and Grandpa Bob, “Haiti, Jan. 1926, Street of National Palace” on the back
“On Veranda of National Palace, Port Au Prince, Haiti, Jan. 19, 1926” on the back
Grandpa Bob and unidentified woman, “Street scene Haiti, 1926”
Grandpa Bob and unidentified friend, “Mountain House, Port au Prince, Haiti” Jan. 1926
Great-grandma Margaret, Grandpa Bob, and unidentified friends, “Road to Lighthouse, Port au Prince, Haiti” Jan. 1926
Great-grandma Margaret, Grandpa Bob, and unidentified friends, “Road to Lighthouse, Port au Prince, Haiti, Jan. 1926”
Next up, Panama! The family landed in Cristobal, and here’s a press clipping describing their progress from there.
So many of these locations are well-known to me. Including the beautiful Hotel Washington in Cristobal, where 59 years later I would attend my Cristobal High School prom.
“Washington Hotel, Cristobal, Jan. 1926”
“Garden of Washington Hotel, Colon CZ” Jan. 1926
Great-grandpa Leo on the veranda of the “Washington Hotel” Cristobal, CZ 1926
Great-grandma Margaret and Grandpa Bob at the “Hotel Washington, Colon, CZ” 1926
59 years later, in 1985, here I am in the ballroom of the Hotel Washington with my two best friends from Cristobal High School, Veena and Yvette.
From Cristobal and Colon, the family travelled throughout the Canal Zone.
“Cristobal, Canal Zone” 1926
“Boyd’s Office, Colon, CZ” 1926
“Panama Railroad SSL, Cristobal CZ” 1926. Presumably this refers to the Panama Railroad Shipping Line.
“United Fruit Co. Bldg. Cristobal CZ” 1926
They visited the locks at Gatun, the town I lived in for many of my high school years, and the locks through which my stepdad, tugboat captain Lew Stabler guided ships.
“Gatun Lock, Panama Canal, Jan. 1926”
“Control Tower, Gatun Locks, Jan. 1926”
“Electric mule, Gatun Locks, Panama Canal, Jan. 1926”
They also visited Coco Solo, where I lived for many of my elementary school years.
“Coco Solo, Panama Canal” 1926
Next up, the family travelled to the “other side”, from my perspective as a native Atlantic-sider, anyway: the Pacific Side.
I’m guessing here: “Stirewald. Mr. Heald’s Scty” 1926. That chair does not look like a standard issue CZ office chair to me, with those lathed spindles, but maybe the sturdier variety that I grew up with came on the scene much later.
“Dry dock, Balboa CZ” 1926
“Ancon Hospital, Canal Zone, Jan. 1926”
“View of Balboa overlooking Pacific Ocean” 1926
“Rubber tree” 1926
“Administration Bldg. Balboa Heights” 1926. Long-time readers of this blog will recognize this building from other posts. My grandpa Bob worked in this building for much of his career with the Panama Canal, and my mom later did as well as a writer for The Spillway. I vividly remember visiting the building as a child, eating in the cafeteria with my grandpa, and admiring the murals and the lovely, echoing, domed lobby.
“Ship entering Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal” 1926
“Balboa Heights, Canal Zone” 1926. Many, many years later, my Grandpa Bob and Grandma Kathi Lessiack lived in Balboa Heights not far from the from Admin building. Grandpa Bob used to come home for lunch and a quick nap.
“Balboa Heights, Canal Zone” 1926
Grandpa Bob on the “Driveway Tivoli Hotel, Ancon, Canal Zone, Jan. 1926”
Great-grandma Margaret and Grandpa Bob, “Balboa Heights” 1926
Grandpa Bob and Great-grandpa Leo, “Roosevelt Avenue, Ancon, CZ” 1926
Great-grandma Margaret, “Fort Amador, Canal Zone” 1926
“Post Office, Panama, CZ” 1926
“Mr. Heald’s home, Ancon, Panama Canal” 1926
Finally, the family took a ride on the Panama railroad back to Colon, again compliments of Mr. Heald, whoever he was. I suspect he was a shipping executive with either the Panama Railroad Shipping Line, United American Lines, Boyd, or HAPAG, as that seems to be the crowd my great-grandparents ran with.
Great-grandma Margaret, “In Mr. Heald’s car en route to Colon” Panama Railroad, 1926
“In Mr. Heald’s car en route to Colon” Panama Railroad, 1926. I can’t get over how much my Grandpa Bob looks like my daughter Anna in this picture.
“In Mr. Heald’s car en route to Colon” Panama Railroad, 1926. Little Grandpa Bob looks ready to go home. And soon they did, apparently via Port au Prince, Haiti once again.
Grandpa Bob and Great-grandpa Leo, “Pier at Port au Prince” 1926
Grandpa Bob and Great-grandma Margaret, “Pier at Port au Prince, Haiti” 1926
Great-grandpa Leo, “Leaving Port au Prince, Jan. 29” 1926
Until next time, People. I promise that it won’t be long.