Remembrances of living in the Canal Zone
By Elizabeth Phelps Stillwell
Intro by Grandson Lee Martin

I was born in Gorgas Hospital, Ancon, on July 4, 1943. My father was a
US Army lieutenant who was part of the West Virginia National Guard's
150th Infantry, which was called up and sent to guard the canal against
invasion in 1941. My mother, Norma Stillwell Martin, was born in 1919 in the Canal Zone and graduated from Balboa HS in 1937. Her father, Ellis Stillwell, from Alexandria, South Dakota, went to the Canal Zone in 1911, straight out of the engineering school at the University of Wisconsin. He eventually went on to become engineering superintendent of the locks, and retired with my grandmother, Elizabeth Phelps Stillwell, to Monrovia, California in 1946.

In 1986, while working as a radio personality in Philadelphia, I hosted a
Panama Canal cruise on the Cunard Princess, and my wife and I brought my mother with us, her (and my) first visit to the CZ since she left in

My mother has written several remembrances of living in the Canal Zone,
which I would like to include in the Panama Canal Society website. 


(Written Dec. 1996. Today, September 28, 1999 is my mother's 80th birthday!)

Another world, another life, and oh, so long ago!
A childhood-adulthood-that today we cannot know.
How free we were to come and go-no worry of strange crimes.
And how naive we were-yes, those were the good times.
Let's take a trip down memory lane and see if you can again
Recall the sights and names of things you may have forgotten.
Washington Hotel and the salt water pool beside Fort DeLesseps.
Christ Church by the Sea, the breakwater beach with those huge concrete block steps.
New Cristobal, Old Cristobal and Colon in between.
Where clothes were draped on bushes or anything that was green.
The Strangers Club for dancing the tropical night away.
The Gilbert House just next door with a good lunch any day.
The Tropic Bar and Grill, where the worldly smart set went.
Bilgray's Garden for the younger set - with our without parents' consent.
The docks for the PRR Line - the old ships and the new.
The Ancon, the Cristobal and later the Panama, too.
Remember "Tagaropolous" and a wonderful ice cream cone?
Mt. Hope and the "Commissary Brand" made just for us on the Zone?
Gatun, with the longest locks, the Tarpon Club and Spillway.
Ft. San Lorenzo, Porto Bello and Shimmey Beach on Limon Bay.
The fifty mile train ride - Frijoles, Monte Lirio, Darien,
With soot and cinders flying - on seats of woven rattan.
Try to remember just a few of the vibrant colorful flowers -
Frangipani, ilang-ilang, jacaranda and poinciana bowers.
The African tulip tree with buds full of water -
Pinch the end, squirt a friend, the odor was so peculiar!
To eat a very ripe mango just pick one up and start.
There's breadfruit, yucca and plantain and palm are good for the heart.
The cho-chos, guavas, star apples - the cashews that were part of a
Alligator pears - not avocados - maybe from Port au Prince.
There are so many things to remember - Chorrera, Crab Hole, Gorgona,
Taboga, Atlas, El Rancho, and don't forget The Balboa!
Salsipuedos, El Valle, Far Fan, the rapids at Pedro Miguel - Barro Colorado, Pearl Islands and good old Sosa Hill.
Carnival time and the toldos, pollera and montuno.
"Sly Mongoose" and Louie Ascarraga, now known to us as "Lucho."
The Century Club, Union Club, Miramar and Tivoli.
Yacht Club, Kelly's Ritz and Miraflores Observatory!
The shark net at the Fortified Islands, one at Fleet Air base, too.
The gator hunts by daring ones, and a little frog gigging, too.
Picnic trips to the interior - cross over on Thatcher Ferry.
Drive under the "Virgin Rock" en route. Hurry - don't tarry!
Boquete oranges, cervesa, Duran coffee and Lecheria.
"Gruta Azul," Old Panama and the trail at Chiva Chiva.
Banyan trees, the Admin, sunrise in the Pacific Ocean.
Bury the fish at Carnival after the all-night fun!
Memories, like the Chagres River, will keep calling us forever -
Those days and times are truly gone. Will we forget them? NEVER!!!!!


 (Written after a trip to the CZ in 1997)

When I think of the town of Pedro Miguel
I think of that town at the foot of the hill.
I see streets lined with houses of well-seasoned wood-
A friendly place to be - that neighborhood.
I see porches that are shaded by tall palm trees
Screened in to keep out all but the breeze.
Each house, large or small, stands on creosoted posts
Keeping ants from finding willing hosts!
The clubhouse on guard at the top of the rise-
The matriarch/patriarch of all of our lives.
The circle in front where the school busses parked-
A bench for sitting - at night it was dark!!!!
The swimming pool beside it for having fun-
Many hours spent there enjoying the sun.
The play shed, ball diamond with grandstands for all
We did archery there too, as I recall.
The locks where all our dads worked are there-
Pedro Miguel/Miraflores - yes, that was the pair.
I look around now and wonder where things are -
As I look around now I see only the scar.
Goodbye houses, people, that life in Pedro Miguel-
Now houses sit on the ground at the foot of the hill.
The clubhouse is gone and the heart has gone too.
When time changes things, what are we to do?
We live with it - and whisper a toast.
Pedro Miguel lives - but we know it's a GHOST!!!!


(Written 4/17/98)

Were everyone's parents adventurous, bearing hardships no one can know?
Well, some ventured south to the tropics a very long time ago!
Some before the Canal opened, and some many years after that.
But whenever they went we're happy to be know as a "CZ Brat!"
Each age has different memories, the years make the difference, you know.
Each age remembers theirs as the one that produces a wonderful glow.
The school years of the 30's, an age that was hard to beat.
And BHS, the Pacific side school, conjures up memories that are sweet.
The square three-storied building had a true patio within.
Red tiled roofs and rooms on each floor where teachers sought discipline.
Third floor boasted a room for "assemblies" or for what we called "study
Classrooms and a couple for the "Zonian" and "Parrakeet" that were small.
The glee club started processions here that wound down through each floor
To Mrs. Baker, baton in hand to indicate when voices should soar!
We learned from outstanding teachers through we never stood back in awe.
We all learned to be charming from the "Charm Club" and Miss Wardlaw!
Does anyone know why in the 8th grade we all began to look alive
When Miss Alderetti threatened us with the dreaded "nine nine five?"
English Lit and grammar, all important for us to know.
Esser, Jessup and Parsons, and also Miss Eneboe!
Spanish and Latin and math and history,
Frost, Ward, Robson, Hatchett, Pease and Whaley.
Turbyfill and Hayward, Zip Zierton and Prentiss, too.
Dr. Hosler in the office tell us all what to do.
The class change between the high school and J.C.
Maybe to a biology class taught by G.O. Lee.
Many other names will come to each of us now.
Clubs, games, plays, activities, anything the staff would allow.
A dignified graduation, then we stepped out to see
The world, from a time and a place never again to be.
Now, when we all gather, the memories fly thick and fast.
Our parents, the time, the place, produced memories that will forever