Panama Star celebrating 150th birthday
They stood together in a small Panama print shop looking at the still wet ink of a small newspaper, about the format of today’s Time Mag...
They stood together in a small Panama print shop looking at the still wet ink of a small newspaper, about the format of today’s Time Magazine, with only four pages, no color and no illustrations. It was the first edition of the Panama Star.
The men had arrived from the US to join the thousands who trekked across the Isthmus from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific to await transportation to the goldfields. The wait usually stretched into months, as ships on the scheduled run were often left without crews when seamen deserted to join the frenzied rush.
The founders of the newspaper fulfilled all three of their major aims, to provide sustenance to the news hungry transitory population, to continue their own yearnings as “ink stained (newspaper) wretches” and to replace some of the money they had laid out in search of their dreams of gold.
In time they left for the northward voyage, and at least one of them reached prosperity only to face a fresh disaster decades later, when his business was destroyed during the great San Francisco earthquake.
But with new owners the paper carried on to record both momentous and trivial local and world events , first as the Panama Star, and later as the Star and Herald, when it merged with its upstart rival the Panama Herald. It became the first bilingual newspaper in the region in 1853 with the introduction of La Estrella, and later, when the French arrived to start the Panama Canal, it became Latin America's only tri-lingual newspaper.
Some of the stories that have appeared throughout the life of the country’s oldest newspaper, include the building of the Panama Railway, the world’s first transcontinental line, without which the Canal may never have been completed.
Construction started in 1850, to speed the flow of travelers to California, The first train to travel the full length of the 48 mile ( 77 kilometer) track from Aspinwall (Colon) to Panama ran on January 28 1855, although trains were operating on sections of completed track years earlier. It is estimated that from 5,000 to 10,000 people died in the construction of the railroad, though the Panama Railway company kept no official count and the total may be higher or lower. Cholera, malaria and yellow fever killed thousands of workers mostly from, China and the Caribbean. The work force even included some African slaves.
Many of the workers came to Panama to seek their fortune, and had arrived with little or no identification. Many died with no known next of kin, nor permanent address, nor even a last name. Many, overcome with depression committed suicide.
The paper went on to record the French attempt to build a canal from 1880-1889, the earthquake of 1882 that toppled part of the Cathedral tour in what is now known as Casco Viejo, and later independence from Colombia in 1903, and the political ramifications.
The construction of the Canal 1903-14, also saw a dramatic reduction in Malaria because of the work of William Gorgas, all covered in its news pages, followed by the international exhibition and the building of some of Bella Vista’s finest buildings, the rise of the dictatorship, two world wars, and conflicts large and small around the world. Today’s Star is chronicling the Canal expansion.
Panama has become home to thousands of those whose ancestors helped build the railroad and the canal, and to a growing population from around the world, who appreciate its climate, beauty and people.