The Man who Swung a Pick at Panama


The construction of the Panama Canal, its opening to traffic in early 1914, and the Panama Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the canal, all inspired a wave of songwriting in the United States. The most notable of the compositions honoring the canal was “The Pathfinder of Panama,” written by the military march composer John Philip Sousa in 1915. This was also a time in which American popular sheet music publication was enjoying a golden age of sorts. Songs were published with cover art and accompanying illustrations that often overshadowed the quality of the compositions themselves, most of which are long forgotten. Shown here is the sheet music for “The Man who Swung a Pick at Panama,” a song for voice and piano published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1909, with music by George J. Leavitt and words by C.K. Gordon. The song has three verses, the first of which reads: They used to talk a lot about the Man behind the gun, / The main stay of the old red, white, and blue. / And when they were not talking of the things that he had done, / They were boasting of the things that he could do. / But I would like to see the Man behind the Gun down here, / Where there isn’t any glory to be won. / And where the only enemies you have to fight or fear / Are malaria, mosquitoes and the sun.

Last updated: January 8, 2018