It’s amazing how much history is buried inside the small island of Taboga. I’ve tried to unsurface as much as I could during my recent trip to the island. Another interesting place in Taboga is the Aspinwall Hotel. I could’t wait to see what I would find at this historic site.
Around 150 years ago, Taboga became the port of choice for Panama City and the mainland because the island’s northern shore has waters deep enough to accommodate larger ships. Thus, Taboga came to play an important role in shipping. It was at about this time, too, that the gold seeking 49’ers discovered Isla Taboga, and many stayed on the island enroute to California. A trace of Anglo-Saxon names can still be seen on sparkling white tombstones in the island’s cemetery.
The island also played an important role in the construction of the Panama Canal. In the 1880s, the French constructed a 50 bed, $400,000 retreat for their canal workers attempting to build a canal. This same building was taken over by the United States in 1905 and used as a rest and recuperation center for Panama Canal construction workers. It served this purpose until January 1915, when it became a vacation resort for employees and their families and was known as Hotel Aspinwall.
During World War I, Aspinwall became an internment camp for German prisoners. After the war it was once again the hub of Taboga’s social life until 1945.
Segundo, the tourist guide in Taboga, drove me to the exact site where the once regal Hotel Aspinwall was located. This is what I found to my dismay.
Aspinwall is gone but many still recall this hotel and the part it played in social activities of that by-gone era. It scares me that 100 years from now we will have nothing to remind us of who we were and what we did in this beautiful land in the middle of the world. When we consistently destroy our buildings and structures, we are slowing entering into an uncertain world of collective amnesia. Frightening, isn’t it?