The Panama Canal, a 48-mile (77.1-kilometer) channel dug between oceans, will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2014 by doubling its... more » capacity. Two new locks -- big enough for the new super-sized container ships -- are under construction at either end. In the early 20th century when the Americans finished what the French had started in 1881, the canal was called the eighth wonder of the world and cut travel time between the Atlantic and Pacific in half. Its sheer engineering audacity keeps it on the short list of amazing technological feats.
Between 1903 and 1979, the Panama Canal Zone, a strip of land -- five miles (eight kilometers) on either side of the canal -- was an unofficial territory of the United States. For the next 20 years, the U.S. and Panama jointly administered the 553 square miles (1,430 square kilometers). Panama assumed control in 1999, but many vestiges of life in the Canal Zone remain.
Zonians -- Americans who lived in the territory -- often remember it as paradise, a neat and tidy enclave where both military and civilian employees, often with their families, lived in government-supplied housing built and landscaped according to a master plan. Government commissaries provided food from the U.S. or from Canal Zone farms and plantations. Recreational possibilities seemed endless: golf courses, beaches, deep-sea fishing, baseball fields, movies and cultural events. With fraternal organizations, scout troops and church socials, it was small town U.S.A.
Sen. John McCain was born at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station near Colon in 1936 while his father was stationed there. During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, questions were raised if that made him a natural-born U.S. citizen eligible to serve as president. less «