Richard Halliburton was a well-known American adventurer and writer in the 1920s and 1930s who most famously swam the length of the 77 km Panama Canal over a 10-day period through Central America in 1928.
He was escorted by a rower, cameraman, newspaper reporter and a crew member armed with a rifle throughout his stage swim that took about 50 hours.
But Halliburton [shown on left] was neither the first nor the last to swim across the Panama Canal between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
The first 50 years of swimming across the Panama Canal starts with the first partial traverse, performed in 1913 by Captain Alfred Brown, a commodore of the American Life Saving Society and an assistant to Harry Houdini who also swam from Manhattan Island, New York to Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1913.
Elaine May Golding, billed as a champion lady swimmer from America and swimsuit model from New York [shown on left], also completed a partial stage swim doing breaststroke between December 12th and 16th, 1913 before the Canal was open to boat traffic.
By 1914, swimmers could attempt a complete traverse from ocean to ocean. According to the Panama Canal Review, the first attempt was made by J.R. Bingaman and James Wendell Green. These two Panama Canal employees who applied for permission from the Secretary of War that was granted by Governor George Goethals on August 18th 1914, just 3 days after the Canal was opened.
“You have my permission to swim through the locks chambers, climbing up the ladders at the ends at a time when the locks are not in use and their operation will not be interfered with,” Goethals reportedly said. “The general use of locks by swimmers cannot be permitted as this practice would be a detriment to the service and the action in this case does not establish a precedent.”
The two men started their stage swim on August 22nd, swimming on Sundays or when they could get off work. They completed the swim on October 18th after a total of 26 hours 34 minutes in the water.
In 1936, Marvin Beacham and Regis Parton, both members of the U.S. Navy and the Southern Cross Swimming Club, attempted to make the first non-stage swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. They planned to have towed a safety net to protect against fish, alligators, suction and other accompanying dangers, but the project was cancelled.
In 1950, Charles McGinn, a U.S. Military Academy cadet in the class of 1953, swam only in daylight hours and was accompanied by a rowboat manned by Robert Kariger between June 22nd and 28th. McGinn started his swim from Pier 6 in Cristobal and completed the swim in 6 days with approximately 36 hours spent in the water.
In 1958, Captain Robert F. Legge, the 15th Naval District Medical Officer, swam 35 miles in the Canal from Gatun to Pedro Miguel in October in a total time of 21 hours 54 minutes. While Halliburton paid a toll of $0.36 in 1928, the 52-year-old Dr. Legge paid $0.72 in tolls, the rate for a 1-ton vessel in ballast.
In 1959, 32-year U.S. Army sergeant George Harrison swam from Gatun to Miraflores Locks over a 2-day period. He stopped for rest and food and only walked around Pedro Miguel rather than swim through.
In 1962, 42-year-old oceanographer Albert H. Oshiver from Washington, D.C. swam from south Gatun to Gamboa using a flashing light during the night over his 29-hour swim. He was accompanied partly by an escort boat and all of the way by a local cayuco.