National Geographic : 1955 Jan
© National Geographic Map 17140 W I Canton Island: A Thin Rim of Coral Around a Huge Bowl of Water Remote in terms of miles, Canton by air is but 17 hours from San Francisco and 26 from New York. planes land on the main runway. World War II's fighter strip serves as emergency runway. Canton Island's U. S. post office is in the airport terminal. At mailing times queues form at the stamp windows like post-office lines in Seattle, Cleveland, or Chattanooga, and customers buy the same kinds of stamps they do at home. It costs no more to send a letter by air from Canton Island to New York than it does from Washington, D. C.* British residents mail letters bearing Her Majesty's stamps at a post office in Southside, or from a branch at Northside's airport. For a brief period Canton's school occupied a Quonset hut which now serves as the Canton Island Hospital. A husband-and-wife team operates the 4-bed affair; he's the doctor, she's the nurse. They showed me around the rooms used for X-ray department, laboratory, surgery, office, and waiting room. Here, in February, 1953, the first American child born on Canton came into a coral world. His mother runs the island's U. S. post office. Normally the hospital flies a flag with a red cross on a white field. On the occasion of a birth a baby blanket flutters from the staff-blue for a boy, pink for a girl. Fire Department Starts a Blaze Another Quonset hut houses Northside's fire department-a versatile jeep and a larger truck, both painted bright red. They had the makings of a color photograph, so I asked Bill if we could work them into a picture. "That's easy," he said. "We'll just have a drill; let's see the fire chief about it." Thirty minutes later a siren sounded the alarm as an obsolete army storehouse roared up in orange-red flames and thick black smoke. Not only the two I had already seen, but several other fire-fighting vehicles raced to the scene. Men, old and young and brown and white, swarmed over the machines; they handled the hoses and themselves like pro fessionals (page 129). I watched two barefoot Gilbertese plow through smoldering debris to reach the central conflagration. Even if I'd worn an asbestos suit and heavy boots, I should have hesitated to follow them. Gardening Calls for Work and Water Such burning of wartime eyesores affords fire-fighting practice and improves Canton's landscape. But ugly reminders remain: old plane wrecks, junk piles of rusting military equipment, snapped-off wireless poles, grown over artillery posts and ammunition storage bunkers, hundreds of useless fuel drums, abandoned buildings plundered for lumber, and even a troop transport, the President Tay lor, rotting on the beach for the past 13 years. Canton's clean-up campaign and modern improvements are winning out. Comfortable homes, small but neat, line Northside's lagoon front. Despite coral "soil" and lack of rain, * See "Everyone's Servant, the Post Office," by Allan C. Fisher, Jr., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, July, 1954. Most © National GeographicMap 17140 W.