Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Silver Bridge memories

As mentioned before, I found an old issue of The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington from December 1987 in which I had written several stories pertaining to the 20th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse. The paper is in pretty bad shape. And I don’t want to run afoul of copyright laws, even if the paper was not on line in that era.

So here are a few quotes that people gave to me as I was reporting the story.

“It passes through my mind pretty often. I had a dream last night, like I pulled up on the bridge and started across the water and there wasn’t a bridge there.” – William Edmondson, of King, N.C. Edmondson was driving a truck across the bridge when it fell. He went to the bottom of the river, got out of the truck, came to the surface and was rescued.

“I recall families coming in and we’d naturally have to tell them that person wasn’t there and we did hope they were on the other side of the river in Holzer Hospital. … I recall one lady who came in ande was looking for her husband. We had to tell her he wasn’t  there and hopefully he was on the Ohio side. Quietly, she was crying. She left the building. We tried to console her as much as possible.” – Betty Martin, a nurse at Pleasant Valley Hospital in Point Pleasant, W.Va., at the time. The woman looking for her husband later learned he died on the bridge.

“None of our local people gave us any trouble. … It was the New Yorkers and all that was a pain in the butt. I ran one New Yorker out of town, for the New York Times.’’ – Andy Wilson, at the time the Civil Defense director for Mason County, W.Va. Wilson said the Times reporter hired a small boat to take him out to a recovery barge to take pictures. Wilson said he sent someone out to arrest the reporter, whose name he could not recall. Wilson said a state trooper opened the reporter’s camera and exposed all the film canisters the reporter carried. Wilson told the reporter he could leave the area or check into the county jail.

“I was standing out front working on a car, heard this loud noise, like a sonic boom. The bridge was just shaking like a snake. It let go. Of course, everybody was running around in a panic. Nobody could believe it fell. I couldn’t, myself.” – Bill Joe Evans, who had bought the Sohio station near the Ohio end of the bridge a few months before the collapse.

“That’s all you heard everywhere you went, for weeks and weeks. It was continual discussion through Christmas and beyond. Everybody had family on there. It touched everybody.” – Herb Bush, who managed the Bob Evans Steak House near the bridge. The Steak House was the first restaurant Evans started, and it was a popular eating spot for truckers making the trip from the car factories in Detroit to points south.

There were more quotes and more stories told, but these stood out to me as I read that yellowing, crumbling newspaper.

Along with the stories I wrote was one by Dave Peyton, a columnist at the paper. He wrote about how he wanted to to go the disaster site that night but was told by an editor the paper had enough people there already. He said he was going anyway, so the editor suggested he go up the Ohio side, as the two Huntington papers had sent all their people to the West Virginia side.

Here is one paragraph from what Peyton wrote:
"On the Ohio side, an immense section of the bridge had fallen in a cornfield and debris -- a mixture of broken concrete, twisted steel beams and wrecked vehicles, lay strewn all the way to the water's edge. It was a visible symbol of what everyone knew it looked like under the Ohio River. And it was an indication to those who would be involved  in recovery efforts that their job would be horrendously complex and time consuming."

I may have more on the Silver Bridge in coming weeks as the people writing a book about the disaster visit the Point Pleasant area to sort through printed material, keepsake items from the disaster and new interviews with people who were on the bridge or nearby that night and in following days.

But for now, this should do.

Coming: More on the Silver Bridge

The other night I found some newspaper stories that I wrote in 1987 for the 20th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse. When I get the time and energy tonight, I'll type up some summaries and some quotes from the stories. Among other things, they explain why that New York Times reporter got into trouble while covering the recovery efforts, and there will be some remembrances by a truck driver who went to the bottom of the river with his truck but got out and was rescued.

An old school

When I drive the roads along the Ohio River, I sometimes look for buildings that might have been old country stores or old schools. Sometimes, they're the same building.

Today as I drove Ohio Route 7 in southern Gallia County, I looked at a couple of old buildings that were schools until early 1961 -- about 51 years ago. This first one was the old Swan Creek Rural School.

As you can see, it's a barn now. A similar school, on Bladen Road about a mile off Route 7, remains closer to its original condition. It was the old Bethel Rural School.

I'm kind of fond of these buildings because I attended the first half of first grade in one of these schools. They were three-room schools with grades 1 through 8. At Bethel, 1 and 2 were in the room in the back. One of the front rooms had 3-4-5, with the other holding 6-7-8. There was one teacher per room.

The Bethel school has all three chimneys standing, although you can't tell from this angle.

The principal marked recess beginning and ending by ringing a hand bell. Water came from a well that you pumped manually. The restroom ... well, at Bethel it was the outhouse up on the hill.

I don't know much about the architecture of these buildings, although I am told there were several of this design in Ohio. And I don't know when they were built, but I assume they've been empty longer than they were occupied.

Because I had Adam kind of late in life, I'm probably the last person who attended these schools who would have a child in one if they were open today and if we lived in that area.

Nostalgic? Do I wish my kids could have spent some time attending one of these schools? Not a bit. But I am glad I have some memories of them.