OHIO VALLEY — A song can give voice to a situation that leaves people at a loss.
At the recent observance of the 50th anniversary of the Silver Bridge Collapse held in Point Pleasant, Steve and Annie Chapman connected with those in attendance through song.
Steve wrote “The Silver Bridge” in 1997 and Annie said they performed it for the first time at the Mason County Fair that same year. The song was the first song their son Nathan Chapman produced. Nathan went on to produce one of Taylor’s Swift’s gold records. Steve joked “we can’t afford him now.”
Nathan’s track accompanied his parents’ live performance earlier this month at the ceremony. Steve and Annie, who are both graduates of Point Pleasant High School, now live in Pleasant View, Tenn. The couple has performed together all over the country but “The Silver Bridge” song definitely brings them home.
“It was an honor beyond description to get to do this today,” Steve said.
He explained when he was visiting Point Pleasant two years ago to settle the estate of his late father, Paul Chapman, he saw Mason County Clerk Diana Cromley who mentioned the 50th anniversary would be arriving and asked if he would be interested in performing his special song. This planted the seed for the performance.
Steve said he was originally inspired by the song, the “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot when writing “The Silver Bridge,” though he feels his own style is a little more country and bluegrass.
“The song came together fast,” Steve said, adding it took about 1.5 hours to write. “You start at the top and tell the story.”
The story of course coincides with the lives of many others. Steve said another song he wishes he’d written was one about all the people who had near misses with the tragedy. Annie herself said the day the bridge fell her mother had decided against driving to Tiny’s grocery story because of the traffic and drove to a grocery story in Henderson instead, hearing the bridge fall as she arrived.
“Our lives would’ve been totally different,” Annie said about her mother’s decision not to pick up groceries in Ohio.
Steve said his dad liked to tell the story of how the lives of some friends were saved by “kraut and weenies.” He said a place across the Shadle Bridge served them and the friends decided to go there for dinner instead of Gallipolis that fateful day.
“You know, everybody has a story,” Steve said.
As he stood on the pavement beneath the tent set up for the bridge ceremony on Dec. 15, Steve said it dawned on him the event was held on 6th Street, on the same road that people were driving across to get to the bridge that day.
“I can picture (older) vehicles and cars going by with people in them, heading on to the ramp to a totally unexpected fate,” he said.
Though the couple has performed the song several times in the past, there are still lines that “get to them.” For Annie, it’s the the first refrain of “How many times did I cross that span, that testified well to the genius of man.”
Annie went on to say: “Anyone who was alive during that time has never crossed a bridge without thinking about the Silver Bridge.”
For Steve, the lines that resonate with him are, “If bridges were able, I believe she’d have cried. ‘No one come near me, please stay on your side.’”
Annie agreed with the sentiment of humanizing the bridge, saying, “We called her a ‘friend.’”
As the song says: “She was a part of our families, a friend to us all. But we never thought she would fall. We never thought that at all.”
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.