POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — At the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center, the Silver Bridge Disaster is observed more than one day a year, though that solemn day is quickly approaching.
Throughout the year, and well beyond the one day of the actual anniversary, the museum receives visitors from all across the area and the United States who are either connected to the tragedy or just curious. As museum director Jack Fowler once said: “We live it (the tragedy) everyday.” This is due to the massive archive of materials about that fateful day that rests at the facility.
Sisters Martha and Ruth Fout have become curators of these many pieces that all form the puzzle of the disaster. From storing written, eyewitness accounts of the disaster, to creating biographies of the victims, to housing a scaled model of the old bridge before it fell into the Ohio River on Dec. 15, 1967, killing 46 people.
Ruth has said the display of artifacts has become a place where family members of the victims, or those who were directly affected by the tragedy, can connect with what happened.
“For them, it’s like a cemetery,” Ruth said. “It’s like visiting the grave of a loved one.”
For those who weren’t directly affected, the museum’s pieces hold a vast array of information, including incorporating the human element when it comes to educating visitors on the loss of life.
“We put faces to names,” Ruth said.
Both Martha and Ruth co-authored a book on the tragedy which centered around chronicling a biography of the victims, as well as the history of the bridge and its demise.
Ruth herself was working on 6th Street the night the bridge actually fell. She was getting ready to leave work when she heard the noise and the lights went out. A short time after, she said her supervisor’s husband, Steve Darst, came into the office to tell everyone what happened. Ruth said she learned Steve had watched the bridge actually fall, having been stuck in traffic at the light at 6th Street.
“He said it looked like the eye bars were clapping, then it went to the right, then up and down,” Ruth said when relaying his story.
Darst’s story is one of many Ruth and Martha have heard over the years as they have chronicled the tragedy by collecting photos, newspapers and those handwritten accounts. The accounts range from the largest to smallest details, like the birds which roosted on the bridge flying in every direction once it fell. Ruth supposed even the birds were “upset” by what had occurred.
Though the tragedy occurred 49 years ago, it still continues to fascinate the generations, including the young who look to the museum to put those puzzle pieces together for class projects, and for an understanding of their communities.
Those wishing to explore the display concerning the disaster may do so by vising the museum which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday; and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. Call 304-674-0144 for more information.
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