GALLPOLIS — Gallia spent the evening Friday remembering the 46 victims of the Silver Bridge Collapse at Bossard Memorial Library during a special memorial event mourning a disaster that happened 50 years prior.
“Our communities in Gallipolis, Ohio, and Point Pleasant, West Virginia, were forever changed when the Silver Bridge collapsed,” said Gallia Convention and Visitors Bureau Assistant Director Kaitlyn Halley during the ceremony’s opening statements. “Tonight, we join together to remember the 46 who were lost that night.”
While being in Gallia, Halley said she had crossed the current incarnation of the bridge countless times.
“It wasn’t until this anniversary that I truly began to wrap my mind around what happened that night,” said Halley.
“The Silver Bridge was one of the greatest additions to the region, joining Gallipolis, really Kanauga, Ohio, and Point Pleasant, Virginia,” said Gallia Chamber of Commerce Volunteer Marianne Campbell. “Construction began in 1927 and was completed in 1928 with the actual dedication of the Silver Bridge May 30, 1928. The celebration that day was one of the biggest ever to take place in our region. No one at that point would be able to predict the tragedy that would occur 39 years later on December 15, 1967 when a corroded I-bar on this suspension bridge broke and the bridge collapsed into the Ohio River. It was during the evening rush hour when the bridge was full of cars and trucks. Thirty-one vehicles and 64 people were dropped into the river’s frigid waters, making rescue extremely difficult and virtually impossible for 46 victims of this almost indescribable tragedy.”
For two years, there was no bridge across the Ohio River, Campbell continued. A ferry was used to handle traffic or one had to drive 14-miles up State Route 7 to Pomeroy to cross the river from the Gallia side.
“Exactly two years after the disaster, the new Silver Memorial Bridge opened,” said Campbell. “It was December 15, 1969 to again connect Route 35 between Ohio and West Virginia. Building the new bridge was quite an accomplishment in a two-year period.”
Campbell emphasized the importance of the bridge to the region and to both Ohio and West Virginia as U.S. 35 serves as a major artery of traffic.
“It’s quite an honor to be asked to speak at this memorial,” said State Representative Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) of Ohio’s 93rd District.”Usually when I’m preparing to speak on something I try to figure out my perspective or experience in that particular instance but this is a 50th anniversary and I’m 44 years-old. So, I have spent some time researching it and, quite frankly, asking people to tell me their story and tell me where they were.”
“I believe every generation has a moment in time that they’ll never forget,” said Smith. “For my generation, it was 9/11. I can tell you where I was standing when I heard it and watched it. Many in this generation, November 22, 1963 when President Kennedy was shot was a moment in time that most people could tell you where they were. But for our area, December 15, 1967 is a memory that (feels) probably like it was not too long ago and very personal. I’ve heard countless stories of where someone was or who they knew that had perished in this event. My mother and I had a conversation last night and she told me about the fact that she and my father had crossed the bridge to go to Huntington about 45 minutes before it fell. They went to Christmas shop and were having dinner there when they had heard a piece of the bridge had fallen…Shortly after they heard that the bridge had fallen and they scrambled to call home and tell their families that they were okay and were probably one of the last calls to get through before everything broke loose.”
Smith said his grandfather was among those working a barge on the river who helped pull cars from the river.
“I’m sure many of you here today have your own stories and memories of people that you knew and loved ones that you lost,” said Smith. “I’m sure you can agree that it doesn’t feel like it happened 50 years ago. It probably feels like it just happened the other day. It’s often said a small town is like a big family and that’s what I’ve come to love about our community. We celebrate together and suffer together and I’ve seen our community pull together in times of loss, be it a tragic car accident or fire. I’ve seen how great that can be but I can only imagine the complete mental devastation of losing 46 people in one fell swoop in an instance like this and what it meant to our town at the time.”
“It seems pretty amazing to me that they built that bridge in a two-year period of time,” said Smith. “I don’t know how government worked then, but I can tell you it does not work that way now,” Smith joked.
“Following this tragic accident, the National Bridge Inspection program was created and its taken our country to a whole new level of safety and saved lives, ” Smith said. “While this memory is also difficult to relive, it’s important for future generations to understand the impact this event has had on our area and how it helped shaped our communities for decades to come.”
Smith said he had a commendation on behalf of the Ohio House of Representatives for Gallipolis, the Gallia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bossard Memorial Library and Gallia Chamber of Commerce for coming together to put on the 50-year event.
Campbell and Bossard Memorial Library Director Debbie Saunders read the names of the 46 victims who died the day of the collapse. Members in the audience remained silent and held electronic lights as part of the ceremony.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342 and the Gallipolis Daily Tribune Facebook page.