“Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge, the first eye bar suspension bridge in the United States, was an engineering marvel when it was constructed in 1927 and 1928. Located on US 35, the bridge spanned the Ohio River and linked Point Pleasant, WVa., with the town of Gallipolis. For almost 40 years, the structure provided dependable service for travelers in the region. And – suddenly the bridge collapsed. Rescue and recovery operations started immediately but were hampered by poor weather conditions and freezing rain. The cause of the collapse was linked to the bridge’s innovative design. Undetected corrosion stress cracks caused an eyebar on the Ohio side to fracture; because the eyebars were linked together in a chain, the failure of one led to the catastrophic collapse of the entire bridge. In total, 46 lives were lost in the disaster.” (Stephen G. Bullard Author of Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967)
On December 15, 1967 as people were going home from work, heading to basketball games, maybe Christmas shopping, or just out looking at Christmas lights. The weather that evening was cold, around freezing or below. At that particular time of the evening (around 5:30 p.m.) – there was several cars crossing the Silver Bridge, back and forth – from Gallipolis, to Point Pleasant. By most estimates about 34 – 75 cars were on the bridge that evening. Then out of nowhere something terrible began to happen – the bridge began creaking and swaying. What was happening – what could that sound be and the constant movement of the bridge? Those in their cars on the bridge must have been horrified as they were stuck in their cars not knowing what was happening. Then it happened, it was as if a giant fist had struck with the force of Atlas. Then the bridge plunged into the icy Ohio River with a mighty and disastrous effect. Cars began plummeting into the frigid water, and – Forty-six people died and nine others were seriously injured. People on both sides of the River leaped into action to help wherever possible, to help those in need.
In an interview with the Huntington Herald Dispatch a Mr. Robert Rimmey recalled the events of that evening over and over since it happened. You see Mr. Rimmey was an eyewitness – “I can remember it just like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget it. If you lose friends like that you’ll never forget it.” Mr. Rimmey continues about how he lost a friend – Leo “Doc” Saunders that day. Saunders, a local cab driver, had a fare in Gallipolis and was in the middle of the bridge when it crumbled. “I knew a lot of people on that bridge. I’ve lived here all my life,” Rimmey said.
Rimmey was outside the Mason County Courthouse (West Virginia,)” where the 28 year old was sitting in view of the bridge, dubbed the “Silver Bridge” because of the aluminum paint that gave it a silver gleam. “I heard a loud crack, and I thought it was a post that used to be there on the sidewalk where I was sitting,” he said. “I turned around and I saw the bridge swaying, and the whole thing fell.”
Mr. Rimmey and a Police Officer then went immediately to the bridge and assisted when they got to the bridge, they found a pregnant woman near the edge of the break. “We got hold of her and got her off the bridge,” he said. “She was scared to death … It broke off right in front of her.” The pregnant woman was Charlene Wood, who lived in Gallipolis. Survivor Guilt was scary …,” she said, “I wondered why I didn’t go in.” After telling her story she paused for a moment, thinking back and summing it up – with a simple phrase and stated – “It was a tragedy.”
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org