Saturday marks the 45th anniversary of the Silver Bridge Collapse inPoint Pleasant. The tragedy, 10-days before Christmas, still stands as one of the worst inWest Virginiahistory.
The bridge was packed on the evening of December 15, 1967 with travelers, many of them leaving work or heading over toOhioto Christmas shop when an eyebar failed and caused a catastrophic chain reaction. The bridge went crashing into theOhio Riveralong with all of the cars sitting on the span.
Investigations would later reveal a flaw in the eyebar, only .1 inch deep caused the failure although it was also revealed the bridge was poorly maintained and was carrying well above the amount of weight it should.
Forty-six people died that day and two of the bodies were never recovered.
“There were Christmas trees floating down the river,” said Point Pleasant Native Donnie Jones.
Jones is the basketball coach at theUniversityofCentral Florida. He was only a year old when it happened, but grew up hearing the stories directly from eye witnesses and survivors deeply affected by the tragedy. One of them was his own mother who worked at Bob Evans Steakhouse inGallipolis,Ohio.
“She happened to come home early that day. The bridge fell around 5:00 and usually she would get off at 5,” said Jones. “She had just crossed the bridge 15 minutes before it fell. We knew a lot of the people who died and lost loved ones that day.”
Jones doesn’t remember it, but is told he and his family was sitting down to dinner at their home less than two miles from the bridge. The lights went out and it was clear something was wrong, but they didn’t know what had happened. He said his father left the house and went down to the river.
“He witnessed something he’ll never forget,” said Jones.
Jones said over time, the community was bound by the tragedy. The story was retold as a history lesson in his classroom every year. Many of the teachers who taught the lesson were personally affected. He says it always threw a dark pale over the Christmas season.
“That is a community of closeness,” said Jones. “Always during the holiday, unfortunately we always remember this time when that happened.”