POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — A show of hands revealed almost everyone crowded into the small tent in Point Pleasant Friday was somehow connected to the event they were there to remember from 50 years earlier. The crowd gathered to remember the collapse of the Silver Bridge.
December 15, 1967 the span over the Ohio River was weighted heavily with a full load of rush hour traffic. A small crack in an eye-bar which held the bridge in suspension failed. The bridge buckled and dropped into the cold water below. Forty-six people never made it home that day, leaving some widowed and others orphaned.
“We do not want to forget,” said Mike Hall, Chief of Staff for Governor Jim Justice. “We look at that river and we remember it especially those of use who have lived in this community.”
“I was a junior at WVU,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin recalling where he was when he heard about the tragedy. “I just couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of anything happening like this to this proportion.”
Point Pleasant Mayor Brian Billings who was 10 years old at the time, read the names of all 46 who died during the Friday ceremony. Each name was followed by the toll of a bell. The town used the occasion to unveil the canvas depiction of a mural which will soon be painted on the city’s flood wall in the exact location where the bridge once entered the city. The mural looks directly onto the bridge with the same view which would have been present before the tragedy.
The bridge collapsed claimed many from the small community and changed Point Pleasant forever. However, that was not all that was forever changed.
“Nationwide attention the collapsed generated drastically changed the way we approach bridge safety,” said Brandye Hendrickson, Acting Administrator of the Federal Highways Administration. “To the hundreds of millions of Americans who have driven over a bridge in the last 50 years, they’re safer as a result.”
A lot of those regulations were created the year after the Sliver Bridge tragedy when Congress enacted sweeping reforms on bridge safety.
“The Silver Bridge tragedy propelled the nation into a new era of bridge safety and it was made official a year later when Congress called for a National Bridge Inspection program,” Hendrickson told the crowd. “What today seems obvious was groundbreaking back then. The nation’s bridge program has evolved much since then, but one thing remains unchanged our commitment to keeping drivers and their passengers safe.”