For this post, I picked four bridges that I have visited with unique histories to profile. Some of the stories are creepy, some are interesting, and some are just downright weird. Hope you enjoy!
London Bridge – Lake Havasu, AZ
Length: 930 feet (280m)
How did a century old bridge from London end up in the middle of the desert on a lake that straddles the boarder between California and Arizona? The answer to this strange story involves a property developer, a soft river bottom, and 2.5 million dollars spend in what may have been the world’s strangest antique sale.
In 1897 the bridge was the busiest traffic point in London, servicing 8000 people and 900 vehicles per hour. At this point it was decided that the bridge would have to be widened in order to prevent congestion, the survey for which revealed that it was sinking at a rate of a little more than an inch each decade. At the core of this problem were the heavy granite blocks used in the bridge’s construction. The weight without traffic was somewhere in the vicinity of 130,000 tons.
Enter Robert McCulloch, an oil mogul turned property developer.
“In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London placed the bridge on the market and began to look for potential buyers. Council member Ivan Luckin had put forward the idea of selling the bridge, and recalled: “They all thought I was completely crazy when I suggested we should sell London Bridge when it needed replacing.” On 18 April 1968, Rennie’s bridge was sold to an American. It was purchased by the Missourian entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil for US$2,460,000.”
In order to prevent the sinking from happening in Arizona, the bridge was reframed out of steel and then covered with the original granite blocks, which had to be numbered and shipped in such a way that they could be reassembled piece for piece once it arrived at its new home.
There is some speculation as to whether or not McCulloch knew which bridge he was purchasing. Legend has it that he was under the impression he was getting the much more recognizable Tower Bridge and only realized the mistake once the construction was already underway, a claim that McCulloch denied.
Interestingly, the “sinking” effect was not the origin of the popular children’s nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”, which can be traced as far back at 14th century Italy. Popular theories to the origin of the song include the frequent burnings of the wooden bridge’s by invading armies prior to the construction of a less flammable structure and rumors of child sacrifices being buried in the later structure’s foundation.
Although the bridge and it’s adjoining somewhat underwhelming, “English Village” never became the tourist magnet that McCulloch has hoped it might, Lake Havasu’s popularity as a retirement destination and the logistics of disassembling a two hundred year old bridge in the middle of the Arizona desert mean that London Bridge’s future is likely secure.
German Tourist’s video:
Bread’s Song “London Bridge”:
“is nothing sacred anymore?”
English Village video:
The Battle of the Sundial
Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay—Redding, CA
Length: 700 feet (210m)
Width: 23 feet (7m)
Height: 217 feet
A world-renowned architect and a group of small town visionaries faced some heavy resistance when they announced a unique plan: to build a state of the art walking bridge across a small bay North East of Redding, California.
The story reads like something out of a Marquez novel. It all began when the city allocated $2 million in funds towards the creation of a footbridge that would connect a local park to a wildlife center and arboretum. The initial plan called for a simple stone design with towers at the end, but when the city began pursing an architect to draw up plans, the committee in charge found themselves enamored with the work of the Spanish neofuturist Santiago Calatrava.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Calatrava agreed to submit three designs, and the cantilever-spar cable stayed bridge won out.
Despite the fact that the increased cost of the much more complex plan (an extra $20 million) would be provided mostly by a private foundation, with some extra money coming in from state and federal grants, local officials and papers took every opportunity to skewer the project. One local city councilman even took a vow to never step foot on the structure, a promise he has kept today, over a decade since its completion.
Still, the value of the project is hard to deny today. The small Northern California city now receives 300,000 tourists each year and benefits from the millions of dollars of commerce and tax revenue that those visitors bring with them.
Side note: As the name would suggest, the cantilever tower from which the weight of the bridge is suspended acts as a huge sundial. The tip of the shadow, which the tower creates, moves at a speed of one foot per minute, which allows the observer the unique opportunity to see earth’s rotation with the naked eye.
Ground perspective video:
“This. Is. The. Sun. Dial. Bridge.”
Drone Footage featuring Clair de Lune:
The Bridge from Hell
Hell Gate Bridge—Queens, NY
Length: 17,000 feet (3.2mi/5.2km)
Width: 100 feet (30.5m)
The long and curious history of the Hell Gate is often overlooked in favor of its more popular cousin just down the East River in Brooklyn. Even with its diabolical name (actually derived from the Dutch word for waterway “hellgat”) this bridge in Astoria, Queens still struggles in terms of recognition when compared with so many other New York Bridges. Although its construction was a feat of engineering unprecedented at its completion in 1916, the stories of the Hell Gate and the water below are what make it interesting to me. As far as strange history goes, it doesn’t get much better than this one.
A list of actual facts about the century long life of the Hell Gate:
-The name “Hell Gate” actually comes from the Dutch word for waterway, but was also given in reference to the notoriously treacherous waters that the structure spans.
-It is almost identical in its design to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The main difference is in size, with its Australian sister being 60% larger.
-In the event of a total apocalypse in which human life ceased to exist, the Hell Gate would be the last structure standing in New York City.
-Before its construction, the waterway below was known for being the most hostile and difficult to navigate point of entry into the city. This was mainly due to the presence of a large reef that created both physical obstacles and caused the sudden appearance of huge and unpredictable whirlpools. During the height of oceanic trade, the waters were causing the grounding of almost a thousand ships each year.
-This reef was destroyed in the largest man made explosion prior to the testing of the atomic bomb. The army corps of engineers was called on to plant 300,000 pounds of explosives inside the reef using 7,000 holes drilled into its exterior over the course of seven years. The resulting blast sent a water spout hundreds of feet into the air and was heard and felt as far away as west New Jersey.
-Prior to that successful explosion, a French engineer named Benjamin Maillefert raised money from local merchants in an attempt to clear the straight. His method involved using a long pole to lower large amounts of explosives down onto the areas of the reef that were exposed above the water. This method was meant to take care of the problem a little bit at a time, and worked for several months, until Maillefert and his team made a mistake. An account of this day reads:
“The relentless blasting of Hell Gate went on till March 1852, when the law of averages caught up with Maillefert. After placing a 125-pound charge of powder atop a rock, he took what he thought were the lead wires to the submerged mine and paid out the line till he and the supply boat were a safe distance from the explosion site. Upon touching the wires to the battery terminals in his boat, he blew the other boat clear out of the water and was thrown 50 feet in the air himself. Of the five men in the operation, three were killed and Maillefert and his assistant were disabled.”
-There are two shipwrecks of note that took place in the waters that the bridge now spans. The first was the loss of the HMS Hussar, which happened prior to the bridge’s construction. Actual details of what the ship was carrying vary by account, but some suspect it was bringing back pay to British soldiers and might have gone down with a fortune in gold coins worth over $500 million today. Salvage experts and treasure seekers are still pursuing the wreckage.
-The second shipwreck took place in 1904. The steamer General Slocum caught fire and sank rapidly while carrying 1,342 members of an evangelical church to a picnic across the river. Estimates put the death toll at a little over a thousand, which make it the worst New York area disaster prior to September 11th. Most of those on board were women and children who could not swim and discovered when they attempted to escape the blaze that lifeboats had been painted directly into the deck preventing their removal. Life preservers also were found to have been filled with iron bars to meet manufacturer weight requirements, and several accounts of the disaster make mention of mothers throwing their children overboard inside of the rings, only to watch them sink immediately to their deaths.
-In 1991, $55 million was raised to refurbish the look of the Hell Gate. This restoration included to repainting of the long neglected structure in a color invented specifically for the project, appropriately named “Hell Gate Red.” A flaw in the paint resulted in its almost immediate fading. It would appear the new look just wasn’t meant to be.
-Many believe the Hell Gate it haunted, with stories of disappearances and ghost sightings going as far back as the 1920’s. It is easy to see why the bridge would have captured the imagination of story tellers: two small, red lights are all the illuminate the structure at night, making it by far the most poorly lit bridge in New York City.
-Nazi agents targeted the bridge for sabotage during the ill fated “Operation Pastorius” in 1942. Eight spies were dropped on American shores with orders to destroy several key pieces of infrastructure, of which the Hell Gate was one. The mission had several close calls but was ultimately brought down when two of the men decided to betray their team to the FBI. The betrayal was not as easy as it sounds. One of the men attempted to do it over the phone but was hung up on several times as being a prank caller, and ultimately had to travel to the FBI offices in DC. Even then it took several hours and meetings with various agents before someone decided the story was true. The two informers were given life in prison and eventually deported back to Germany, while the other six members of the team enjoyed one-way trips to the electric chair and burial in unmarked graves in a potter’s field.
Climbing Hell Gate bridge:
Hell Gate Gold:
Congress Avenue Bridge—Austin, TX
Length: 945.9 feet (288.3m)
Width: 60 feet (18m)
Residents of Austin, Texas got a surprise when a rehabilitation project on the busy Congress Avenue Bridge was finished in 1980. A colony of Mexican free-tailed bats decided that the beneath the road deck in the concrete structure made a most excellent and cozy home for their summer migration north.
Initial reactions to the bats were not positive. The fear of the flying rodents led to a petition demanding their eradication.
Today, bats and humans live in relative harmony. The 1.5 million creatures eat up to 20,000 pounds of bugs each night including agricultural pests, and contrary to their pop-culture persona, are harmless as long as there is no attempt to handle them. The city even built an observation center adjacent to the bridge, “giving visitors a dedicated area to view the nightly emergence.” The Austin Ice Bats, a minor-league hockey team, was named in their honor, which is probably the least they could do considering Count Dracula’s tiny cousins bring the city an estimated $10 million in tourism revenue each year.
The Texas department of Transportation even recently launched a project to study ways in which to make other bridges more habitable to bat colonies. The name of this project is “Bats and Bridges.” Presumably “Operation Wingspan” was already taken.
The sound of the bats pt. 1 (turn your volume up):
The sound of the bats pt. 2:
The colony exiting, seen from the water:
p.s. Hey. I’m so happy to be able to facilitate and introduce this beautiful post by your 24 hour guest-host B, artist of theatrical and other stripes as well as a d.l. of this joint sometimes known as Bear. Please let your bygones be bygones today and pleasure up. Thank you, and mega-hearty thanks to you, B. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Well, actually, he doesn’t in fact seem to love it, and we’re currently negotiating over some requested changes that we think will make the vid far less interesting, and ultimately it’s his call, so we’ll see. The interview for Japanese Wired Mag was really nice. Very interesting questions and discussion, and I was very happy. So, cool. I’m kind of in love with or obsessed by or both re: Japan. Especially by being there. Zac and I are hoping/planning for a visit there after we finish shooting our new film to celebrate and recuperate. We’re figuring out the US road trip today. The whole point of it was originally supposed to revolve around going to America’s most legendary amusement park Cedar Point, but we only realized yesterday that it’s closed for the winter! So, we have to make new plans rapidly. Oh shit, your cold came back? I hope it was just a brief flirtation that your body has thwarted. How are you feeling? What are you up to today in case of perfect health or even not? ** Ferdinand, Hi, man. Yeah, she is, right? Thanks for the link. Everyone, if the Carla dal Forno track/vid intrigued you yesterday, Ferdinand has provided a quick route for you to listen to her broadcasts on Berlin Community Radio, and the entrance is here. ** Jamie McMorrow, Hey, J-man! Oh, you were around there even back then? Sucks, ships in the night. Time’s hard-assed linearity has its downsides. Thank you much for the link to the doc. I’ll hope to have time for it today, Cool, unzappiness is next to godliness, or it can be. I went to take a photo of my chocolate loot and realized I had eaten enough of it that it was no longer an impressive sight, and I didn’t want to spoil the majesty of the original, untouched booty by besmirching its legend with a ruins shot, but trust me. Oh, you can guess about the composer if you want, but I can’t tell you if you’re right or even if you’re warm until the signal comes from on high. I’m happy to hear you made some music yesterday. How did that go? Yeah, the Moor Mother is quite something, isn’t it? She’s very interesting. Wednesday had its ups (fun interview with Wired Magazine Japan) and downs (a less than stellar reception of our music video), but it did its job, I guess I would say. Did your Thursday bear fruit? Big love, me. ** MANCY, Hi, S. I saw that very mysterious and charismatically unsolvable image you put up on FB re: your project with Mark, and it did the trick of building up my anticipation through the wonderful filter that only feeling confounded can instill. Here’s hoping the weather and co-ownership — that sounds like a spooky couple — stop requiring your attention asap. ** Sypha, Hi. I think Gaga used to infest her trash pop with enough elasticity and effective hooks that one could think there was someone more interesting than her pushing its buttons. She played dumb more skillfully than she plays meaningful. Well, naturally, I would be way more than happy to have a second Mauve Zone Recordings Day on the blog, if you’re so inclined. Thank you for proposing that, and, yes, bright green light, if you need one. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I’m a big fan of Thomas Brinkmann, and that new album is just terrific. Yes, CDF’s involvement in F ingers is what drew me to her own work. Let me know how that live Coil is. I haven’t received the CFT Day in my mailbox yet. Do you have my right email? firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m excited for it! ** Steevee, Hi, Steve. There was some good stuff in the gig. I might particularly recommend the Moor Mother and Yves Tumor to you, if I know your tastes at all? Gosh, I’m not sure if you’ll need to get advance tickets for the New Museum thing. It’s a reasonably biggish theater space, but I don’t know. I think I’ve seen at least one of those videos by Errol Morris’s son, but I don’t think I realized there was a series of them. I did not know that about quaaludes, no. Huh. Very interesting. I’m going to go find that doc and his others. Thanks a lot, Steve. ** Jeff Jackson, Hey. I like what I’ve heard of Jack Rose, which isn’t a massive amount yet. The recent reissues of a bunch of his albums has put scoring some of them on my to-do list. You recommend anything in particular? I just got Ambarchi’s new album yesterday, but I haven’t heard it yet. Yes, I’ve had him in posts here before. He’s great, and he’s a really nice guy as well. He has collab-ed with Stephen O and the guys in Golden Fur, so I know him a little through them. I put my finger on the trigger of a site selling that Robbe-Grillet and then pushed downwards yesterday. Anticipation. All best, bud. ** Misanthrope, Clearly whatever is haunting your recliner does not have your best interests in mind, but then again, something that can haunt something else clearly has more awareness of things than you or I do, so its madness may well be methodological and beyond such lowlife human judgements as right and wrong. I remember your erotically tinged fondness for normal dudes. That seems sane, but it may not be. 30 trick-or-treaters: not bad in these dark, dark, dangerous days. ** Thomas Moronic, Hi, T. Very happy you like the gigs and that one too. Oh, yes, I’ll send you my mailing address. Do I have your email address in my new email account, I forget? My old one is a huge jumble to find anything in. If you haven’t written to me since the switch, can you send me just a quick email? Otherwise, I’ll send you the address shortly. ** Cool. With that, continue or begin your exploration of B’s bridges. Thank you. See you tomorrow.