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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Like a Bridge Over Muddy Water

Our first company of the season, Cousin Bill, left this morning headed on to the next stop of his Grand Tour. Despite his terrible cold (not swine flu), we had to hit some of the high spots including Morgan Freeman’ blues club, Ground Zero, down the road in Clarksdale. (see top photo)

Unfortunately, Morgan was in Africa filming his latest movie, so I didn’t get the famous hug. (See previous photo and post at

Mike and I generally take visitors to some of the well known and/or historic sites in the area. The Mid-South is rich with tales both historic and mythic. When I did a little research to find something new to show Bill on this trip, I found the following tidbit in The Memphis Flyer. I’ve previously written about the four bridges crossing our big river at Memphis, but this was new.

When the Frisco Bridge opened in 1892, the engineering marvel was considered the longest bridge in North America and the third-longest span in the world. Who knew? It only carried one set of railroad tracks, though, so it was joined in 1916 by the Harahan Bridge which not only carried more trains, but also featured one of the scariest travel adventures in the country.

A narrow, wooden roadway was suspended from each side of the bridge, just a low railing separating nervous drivers from the Mississippi River far below. An unexpected hazard was revealed in 1928 when sparks from a passing train set those planks afire. Although the roadways were eventually rebuilt, the automobile traffic dilemma wasn't really resolved until the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge opened in 1949.

All three bridges are still in use today (in addition to the fourth "new" bridge constructed a bit upriver in the '70s I think) with the Frisco and Harahan carrying freight trains on a daily basis. They were so sturdily constructed that they may stand for another century.

I have one not-so-fond memory of the railroad bridge. When I was in elementary school and going off to summer camp at Mammoth Springs, AR, all of us little girl campers were loaded onto a train for the journey. It was mostly a fun trip except for when we entered the river bridge. I don’t recall the grillwork on the sides of the train bridge. It seems that when you looked out the window, there was nothing to see except the river a very, very long way down. It was like flying.

That’s probably when I discovered my fear of heights.

We didn’t take my cousin to the bridge this weekend.

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