POINT PLEASANT —History finds it’s way back home after a 49-year journey.
During last month’s Silver Bridge Memorial in Point Pleasant, the dedication plaque to the Silver Bridge, long missing, was revealed. It was given by an anonymous donor to the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center. The dedication plaque was originally placed on the bridge in May 1928.
Jack Fowler, director of the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center said, “This plaque was a dedication plaque for the old Silver Bridge. It was mounted on the West Virginia side of the bridge. No one had any idea what happen to this plaque though after the bridge fell.”
Fowler had some theories on what might have happened to the plaque before the previous owner acquired it.
“I am just so happy that the person who donated it was the one who eventually owned the plaque,” Fowler explained. “I feel very thankful to be able to display it at the museum. I am sure there are many other places that might have wanted it and the donor thought of us and knew the importance of the plaque being in a place that could be open to the public and for display. We were very pleased to receive this plaque here at the River Boat Museum. We didn’t even know it still existed and figured it was gone, a long time ago.”
The donor of the plaque started talking to Fowler in hypothetical terms about what the museum would do with a plaque if donated. Fowler explained to the donor that he would love to have something like that and he wished something was available to them similar to the plaque. The eventual donor of the plaque said, according to Fowler, “I know where it is.”
“And before you know it, I was staring at it in the back seat of their car,” Fowler said.
Fowler called the donor on the day of the annual Silver Bridge Memorial Service to see if he would be able to display the plaque for the memorial service. The donor revealed on this phone call that he was going to donate the plaque to the museum.
“I told them that we were having the memorial service today and I would like to have it today if possible…so, they brought it to me and donated it to us,” Fowler said.
So just as the bridge fell on Dec. 15, the plaque was returned to Point Pleasant on that same day.
“We are very grateful to have this plaque because preservation of historical pieces is part of what we do here at the river museum and sharing these artifacts with our community, but when you can get something that is of this historic nature, it is incredible,” Fowler said. “We have a physical piece of that time in history. This plaque really tells a story.”
Fowler said: “We took an easel out the night of the memorial service and placed the plaque almost exactly where it would have been at originally. Forty nine years later, we received the plaque and returned it home.”
In addition to the plaque, the river museum has one of the most extensive archives on the disaster in the world and staff often receives visitors who wish to learn about Dec. 15, 1967. As Fowler often states, “we live it every day,” when talking about the museum’s staff, including Martha and Ruth Fout, who co-authored a book on the subject, its collection, and the people that collection draws to it to gain insight into the disaster and the victims.
Dr. Charles Holzer is often recognized as one of the people who helped pushed the project that was completed in one year and opened to traffic in 1928. At the grand opening of the bridge, there were an estimated 10,000 people at the event that was talked about not only in the immediate area, but across the Midwest. The bridge was a two-lane, 1760-foot-long eyebar suspension bridge with a 700-foot main span 102 feet above the bottom of the Ohio River channel and two 380-foot anchor spans. It was the first bridge in the world to be coated with aluminum. The bridge was sold to West Virginia in 1941 and in 1951, was made toll free. The bridge was not designed to hold the weight of increasing traffic and heavier vehicles over the years and, as Fowler said at the first memorial service, a “one-eighth of an inch crack” in one of the structure’s eyebars caused the collapse, killing 46 people.
Beth Sergent contributed to this article.