OHIO VALLEY — While the Silver Bridge collapse reshaped the lives of countless families in the tri-county area, it also had a major impact on all those who traversed the bridge that connected the Midwest to the south during the first half of the twentieth century, including the life of Don Goosman, a native of Waverly, Ohio, who, throughout the years has become inexplicably connected to the disaster of 1967.
Goosman is a retired English teacher who now resides in North Carolina who, like anyone who has lived to see a disaster, remembers where he was on December 15, 1967, when the first images of the collapsed Silver Bridge came across a television news cast a little after 5 p.m. — just a little more than three hours after his own father had crossed the bridge.
Approximately 40 years later, Goosman again became interested in the Silver Bridge — an interest that sparked a friendship with Ruth and Martha Fout of the Point Pleasant River Museum.
During a program Saturday at Bossard Memorial Library, Goosman, along with his friends, the Fout sisters — who recently co-authored a book about the disaster — spoke of his own experiences and research surrounding the tragedy.
Goosman stated that, throughout his years of teaching, he often taught his students about the collapse and would ask them to envision the bridge that was constructed during the 1920s as a crossing point between the south and Midwestern United States.
“I always liked the various names given for the Silver Bridge,” he said. “I think it would depend on which side of the river you lived on, whether you were on the West Virginia side or the Ohio side, it would be either the Gateway to the South, as it was christened, the Gateway to the Southeast, or it could be the Gateway to the Midwest to open up Midwestern markets like in Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis to folks in the south bringing up goods.”
Goosman went on to discuss the fact that, while the Silver Bridge was very much a “local” bridge belonging to the people of the Ohio River, it also was well-traveled by individuals and family throughout the area, including families like his own.
“Of course that day in December, December 15, 1967, yes, it was local bridge and there were a lot of local people on it, but then there were a lot of folks on it from other states, as well, including my now native state, North Carolina,” he said.
In June 1967, just six months prior to its collapse, Goosman told a story of traveling with his grandfather across the Silver Bridge to Pike County, and, while being stuck in traffic on the bridge, witnessing the “rocker tower” sway.
The next year, Goosman recalled the long ferry ride across the Ohio at Kanauga while, as a newly licensed driver, he drove his family’s car on the long trek to Myrtle Beach.
During his speech, Goosman also recounted just a few of the tales of tragedy among the 46 lives lost during the collapse, as well as a few of stories of survival among those individuals who could have very well lost their lives on December 15, 1967, including those five individuals who fell into the cold Ohio River and survived.
The collapse of the bridge was, of course, later attributed to a crack in eyebar number 330, on the Ohio side of the bridge — a fracture that was present in the eyebar at the time of construction.
An additional contributing factor could have been the lack of anticipation among the designers of the bridge of the heavier vehicles of the 1950s and 1960s, according to Goosman.
The design vehicle for the Silver Bridge was the Model T Ford, Goosman reported, a vehicle that weighed approximately 1,500 pounds — three times less than the weight of an average family car in 1967.
“According to reports, the bridge could have fallen 20 years before it did fall, or it could have stood another 20 years, but it was the conditions of that particular day that caused the collapse,” Goosman said.
Goosman further reported that the only way to the detect the fracture in eyebar number 330, which was hidden from view, would have been the inspection of every eyebar, and the subsequent closure, repair and reassembly of the bridge.
“We don’t know why disasters are so arbitrary. I guess we’ll never know, but the celebrations and the remembrances that we’ve had, along with the publishing of the book, have done well to keep alive the memory,” Goosman said.
Ruth and Martha Fout, who were on hand to sign copies of their book, The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967, also spoke to those in attendance.
Ruth Fout spoke briefly to the crowd about the 45th remembrance of the disaster and the duty of all the people in the Ohio Valley to remember those who lost their lives December 15, 1967.
“We don’t want to ever forget about the people,” Fout said. “It’s not about the Silver Bridge, really, it’s about the people who lost their lives on the bridge and about the families that still mourn the loss of their loved ones,” Fout said.