POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Though the weather on Thursday evening may have kept the crowd smaller than last year, it did not deter some brave souls who wished to honor the memory of the 46 people who perished on the Silver Bridge, 49 years ago.
The second annual remembrance ceremony held at the original bridge site was opened by Mason County Commission President Tracy Doolittle, who said the event allowed everyone to “remember the loved ones we lost.”
Pastor Ted Nance was then introduced and before giving the opening prayer, spoke about being seven years old when he heard about what had happened on Dec. 15, 1967.
Mayor Brian Billings also spoke, saying it was up to those who were alive during that difficult time to relay the memories of what happened to new generations, and to “let us not forget” the people who were lost.
Jack Fowler, director of the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center then spoke, giving a history of the bridge which was officially named the Gallipolis-Point Pleasant Bridge. It was unofficially named the Silver Bridge due to its aluminum paint which made it unique at the time.
Fowler said the bridge was sold to West Virginia in 1941 and in 1951, was made “toll free.”
“That bridge meant so much to the two communities (Gallipolis and Point Pleasant) and to the people traveling north and south,” Fowler said. “Hardly a day goes by that Marth, Ruth (Fout) and I, don’t have discussions about the bridge disaster because it’s known all over the world and people come from all parts of the country (to the river museum). They want to talk about it…and many (visitors) had relatives on the bridge. They come to see the place where they died. We consider the museum the keeper of the bridge’s history and its artifacts.”
Then, Fowler made a special announcement, saying on Wednesday, the museum was given the original dedication plaque that was placed on the bridge in May 1928. Martha and Ruth, who also maintain the archives at the river museum, unveiled the plaque at the memorial site.
“We’re standing here today within feet of where that plaque was dedicated” Fowler said. “It was here at the entrance of the Silver Bridge and we are happy to have it.”
Fowler said the plaque was given to the museum by a donor who wished to remain anonymous. It will be displayed with the other bridge artifacts at the river museum and learning center on Second Street. Fowler said the plaque was also special because it connected people who remember the tragedy to the disaster.
“Those of us who lived through it, remember going out on that river bank and seeing the dark, cold water, and wondering if you had friends or family in that water that night. It was a terrible night, as the mayor said.”
Fowler then introduced Dr. Clyde Evans, former Ohio state representative, who said he remembered those conditions that same cold, December night, but remembered them standing on the other side of the river. Evans then read a portion of the names of the victims who perished, with Point Pleasant Fire Chief Jeremy Bryant reading the remainder. Bryant also placed a wreath at the memorial and rang a bell for each of the 46 victims.
Grace Sydnor of the Gallia Academy Madrigals then closed out the program with a song for the victims.
The ceremony is organized by Kenny Grady with assistance from the Mason County Commission, including Commissioner Doolittle, the Point Pleasant Fire Department and WBYG which provided the sound.
(Editor’s note: Due to the weather, musical performances by the Point Pleasant Intermediate School Choir and Hannan Bell Choir were canceled. Holdyn Keefer, who was to throw the honorary switch on the tree lights, could not attend due to health reasons.)
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.