Here are some wild stories, urban legends, myths, misconceptions, and strange facts about people & happenings with & on the Tacoma Narrows Bridges.
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Did the entire 1940 bridge fall down? What happened to what was left?
No, the entire 1940 bridge did not collapse into the water, though most of the center span did fall. The side spans were badly damaged, and the 2 big towers got bent beyond repair, so during the 1940's contractors were hired to break up the concrete road on the side spans, then the metal girders and the 2 towers, along with all the cables were disassembled & recycled for WW II needs. It would have been cheaper to drop the salvaged materials into the water, as the State paid much more for the work to get done than it recovered in scrap metal money. It would be 10 years before the bridge was replaced.
I heard that a man rode a motorcycle across the bridge cables, is that true?
This story is an urban legend, and quite a wild story that can be found on the internet. It goes... recently a man took his motorcycle to the 1950 bridge, and got the bike up on the bottom of one of the main cables. He then rode it up the cable until he reached the first tower, where he got stuck as he could not turn around, and he was too afraid to go down the next cable section to get back to the road. The fire department & rescue squad got him down from the tower & had to get a crane to get his motorcycle down, and he was fined for this. Sounds somewhat believable, but it is not. Decades before this fantasy circulated wildly on the internet, the first version told was that a bridge worker from the 1940 bridge rode his motorcycle all the way across a catwalk from one shore to the other shore before the bridge was completed. A remarkable feat of skill & daring, to be sure! That never happened though.
Did someone jump off the bridge tied to a rope? And his feet got cut off?
Sounds gruesome, and this story goes like this; A group of friends were getting drunk and decided they wanted to get some kicks by bungee-jumping off the bridge. They went out to it, but lacking a bungee cord they found a long rope. Most in the group had enough sense to know better, but one man thought it still could be done. He tied the rope to his feet and fastened the other end to the bridge railing, then he jumped. When the rope reached the end of it's length, which was not far enough for him to reach the water, he was violently stopped in his jump, and one of his feet was ripped off his body. He was rescued, and survived, but he now has only one foot. This is a wild story, and I met a lady who actually told me she knows who this person is. Common sense would tell one that this is also an urban legend.
On the Galloping Gertie bridge, did the cars really disappear from the road so you couldn't see them anymore?
One of the reasons the 1st bridge was called Galloping Gertie, which was probably first started by the workers that built it, was that due to the undulating motions up and down it had, you could be driving across it, and the car ahead of you might dip out of view. Sometimes the roadway would rise above the height of a car, disappearing cars on the bridge is a true fact.
I heard there was at one time a giant octopus lurking underwater in the first bridge's remains at the bottom, and that it killed a couple of divers. Is that true?
That sounds like it could be true, but it isn't. The 1940 bridge remains at the bottom of the water have provided a place for sealife that was not there before, and much of the life includes the giant Pacific octopus, as well as lingcod, wolf eels, and black seabass. A true fact is that the giant octopus tentacles can reach up to 16 feet, though none has ever killed a diver. Also, it is a fact that men used to have octopus catching contests during the 1940's and 1950's. The man who caught the largest octopus won the contest. Conservation practices, and common sense ended those contests.
Did a ship go under the bridge for opening day in 1940? I saw a drawing of one but didn't know if that really was there?
Yes it is true, the ship Atlanta was a Coast Guard Cutter. Ironically, not only was it the first ship to go under the bridge on opening day July 1, 1940, it was also the last ship to travel under the bridge before it collapsed on November 7, 1940. When the concrete started to crumble and fall off, the ship was underneath and pieces fell on her deck. Luckily no pieces were big enough to cause any damage to the ship, and the ship's Commander was one of the first to report the collapse.
It is not possible to survive a fall off the Narrows bridge.
That is false, there have been instances where a person has fallen off and not been killed. The first was a man who was painting the 1940 bridge just prior to opening, and he fell about 190 feet without sustaining any serious injury. In 1983 a woman also hit the water and survived. These were highly unusual cases though, it is mostly true, chances of surviving a fall of that distance into water is generally fatal.
Someone told me part of the 1950 bridge collapsed just like the 1940 bridge did, and the workers just got the section from the water & put it on the bridge anyway. That can't possibly be true can it?
This is a true fact. It was not actually a section of the bridge, but a main part; one of the two cable saddles that holds the main cable to the top of the towers is what you are asking about. This happened during the construction of the 2nd bridge. When it occured the towers were still being assembled, and the cable saddle on each tower was roughly fastened on top. In April of 1949 an earthquake hit the area, and one of the saddles jolted loose from the temporary holding. It fell hundreds of feet, on the way down it crashed thru a barge; sinking it, and both went into the salt water, where the saddle was lost. It took divers 3 days to find the saddle, and get it back out of the water. Rather than lose time & money to have another saddle made, it was decided to put the saddle back up and continue on with construction. Probably because it was exposed to the salt water, this piece has corroded at a quicker rate than the rest of the bridge.
I understood that a man got killed while they were building the Narrows bridge when he fell into the concrete as they were pouring it. They couldn't get him out so they just left him buried in it, and that the bridge is his grave.
False, the first bridge had only one fatality which happened right before opening day when a man fell only 12 feet but was fatally injured, though there could have been more deaths the way that very little safety equipment or practices existed back then, the second bridge had 4 fatalities unfortunately, but none were due to falling in concrete, and there is nobody buried inside the bridge.
Is there a name for the fear of going across a bridge?
Yes, and many people in the Pacific Northwest have this fear, as there are many bridges that move like the Narrows bridges. The Lake Washington Floating bridge is another example, and there are numerous suspension walking bridges in mountanous areas that even people without phobia still fear due to extreme movement. People who do have this fear, called Gephyrophobia, will not even attempt to travel across some walking bridges, and have a difficult time driving across car bridges, if they are able to at all.
Is it true that someone stood on his head on top of the bridge? That isn't possible- they would have been blown over by the wind & fallen to their death wouldn't they?
This is one of those incredibly crazy- but true stories. The man's name was William J. Matthews, and he was a steelworker for the 1950 bridge. He thought he would do it just for laughs, so he went to the top of a tower with a photographer following him. He did a headstand on top of the tower with his body facing away from the bridge, while his picture was taken. This occured just as the bridge was opening to the public in October of 1950, and the photo was published in the newspaper. You can see this photo on the "People" section of this website. The act got him some short-lived notoriety, but mostly for being wreckless in doing such an insanely risky stunt. And the man obviously did not suffer from Gephyrophobia.