POINT PLEASANT — There are days that change individual lives, whole families, entire towns and even impact a nation – Point Pleasant is home to one of those very days.
On Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, connecting downtown Point Pleasant with Kanagua, Ohio, collapsed into the Ohio River during rush hour traffic at Christmas, taking the lives of 46 souls.
Over the years, memorial services have been held to note significant anniversaries of the disaster, and to honor the victims, most notably at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center which houses an impressive archive of material related to the disaster. This year, a unique type of remembrance has been introduced and is planned at the actual site where the bridge sat at the corner of 6th St. and Main St. in downtown Point Pleasant. This inaugural remembrance will be held on Dec. 15 during the exact time the bridge fell and will include a memorial service, tree lighting and more.
Kenny Grady works at “All About You” in downtown Point Pleasant on 6th St. near where the bridge sat and the memorial stands today. Also across from his workplace is a huge tree outside the Mason County Courthouse which he’d always thought would look nice lit up at Christmas. This year Grady mentioned the idea of decorating the tree to Tracy Doolittle, the owner of “All About You” who is also a Mason County Commissioner and with Doolittle’s encouragement, a plan came together to decorate the tree. Grady incorporated the idea of decorating it in memory of the victims of the Silver Bridge Disaster.
“It’s getting a great response,” Grady said. “It’s a sad thing but it’s also a good thing to me because it gives people some closure. There are so many festivals in this town but nothing that represents the Silver Bridge and it’s a big part of our history and still part of our history. We should do something to honor those people.”
Grady said decorating a memorial tree would be a sort of “gift” to the victims’ families.
The ceremony starts at 4:30 p.m. this Tuesday, Dec. 15 where the bridge originally sat on the corner between 6th St. and Main St. with the City of Point Pleasant closing that section to traffic for the duration of the ceremony.
There will be some brief remarks to start the event, as well as a performance by the Point Pleasant Intermediate School Choir. There will also be a wreath-laying at the site of the Silver Bridge Memorial by county commissioners and officials with the City of Point Pleasant, where white lights and the names of the victims have been hung in the trees. At 4:45 p.m., each of the names of the 46 victims who died in the disaster will be read. Then, at 5 p.m. there will be a moment of silence. At 5:01 p.m., there will be a ringing of bells for 46 chimes from the Mason County Courthouse, also commemorating the victims. Then, Beth Rollins will start performing a song and at 5:02 p.m., the moment the bridge fell, the memorial tree will be lit.
Lighting the actual tree will be Chayston Handley, a student at Leon Elementary School who has been battling cancer. High atop the tree is a custom-made star created by Grady and his dad Beldon with 46 points of lights on the star, representing the victims. Lighting this star will be former Point Pleasant Mayor Jimmy Joe Wedge whose parents died in the Silver Bridge collapse. Also, happening on the other side of the floodwall, will be one boat resting on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River and another on the Ohio side where the two sides of the bridge connected with land. These boats will shoot spotlights into the sky to intersect where the bridge sat at 5 p.m.
There will also be performances by members of the community choir who will be performing at this year’s Community Christmas Cantata. Choir members will also be singing Christmas carols up and down Main Street. Main Street will also be busy that night with free carriage rides provided by Larry and Patty Pyles of Gallipolis Ferry who own French City Food Service in Gallipolis, Ohio. The carriage rides, given by horses and personnel from Rio Stables, will be from 4-7 p.m.
Grady, who also made the wreath for the ceremony, said downtown merchants and individuals in the community helped purchase the lights for the tree which were hung by members of the Point Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department.
Grady said he was just about to turn four when the bridge fell and his only memory of that time is being frightened to ride the ferry while the new Silver Memorial Bridge was being constructed. Still, growing up in the area, Grady heard the memories of others about that fateful day which need to be remembered in downtown Point Pleasant, a city forever affected by the collapse and aftermath.
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.