Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Fire Under the Bridge, St. Albans

As a child, I was terrified of the bridge between Nitro and St. Albans, WV.  This narrow, rickety span over the Kanawha River was destined to be the death of me, I thought!  Whenever we had to cross this bridge, for some reason, I felt I would be safe if I sat in the middle of the backseat and locked both the back doors.

Therefore, it didn't shock me too much when the bridge later developed a haunted reputation.  Various websites featuring listings of haunted locations in WV started sharing a small blurb about a homeless man who died in a fire under the bridge in 2001.  As the story goes, this event happened in January of that year, and resulted in the man's spirit being seen around the area of the bridge to this day.

This story struck a chord with me.  Although I didn't remember this event happening, I knew it was something that if true, could be verified....which as a researcher is gold.  But it also struck a chord on a more personal level because in 2002 I had an experience in that area that I couldn't explain--but more on that later.

Not much about this story was easily found online, but luckily, I had recently subscribed to a newspaper archive service.  I scoured records for an event happening in 2001, but came up empty-handed for that year.  What I DID find, however, were references to an incident that happened two years before.

On March 4, 1999 police were summoned to an incident occurring under the bridge, on the St. Albans side of the river.  That previous night had been a cold one, and it appears that two homeless men were sharing a plywood and cardboard shelter, and had built a fire to stay warm.  The fire got out of hand, killing the two men, and injuring a third.  One body was found at the base of the bridge, but the other was found midway between the street and the river, indicating that one man had tried to crawl for help before succumbing.

In early spring of 2002, I was going through very rough patch in my life, and was severely depressed.  I had skipped class one day, and sought my own refuge at the roadside park in St. Albans, located not far from the site of the bridge.  As I sat at the picnic area, alone, reading a book, I felt the urge to look up.  Sitting VERY close by, on a bench, was a young man.  From his tattered appearance, I felt pretty sure he was homeless.  It wasn't unusual for the homeless to frequent this park, especially during times when it was scarcely being used in colder months.  It struck me that this man did look so young, not like many of the homeless in the area.  His clothes were all black...or what used to be black before fading and dirtying.

I was horrified that I had been so oblivious.  I had not noticed this guy come up and here he was, super close to me.  He could have stabbed or robbed me before I knew what was happening.  I kinda freaked out at that point, and gathered my things to head back to my car and leave.  At that moment, the young man looked up at me, and I remember him just looking so sad and distraught that I was temporarily disoriented.  I looked down to gather my things, looked back up, and he was gone.

Needless to say, I made a swift retreat!  To this day, I cannot rule out that he was simply a very quick, shady drug dealer who managed not only to sneak up on me, but to sneak away undetected, but a part of me at least WANTS to believe that perhaps he was a spirit, whether of one of the men who passed away nearby or otherwise, and that I needed to see him during that time of my life.

For a little on the history of the bridge itself:   The Richard J. "Dick" Henderson Memorial Bridge was built in 1934 by a crew out of Pennsylvania.  Dick Henderson was a legislator who settled in the St. Albans area in 1964.  He died in 1998.

More Bridge History

*Update*  On Friday, March 1, 2013 the bridge itself was finally demolished.  A new bridge will be built atop the original supports.*

1 comment:

  1. I feel sorry for the family of the man who lost his life under the bridge. They have my deepest sympathies. I can't blame the writer if he/she was traumatized by the horrible scene. I hope he/she will be okay in time. This is one of the many reasons why bridges need to be built with creative architecture and strong and sturdy materials. We’ll never know when natural catastrophes would occur. It will be in everybody’s interests if we are prepared for anything.

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