The Tacoma Narrows is a body of water connecting Dalco Passage on Commencement Bay with Chambers Bay. Two twin bridges that are fun to cross now soar over this passage between Tacoma and Gig Harbor. This passage is a very windy place where 50 mph gusts are not unusual. This was not taken into account when the first bridge was built over The Narrows, leading to disaster.
The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Highway 16 opened to traffic in July, 1940. It collapsed a few months later during a wind storm. Because it rolled like an amusement park ride when you crossed it, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge earned the nickname ‘Galloping Gertie’. Engineers tried to correct the sway with hydraulic jacks that didn’t help much. Bridge crossers reported that they watched cars ahead of them disappear as wind intensity increased. That must have been a unique experience. Because of a construction error in the design of the original 5,939 feet span, the bridge caught the wind instead of letting it pass through. This finally caused a complete collapse of the span during its first, and last, November.
An eye-witness to this crash caught it on film. That dramatic documentary seen by millions can be watched on YouTube. Some people literally crawled off the undulating span, so there was no loss of life, but a dog named Tubby left in a car was rescued by an engineering professor just before the first section of bridge collapsed into The Narrows around 11 am. The dog bit him.
Because for the first five years of the 1940’s decade we were fighting World War II, a new bridge wasn’t built until 1950. A 2nd eastbound span opened in 2007, so today 2 suspension bridges cross The Narrows. They soar high but do not sway. Going to scenic, affluent Gig Harbor costs nothing, but returning to Tacoma on the bridge requires $6. Its top can be seen from Tacoma’s War Memorial Park. However, there’s a better view of it from a park on the west shore. The directions to it are fairly complicated but available on-line. Ruth & I had no trouble following them. Locals call the new bridges ‘Sturdy Gertie’. Galloping Gertie rests in The Narrow’s undisturbed by salvagers.
ps I have no pictures of Galloping Gertie. The top photo is the famous Old Coat Hanger in Sydney, Australia, which crosses the most beautiful harbor in the world. The middle photo was taken at Tacoma’s war memorial and the 3rd is from the 2nd park on the other side of The Narrows.