Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Wheeling Daily Intelligencer
May 18, 1854

Terrific Storm!

Destruction of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge!!

With feelings of unutterable sorrow, we announce that that noble and world renowned structure, the WHEELING SUSPENSION BRIDGE, has been swept from its strong holds by a terrific storm, and now lies a mass of ruins! Yesterday morning thousands beheld this stupendous structure in undisturbed repose and in undiminished strength, a mighty pathway spanning the beautiful waters of the Ohio, a link in the unbroken chain of trade and travel between the East and the West, and looked upon it as one of the proudest monuments of the enterprise of our citizens. Now, nothing remains of it but the dismantled towers looming above the sorrowful wreck that lies buried beneath them! A giant lies prostrate in the Ohio, and against his huge and broken ribs, and iron ?, snapped asunder, the waves are dashing scornfully, sending up a sound the most doleful that ever fell upon the ears of our citizens!

During the forenoon of yesterday, a high storm of wind prevailed, which towards noon increased to almost a hurricane along the valley of the river, breaking vessels at their moorings and causing great devast[at]ion. About 3 o'clock we walked up towards the Suspension Bridge, and went upon it, intending to take a walk across it for pleasure, as we have frequently done, enjoying the cool breeze and the undulating motion of the bridge. We discovered that one of the guys, or small iron cables extending from the flooring to the wall near the base of the east abutment, was broken from its fastenings, and several of the stones wrenched apart. About a hundred years [sic] further on, we saw that one, and only one of the suspenders to which the floor is swung, was broken. These were but slight damages, but as we had never before seen the bridge effected even to this extent by gales, and as it began to sway violently, we thought it prudent to retrace our steps. We had been off the flooring only two minutes and was on Main street when we saw persons running towards the river bank; we followed just in time to see the whole structure of cables and flooring heaving and dashing with tremendous force.

For a few moments we watched it with breathless anxiety, lunging like a ship in the storm; at one time it rose to nearly the heighth [sic] of the towers, then fell, and twisted and writhed, and was dashed almost bottom upward. At last there seemed to be a determined twist along the entire span, about one half of the flooring being nearly reversed, and down went the immense structure from its dizzy heighth [sic] to the stream below, with an appalling crash and roar. Nearly the entire structure struck the water at the same instant, dashing up an unbroken column of foam across the river, to the heighth of at least forty feet.

Amid the confusion of the wreck, we cannot accurately estimate the extent of the damage. All the cables, except two on the North side, are torn from the towers. On the South side, all the cables except one small one, are torn from their anchorage in the heavy masonry on Main street, and with such violence were they jerked from this piece of masonry, that one stone weighing about 1,500 pounds, was thrown at a distance of some feet. The large iron gate, at this end of the bridge, was shivered to atoms, and the toll house completely demolished, Mr. James Pell, the toll keeper, making a narrow escape with his life. On the Island, at the west end of the bridge, we learn that but one cable broke from the anchorage. The entire wood work lies in the river and on the shores. The cables also stretch across the river, sunk to the bottom. So far as we can discover, only two of the cables snapped asunder, and that on the outside of the towers, the rest of the breakage being at their connections with the anchors.

For a mechanical solution of the unexpected fall of this stupendous structure, we must await future developments. We witnessed the terrific scene and saw that it was brought about by the tremendous violence of the gale. The great body of the flooring and the suspenders, forming something like a basket swung between the towers, was swayed to and fro, like the motion of a pendulum. The cables on the south side were finally thrown off the apex of the eastern tower, retaining their position on the tower on the opposite side of the river. This destroyed the equilibrium of the swinging body; and each vibration giving it increased momentum, the cables, which sustained the whole structure, were unable to resist a force operating on them in so many different directions, and were literally twisted and wrenched from their fastenings.

The summits of the towers on each side are several feet above the arch which unites them. Upon the summits the cables rested on iron rollers, and it is supposed by some that the jar produced by the sudden falling of the cables on one side from the roller to the connecting arch below, was the cause of the disaster. Whether this is a philosophical conclusion, or whether the result would have been different if the towers had not been separated, is a question which we leave to future investigations.

The flooring as it struck the water was broken into three sections, and extended across the river, entirely blockading the channel for a while. Last evening that portion across the channel was cut away, and removed by the steamer Thos. Swann, so that the chan[n]el is now free for the passage of boats.

We cannot estimate the inconvenience which will be caused to trade and travel, and the mail transit by the loss of this bridge. It is one of the heaviest calamities which has ever fallen on our city, but we believe the enterprise and public spirit of our citizens will repair the loss as speedily as any community could possibly do. Temporary ferry boats have been provided and their places will soon be supplied by the best boats which can be procured. For further arrangements, we look hopefully to the future.

It is a source of gratulation that no lives were lost by this disaster. We were among the last persons who left the bridge from this side, and although many on both sides were at (?) waiting to go upon it, they were fortunately deterred. We saw no one upon it when it fell, and so far as we have learned, one little girl, daughter of Mr. Lukens, on the Island, is the only one who was injured, and she not dangerously. She was standing on this side, waiting for the wind to subside, and was struck by something which bruised her arm. We trust that further examinations will disclose no more bodily injury.