26.5.09

Wabasha Freedom Bridge

[This is content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]


But how long will she last?" the mayor might have been heard to ask the bridge engineer. "Will the old girl make it through the winter?"

This had been the recurring theme for the Wabasha Street Bridge (WSB) ever since the Mississippi had first been bridged back in 1859. They replaced the woodwork in the main truss within a decade, and the other truss sections underwent reconstructions and desperate stabilizations for nearly 50 years, until finally the St. Paul Common Council built a truly hardy bridge that lasted nearly a century, until replaced by the all-new WSB.


Fun Fact

In choosing their color scheme, the WSB designers chose patina green as a central decorative hue. They wanted the bridge to match the faded green copper color of St. Paul's landmark Catholic cathedral, which sits atop a bluff overlooking the city.

[The first WSB.]


The new WSB was the best bridge yet, colorful and blessed with what its designers called an "amenities package," an architectural codeword for wide sidewalks and decorative metalwork. When Hereditary Chief Ernest Wabasha VII dedicated the WSB in 2001, smoking a peace pipe and chanting a prayer, he thought this bridge would be another symbol of permanence, a lasting tribute to peace between the old urban East and the boundless West.


Side Note

The building of the original WSB was contingent on a bridge toll used to fund the construction. They toll annoyed many, and was finally removed in 1873 in exchange for the land that is now St. Paul's West Side.





[Handheld flag at the WFB dedication.]



He couldn't have been more wrong. It was less than two years before the WSB was renamed the Wabasha Freedom Bridge (WFB) on the 1st anniversary of 9/11, in memorium. The naming ceremony made headlines in papers across the country largely because the St. Paul City Council adorned the bridge with upwards of 75 American flags. If there was a Guinness record for flag per bridge-foot, no doubt the WFB would have been in the running, as every 10 feet saw another occupied flagpole, and at the bridge's periodical focal points the flags were clustered in groups of 4. The bridge's patriotic fervor made it a focal point for both the VFW and local anti-war groups, and now more than ever, the WFB has become a center of attention.

Apart from its dual christenings, the most dramatic WFB event occurred on July 4, 2003 when a local clinically-depressed woman took her young twin sons in arm and jumped from the sidewalks of the WFB. Witnesses told police that the jumper yelled "Freedom!" during the 75-foot plunge from the bridge, and continued screaming the word as onlookers rescued one of her twin sons, who bore the odd name Supreme Knowledge Allah.

Her other boy, Sincere Understanding Allah, was tragically swept away by the Mississippi current. Boaters a dozen miles downriver discovered his drowned body 2 days later.



[Hereditary Chief Ernest Wabasha VII at the pre-Freedom Bridge naming ceremony (since rescinded).]

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