Fall of the Suspension Bridge

“At a quarter to eleven o’clock last Wednesday morning this city witnessed a horrible catastrophe in the falling of the suspension bridge which spanned the mount of the Scioto River from the terminus of west Second street to the tow-path on the West Side. The crash of the falling structure resounded through the West End like the report of a cannon, and many people stood motionless and shocked, knowing that some terrible had befallen us. The C&E RR hack which was just about to enter upon the bridge to go to Rushtown, was compelled to return and go via the Chillicothe pike to Lucasville, and while passing through the streets the people were informed of what had transpired. Amid confusion they flocked to the scene of the disaster in great numbers. Vehicles were hitched on both sides of the streets for squares in that vicinity, while a multitude of people with sad and forlorn countenances and woe-begone expression, looked upon the destructive and sorrowful scene in the water beneath. Words cannot express the feelings of the throng of people. 1

“The direct cause of the accident is not clearly know, but the bridge has upon more than one occasion been condemned by practical engineers.”

“When it fell Charles Barr was a little over half way to this side of the bridge with a two-yoke ox-team, and wagon loaded with a block of stone, two yoke having been driven to this side before driving the wagon upon the bridge. About twenty yards behind the team were Mrs. Charles Fulwiler and children, Sammy, a lad of five years, Zella, a little girl of three years, and Earl, an infant son of two months, in its mother’s arms.”

“It is said that the upper cable snapped and turned the bridge over.”

“Mr. Barr arose to the surface of the water above the bridge, but before coming out of the river he coolly and deliberately unyoked his oxen. The wagon and stone were thrown to the bottom, but the oxen escaped with but slight injuries. Mrs. Fulwiler came up below the bridge but had loosened her held upon her infant child which has not yet been found and is still at the mercy of the waters. When the boy came up he firmly held to his little dead sister with one hand while he clung to the bridge with the other. The mother and children were taken to the residence of Mr. Dennis Beatty near the scene of the calamity, and a physician summoned. An examination showed the little girl’s back and one of her limbs broken, timbers having struck her during the fall, and like was extinct.”

“When the structure went down, Newt Smith, August Hacquard, Todd Walker, Ignatius Reitz and Jacob Lust were standing by the city approach of the bridge viewing the river. While a conversation was going on between the two latter gentleman the accident occurred. Todd Walker was struck by a rod and received slight bruises about the head.”

“A lumber team of JW Sutton, driven by his son Wesley, had just crossed the bridge to this side preceded by a lumber team of lock-tender George Whitt, driven by his son, when the casualty occurred. Several heavily loaded stone teams had just crossed previous to the accident during the morning, and a four-mule team, driven by Lawrence Flannigan, was waiting upon the opposite side for Barr’s team to cross.”

“Barr is a resident of Pioneer Station, and the oxen are owned by Jake Miller of Wheelersburg, and were in the employ of I. Reitz & Company.”

“It is hardly possible to realize what presence of mind Mrs. Fulwiler and Mr. Barr had during the perilous situation, when thrown such a distance into the water, and escaping unhurt. But the poor little innocent children were the victims, and little did that happy family group suppose what was in store for them when entering upon the death trap, which has been condemned and since grossly neglected by the $3 per date statesmen- Winter and Goddard.”

“A Times reporter met Mr. Fulwiler in Minor’s barber shop, in the basement of the Times Office, later in the afternoon. He had been brought in a buggy from the powder mill locks where he had been employed on the Cincinnati & Eastern railroad. The heroic little body Sammy, was sitting in another barber chair waiting for his “papa” to get shaved.”

“Mr. Fulwiler, in answer to a question said “they did not tell me the extent of my affliction until we got nearly to town. It might have been worse, and yet it is mighty hard to know that my little girl was killed, and my baby is in the water.”

“Oh papa” said little Sammy, who did not seem to realize the extent of the father’s loss, “I’ll tell you something else. I rocked little brother to sleep this morning too.” The father said, in a husky voice: “Did you? Well you will never have to rock him to sleep any more Sammy.” “Why papa?” asked the little fellow: “Because he is dead my son, ” said the father, as the tears gathered in his eyes, and the words choked him.”

“The reporter said, “Sammy how did you find your sister?” “I just climbed out of the water, and caught sister’s dress, and asked her to climb up, and I would help her. She never said anything. I didn’t know why she would not answer me, she couldn’t get out, but I held on until the men helped her out.”

“What a brace little fellow! Clinging to the dead body of his sister, and too young to know that she could not respond to his appeals to save herself. “Papa! Come and help me down,” said the little fellow, and as the Times reporter tenderly lifted him from the chair from which Sammy could have easily gotten down himself, he contrasted the childish dependence and innocence with the little manly boy of a few hours before, who had the presence of mind not only to save himself but to attempt to save his still younger sister. Going down in the crash of wires and heavy iron and timber, clambering out unscathed and clinging with the heroism of manhood to the dead body of his sister, and three hours later asking to be lifted from a chair in which his feet almost touched the floor. It was a strange incident. A little man in time of danger, a helpless infant in time of security.”

“The question of damages was discussed by those present in the barber shop, but Mr. Fulwiler said “there isn’t much chance for a poor man in this country.” What a world of wisdom in the words. While it is true that there can be no money value attached to human life, it is well know that a suit for damages will very properly lie against the county for the criminal negligence of Commissioners Goddard and Winter, who have well known the dangerous condition of the cables.”

“Said Dr. Cotton, as he viewed the wreck of the bridge, “I have had to cross it nearly every day, and I have often told my wife that I expected to go down with it, and I wanted her to enter suit the next day for damages.”

“That the bridge was a death trap goes without saying, and yet Charles Winter and CA Goddard, controlling members of the Board, have for the past three years hidden the defects of the rotten wires in the cables by a cheap coat of paint. Instead of condemning the bridge years ago, saving life and replacing the bridge at less than it can be done now, we have this double murder and increased expense for the county to be mulcted for.”

“And yet among those who have common intelligence it has been know that this bridge was unsafe and its fall a question of any day. The views of engineers Dickinson and Bryan have been well known. This death trap has now fallen, and yet in spite of the fact that Commissioner Goddard has known this for years, he was the only one of the throng there who had the cheerfulness to smile over the wreck and ruin while there lay one of the dead victims within the sound of his voice where weeping women were bowed over the pale corpse of poor little Ella Fulwiler.”

“The Times, which has so often lifted a voice of warning , has no language to characterize those responsible for this great wrong. Their indictment by the grand jury will be but a weak act to signalize the popular indignation for the criminal negligence of Winter and Goddard upon whose heads should fall the blame for this fatal accident to human life.”

Coroner’s Inquest

Dr. Stillman held an inquest yesterday forenoon, with Constable McKeown as Coroner’s bailiff, at the old grocery stand of William Norris, but his verdict will not likely by completed for some days yet. He wants to secure some of the cable wires near the center of the bridge, as the testimony goes to show that it was in bad condition.”

“A representative of the Times was present, and through the kindness of the Coroner was permitted to take part in the examination of witnesses. Mr. Fulwiler, father of the two lost children, was an attentive spectator, suggesting an occasional question bearing upon the case. It is the universal opinion that Dr. Stillman should give this unfortunate accident the most careful investigation, and as there has been the most criminal carelessness, fasten the blame where it rightfully belongs. We give in brief the main features in the testimony of the witnesses, all of whom were under oath.”

Mrs. Fulwiler

“She stated the she lives at Union Mills, and that between 9 and 10 o’clock Wednesday morning, she started to town with her three children Samuel Newton, aged 5 years, Zella, aged 2 years and 11 months, and Earl, two months old, the latter in her arms. She said that when she came to the raised part of the bridge she noticed the stone wagon going over. She turned to speak to her little girl when the accident occurred, and she was so confused she could tell nothing more about what happened.”

Lawrence Flannigan

“Lawrence Flannigan testified that there were about 60 or 65 cubic feet of stone on Barr’s wagon.”

Charles Barr

“Charles Barr, when sworn, was told by Coroner Stillman “You were the brave man that day.”

“He said that he hadn’t much to tell. He was crossing the bridge with a two yoke team and had about 60 or 65 cubic feet of stone on the wagon, having sent two yoke across before driving on the bridge. About the center of the bridge there was a crack and away he went. Didn’t feel it till it was gone. Had been using only two yoke on the bridge, at the suggestion of the bridge tender, who thought four yoke were too heavy for the bridge. His average load was 50 cubic feet, but had hauled as high as 70 feet on swing wagon. Crossed three other bridges with the four yoke; the Carey’s Run, Old bed and canal bridges. Didn’t think anything about condition of bridge, and wouldn’t have sent two yoke ahead if orders had not been given to me to that effect.”

Hannah Masterson

Hannah Masterson was on the back porch, on Second street, above the bark shed in full view of bridge. At 10:50 Wednesday forenoon, saw stone wagon crossing and was uneasy about my little boy, who was fishing across the river. When the stone wagon was halfway across the crash came, and the bridge turned over as it went down. Couldn’t see anything but the team for the flying timbers; didn’t see the cables break. Never saw more than two yoke of oxen at a time on bridge. Always considered the bridge unsafe. It was getting old and had not been repaired enough. Most people were in dread of the bridge, especially when a team was on it. Here lately have seen but one wagon at a time on the bridge. Have frequently cautioned my boy not to go on the bridge when there was a team crossing.”

Fannie Byers

Fannie Byers was looking out of window in back kitchen. Saw the bridge tipping up. It turned right over and fell into the water. The timbers flew so I couldn’t tell if there was anything on it except the team. I screamed out, “the bridge is falling.” Didn’t think it safe when teams were on it. Don’t think it was repaired enough to be safe, and then it was getting old. Have often expressed my opinion as to its insecurity. I think the winds and flood damaged it. It loosened the guy post. Have often warned my neighbor’s children about it. Don’t think it has been safe for the past two years.”

I. Reitz

I. Reitz, proprietor of the stone saw mill, testified that the ox team belgoned to Jacob Miller, of Dogwood Ridge, and that Barr was Miller’s teamster hauling for Reitz on a contract, which he handed to the Coroner for inspection. Saw the wagon from the mill, and went down to the bridge to tell teamster where to deliver the block. Since about the 15th of April only two yoke of oxen were used on the bridge, Winter telling him that four yoke were too much in the condition of the bridge. Mr. Reitz here described his swing wagon and other teams. The average load to all wagons was from 50 to 55 cubic feet. A cubic foot of freestone would weigh 144 pounds. We live up to instructions as to the limit of a load.”

“When Barr got a little past the center of the bridge the inside cable, on the upper side of the bridge, gave way; in a second the one right by the side of it broke, the bridge swung down throwing the team and driver into the river. Saw Mrs. Fulwiler crawling out of the water on the wreck and the boy climbing out and pulling his little sister after him. The jar broke the two cables on the lower side. Have been in the stone business since 1865; until about 7 years ago used to haul 95 cubic feet to a load until the Commissioners limited it to 75 feet.”

“I have felt for the past ten years that the bridge was unsafe, and I have tried for the past eight years to get the Commissioners to strengthen the bridge by a middle pier or otherwise. Mr. Turner, when Commissioner, favored putting in new cables. I could not get anything done. Civil Engineer Captain Dickinson some years ago expressed his opinion as to its unsafeness, and Civil Engineer Bryan reported it not safe 3 years ago. Everybody has been afraid of it. As far as I know the people felt it was unsafe. It was getting weaker and weaker every day and would probably have gone down with its own weight anyway.”

Jacob Lust

Jacob Lust bridge tender for over five years. Thought it would stay awhile yet. It was getting old. Stopped the four yoke of oxen crossing about six weeks ago on order of Commissioners, and kept persons off from this side when a stone wagon was coming. There was no notice on the west side of the bridge to warn persons from crossing when a stone wagon was on the bridge. The bridge raised higher at the end than ever before when Barr’s team was coming. It scared me. It raised two feet. I asked Reitz why he didn’t go over and bring to the team across, and he said “I wouldn’t bring a team across for all of Portsmouth.” (Mr. Reitz heard that testimony read and disclaimed making any such remark. -Ed. Times) The wagon was not in the middle of the bridge, but nearer the upper side. Might not have broken the cable if it had not been for that, and it might have broken with a buggy passing over.”

August Hacquard

August Hacquard who worked in the lower rolling mill, had just crossed over to this side with Newt Smith. Was standing at this end of the bridge and saw it fall; when about the center of the bridge it sunk under the wagon and the ends raised. Barr tried to keep his team in the middle. Saw upper cable break and the slack cable on the shore struck me and threw me into the street. The woman and children were about 15 feet behind; lady, and baby in her arms, on upper side of bridge, and boy and girl hand in hand on lower side. Saw lady come up out of the water below the bridge and climb out; the little boy got out on the upper side, holding his sister. Smith got a flat-boat and we went out; he got the lady in the boat; he put the boy in the flat; he handed me the body of the little girl; I carried it in my arms into the boat and up the bank to Dennis Beatty’s. It was dead when it was handed to me. The upper cable has bulged out in the center ever since the flood.”

Newton Smith

Newton Smith who works in lower rolling mill had just crossed over to this side as detailed by Hacquard. He, as well as Hacquard, testified to the two yoke of oxen having been sent on before. The lady and children were about twenty yards behind the wagon. Heard a crack, saw something fly; looked like one of the upper cables broke about the middle. Ran behind the piers for safety. When the bridge struck the water I hallooed “Come on Hacquard” and we ran over the rip rap wall and jumped into a boat and started for the wreck. The woman was climbing out of the water on the lower side and the little boy on the upper side holding to his dead sister. Hallooed to boy to hold on to her til we could get to her. When we got there he had pulled her onto the bridge all except her feet. I picked her up and gave her to Hacquard and then helped the lady and the little boy into the boat. After we got them ashore, helped Barr out with his cattle. Noticed the bulge in the cable since the flood. Could see inside of it and could see where the water run in. It was near the middle of the cable. When I saw the bulge I thought something ought to be done to it, because the more water ran in the sooner it would rust. Have heard several people say it was dangerous.”

Dr. Cotton

“Am in the habit of going over the bridge for years; twice some days and generally several times a week, night and day. Have been afraid of it for three or four years. In the last year never crossed when a stone wagon or other heavy team was crossing. Noticed the cables were rusting. They had lain in the river when the bridge went down before. I could see where the cables bulged out in several places and were corroding.”

“I have freely expressed my opinion as to its dangerous condition. Have talked to my friends about it. Told my daughter last week the bridge would not last long, and explained to her how it would go down. It always gave me a chill when I crossed it, and I have told my wife in the event of my injury by its fall someone in authority would be responsible to my family for damaged, and I felt it was likely to go down with me at any time.”

The Commissioners in Session Over the Suspension Bridge Disaster

“Commissioners met Wednesday afternoon to take action in regard to furnishing means of accommodating the public crossing the Scioto river. Bids were ordered to be received up to noon of the following day for constructing a ferry of sufficient capacity to accommodate the travel upon said road. The proposal was to specify rates per day. Bond and security were also ordered to be given. Adjourned to Thursday.”

“On motion of C.A. Goddard, L.W. Elliott and Charles Winter were ordered to procure men and remove the debris of the suspension bridge.”

“Bids for operating a free ferry across the Scioto were received and laid over for future action. They then adjourned to yesterday.”2

“I. Reitz & Co., have remodeled a flat barge for a ferry, and is running it by means of a cable stretched from shore to shore, at the mouth of the Scioto. It is for his especial use in transferring stone across the river.”3

” We are indebted to Henry Stemshorn for a small coil of wire taken from the cable of the suspension bridge. It has been retained by us for preservation as a relic and reference of this office in the future. It is quite rusty and some portions of it was very easily scaled.”4

Cholera Visitation

Frankie Stemshorn, son of Henry Stemshorn, died Tuesday morning at a quarter past three after a painful illness of twenty-four hours duration. He attended Sabbath school at the German Methodist Church, Sunday morning and did not complain of feeling unwell until Sunday evening. The following morning he was attacked with cramping and vomiting which did not cease until the cold hand of death overtook him, at an early hour Tuesday morning.”

“Mr. Stemshorn was very desirous of knowing what sickness that had taken his son’s life so hurriedly, and upon inquiry was informed by the attending physician, Dr. Gibson, that it was a type of cholera.”

“He was in his 12th year and a boy who bore many excellent traits of character and also quite a favorite in the family and among his associates.”

“The funeral took place Wednesday afternoon at two o’clock, from the German M.E. Church.”5

Criminal Negligence

“We print briefly the evidence adduced before the coroner yesterday, with reference to the bridge disaster. To this testimony could be added that of hundreds of others. The cables of the bridge were permitted to corrode and be eaten apart without an effort on the part of controlling members of the Board of Commissioners to save life and property. The result is the murder of two innocent children, one a babe in arms, dashed from the breast to the bottom of the Scioto where it lies with the wreck of property criminally neglected. The other, a sweet little girl, lies in Greenlawn with the dead, saved only from a grave in the water by the boy hero not yet six years old.”

“Comment is unnecessary. Charles Winter, the especial guardian of the suspension bridge, at $3 per day, should be asked to resign, and Charles Goddard, his partner in this official neglect, should be taken from the ticket which he will weaken and defeat. The rotten cables, the dead, the wasted property and the increased expense and money outlay that must follow, cry trumpet-tongued for the retiring of Winter and Goddard.”

“A thorough investigation should be had, and if it lies in the power of the Board of Control it should take the pleasure in beginning it at once : if it has not the power a special grand jury should be impaneled to make the inquiry more searching than that which the coroner is now making. His power, he may feel, are to limited. There should be some power to ascertain and punish those responsible for the work of last Wednesday.”6

Earl Fulwiler Recovered

“Earl Fulwiler, the infant child that met its death from drowning by being precipitated into the Scioto river by fall of the suspension bridge, was recovered Saturday afternoon by Isaac Byers, just below where the structure now rests in the water.” 7

Miss Ida Beatty, daughter of Samuel Beatty, a Gallia street grocer, a lady in her 22nd year, died yesterday forenoon of lung troubles. Miss Beatty was a sister to Mrs. Charles Fullweiler, the lady who lost two children by the fall of the suspension bridge, and her illness dates from that lamentable incident. Being ambitious, she opened a school at Union Mills, in September last, where she had previously taught, but her health failed her after two weeks, and she was compelled to surrender her school, since which time she has lingered until death ended her sufferings yesterday. She was an estimable lady and her early decease is widely regretted.”8

Death of Janetta Beatty Fulwiler

“Mrs. Charles Fulwiler died Tuesday evening, July 18, at her home in Portsmouth. Her death is attributed to injuries received several years ago in the fall of the suspension bridge across the Scioto. She leaves three children and a disconsolate husband.”9

  1. Fall of Suspension Bridge. (1884, May 24). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.
  2. The Commissioners in Session Over the Suspension Bridge Disaster. (1884, May 24). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.
  3. (1884, May 24). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.
  4. (1884, May 24). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.
  5. Cholera Visitaion. (1884, May 31). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.
  6. Criminal Negligence. (1884, May 24). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.
  7. (1884, May 31). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.
  8. Death of Ida Beatty. (1884, December 27). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.
  9. (1893, July 29). Portsmouth Times, p. 1.