The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 6 Nov 1863

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The Chicago Bridge Catastrophe

From the Chicago Times, Nov. 5

The circumstances of this accident are briefly as follows: A few minutes before 5 o clock on Tuesday afternoon a herd of fat cattle was being driven over the [Rush Street] bridge. About sixty of them had not yet crossed when a tug, having in tow two vessels, came steaming down the river. The bridge-tender, apprehensive of a collision, and totally unmanned by the occasion, though the engine of the tug had been promptly reversed on coming in sight, commenced to swing the bridge! Slowly the iron structure moved on its pivot, and powerfully did it bear for a time its unusual burden. But it had turned twenty feet from its position when the cattle, rushing forward towards the north end, broke in twain the structure, and the ends of the bridge fell with a tremendous crash. Twelve persons and fifty cattle were at once precipitated into the water, or buried violently amidst the crashing wreck.

At early dawn yesterday throngs of people flocked to the spot in large numbers, a crowd remaining there all day, and increasing largely towards night fall. The docks near the bridge were also lined with sight-seers, and thriving traffic was done in boats, parties being taken all round the wreck at so much for each person. And what a sight met the view! The bridge deflected just its own width from its nominal position, the middle portion resting on the centre pier, whence the ends declined in both directions into the water. The curved supporting beams, made of wrought iron plates bolted together, were only strained and bent, not broken. The lower frame or road way was broken in twain, the parts being kept together only by the iron beams with their connecting, straightening rods. The upper platform was broken off and the pieces lay floating around, while the transverse rods and braces were bent into all shapes and forms. The trusted framework has fallen upon the wreck, leaving the eastern edge of the structure very broken, while the other side was bound together firmly. Between the trusses and the road way lay nine oxen pinned to the spot and quite dead. The braces had fallen across their necks and backs, almost sundering them in twain. Some of these animals must have lived in agony some time after the accident, as their moanings were distinctly heard through a greater portion of the night, but, of these, all save two were dead in the morning. Another animal also escaped unscratched and with its life, and in the morning was found standing the west end of the centre pier. It had been thrown or jumped completely clear of the wreck, landed on the staging, and, though falling at least twenty feet, was uninjured. A party of men were early at work extricating the animals and cutting them up. The two that were found alive were dispatched, and their flesh cut up, probably for use as beef; the others were devoted to the use of the tanner or the glue factory. The river was dragged yesterday, but no bodies were found. The process will be resumed today, and the work performed more thoroughly.

It is exceedingly probable that many others of that herd of cattle are buried under the debris, but the water is so muddy, because of the packing houses, that it is impossible to see half an inch beneath the surface. It may also be expected that the clearing of the wreck will result in the finding of human bodies. But this will be a work of time. That wrought-iron framework, firmly bolted in every part and the bolts rusted by long exposure to the weather, will require much twisting, turning, hammering and chiseling before it can be separated, and the different parts removed, while the awkward position in which the wreck lies will operated much to the disadvantage of the workers, and materially retard their movements.

With regard to the number of persons on the bridge at the time of the fall, accounts differ materially. Several persons who saw the bridge go down all give different estimates. The following is as near an approach as can be made to the truth:

James H. Dole, as stated yesterday, in a buggy. The animal and vehicle were lost. While in the water he took hold of the horn of a steer, and thus kept himself above water until rescued. The boy referred to yesterday was washed towards him, and he assisted the youth to take hold of another animal.

A teamster in the employ of C. H. McCormick & Co. He was thrown into the river but escaped with only a submersion. The horse was saved.

Two elderly gentlemen were fished from the water.

There were three drivers with the herd, two of whom were lost. The other had his leg terribly mashed. He said that he saw a woman and child directly in front of him on the bridge and saw them go down; they were lost. One of the bridge tenders was drowned.

Several parties were on each end of the bridge, but left it when it began to turn. The number of lives lost is at least five, and may be greater.

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6 Nov 1863
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Dave Swayze
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 6 Nov 1863