After last week, I have decided that more things should be blown up in public spectacles.
In case you missed it, and I’m not sure how you could, last Thursday saw the end of the old Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River. In a matter of seconds, explosive charges were ignited and the 80-plus-year-old bridge plunged into the water below.
It was a sight to see and truly a memorable work day. I never really thought in my career I’d have a front-row seat to a bridge getting blown up, but I have to say I enjoyed it.
The Friday before the blast, I asked The Missourian’s photo editor, Jeanne Miller Wood, if the paper would need any help covering the big day. Secretly I was hoping she’d say yes because I wanted to see it go down.
I’m going to break my journalistic pledge of objectivity here, but I think it’s OK because the bridge is not a person — I hated that thing. When I was in college, that bridge was the sign that my journey up to Kirksville was starting and my journey home was nearly over depending which way I was going.
I was always happy to see it, but never happy to actually drive on it. It was, in short, terrifying. The narrow lanes and rickety nature seemed just ripe for something bad to happen.
The new bridge, which opened late last year, doesn’t inspire the same level of animosity. It seems safe and smooth and not ready to collapse at a moment’s notice.
So, yeah, I wanted to be in Washington to see the bridge demolition.
Because historic bridges don’t go down every day, The Missourian decided to put the full-court press on with its coverage. Everyone who could help was asked to chip in. If you had a camera, you were given a job. I’m biased, but I think the team did a fantastic job.
I was fortunate enough to play a small part of it. I was assigned crowd pictures and reaction shots. Basically, my job was to take it all in and get pictures of people doing the same.
The blast was originally scheduled for 9 a.m. but was pushed back to 10:30 a.m. the day before. Either some people didn’t get the memo or they just wanted to get the primo spots.
No matter what the reason, I was told at 9 a.m. that I should probably head on down to the riverfront. I walked from The Missourian’s office and expected to see a crowd and I was not disappointed.
Waves of people kept making their way down Lafayette Street. Front Street was packed with people. If you looked, you could see people on top of buildings and looking out windows pretty much everywhere. It was an event.
And I nearly missed it.
I was told that the blast wasn’t going to happen at exactly 10:30 a.m., but rather after an Amtrak train made its way through town. I saw the train come through and began my internal countdown.
There was a loud boom at around 10:30 a.m. that startled everyone. Apparently it was a warning shot to scare off the animals. All I know is that everyone perked up and started paying attention.
From where I was standing at the riverfront park, we had no idea what was going on. Some people said the warning shot was a 30-second warning. Someone else said it was a 60-second warning.
Either way, I pointed my camera at the bridge and got into position. I waited. And waited. And then I looked around and checked my watch and, suddenly, the bridge was going down.
I had to quickly readjust and fire off some pictures. The blast started before the sound traveled so I missed the ignition. I did manage to catch some pictures of the bridge splashing down into the water.
And then, just like that, it was all over. Everyone around me remarked how cool it was. People were talking about what a unique experience this whole thing had been. I had to agree.
People, apparently, like stuff getting blown up. It’s a communal experience that I think other communities should get in on.
The city of Union is making plans to raze the old Frick’s building this summer to make way for a new city hall. Instead of knocking it down, let’s see what it would take to blow it up. I bet it would draw a crowd.
OK so that’s probably never going to happen, but it’s fun to think about. I think I’m just going to have to settle on covering one massive explosion during my career.