URG to preserve history of Silver Bridge

By | November 23, 2012

RIO GRANDE – Certain historical dates provide insight and understanding far beyond what mere words can portray.

Dec. 7, 1941. Nov. 22, 1963. Jan. 28, 1986. April 20, 1999. Sept. 11, 2001. Each stirs up memories both painful and yet vital to American culture.

Dec. 15, 1967 may not resonate on a similar level nationally, but the historical impact of the Silver Bridge collapse is just as significant. Preserving that history is the mission of the University of Rio Grande / Rio Grande Community College through the River Tales: The Silver Bridge Tragedy project.

“River Tales will use interviews and the perspectives of scholars with extensive backgrounds in the humanities to help preserve and understand a tragedy that shaped the lives of people in the region and led to national legislation by President Lyndon B. Johnson to prevent another such tragedy from happening again,” said Gregory A. Miller, Director of Cultural Advancement and a Fine and Performing Arts Professor at Rio Grande.

“Being from this area, I remember it well. I was in my car with my girlfriend right before Christmas break and it came across the radio,” Miller, 65, said. “But that was 45 years ago and we want to preserve all that history before we start to lose it.”

Forty-six people died when the Silver Bridge collapsed, sending 31 cars into the chilling Ohio River.

Beginning Dec. 15 at the Gallia County Historical and Genealogical Society in Gallipolis, River Tales will conduct two months of in-person interviews from participants, witnesses, relatives, government employees and the media. Interviews will be scheduled, however, walk-ins are welcomed and accommodations will be made for anyone who can’t attend the scheduled interviews.

For more information regarding River Tales or to schedule an interview, please contact Miller at 740-245-7030 or gmiller@rio.edu.

All interviews will be videotaped and organized into a searchable database archive along with acquired videos, family letters, newspaper articles, government documents, interviews, pictures and personal photos.

Miller and Rio Grande History Professor Samuel J. Wilson will conduct the interviews with assistance from student aides. The River Tales project is schedule for completion with the launch of the webpage by May 1, 2013.

“A major component of the project will be the actual voices and faces of those who experienced the tragedy and were permanently affected by it,” Wilson said. “We’re not determining content. Whatever people tell us will be on the website. That way other researchers can utilize everything for their own projects. … We want to capture and preserve the stories of the region.”

River Tales is funded in part through an Ohio Humanities Council (OHC) grant and will be promoted through local libraries, schools, historical societies and museums.

Miller and Wilson are no strangers to such projects. Both have individually and collectively received grants to support a variety of cultural projects, lecture series, summer institutes and art exhibits over the last twenty years. Perhaps their most notable collaboration produced the River of Slavery, River of Freedom Teacher Institute in 2011 that also received an OHC grant and was featured on the National Endowment for the Humanities webpage.

Based on the impact of those locally affected, similar recognition could be in store for River Tales.

“For many days, months and years to follow the stories endlessly flowed like the Ohio River, each one with memories of time that seemed to stand still,” said Bob Hood, Executive Director of the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “As for myself, personally, I was a 5-year-old kindergarten student. Gone was the father of twin girls in my class, gone was the son of our neighbors across the street and gone were the parents of my second cousin. … This project will provide cultural understanding engaging in promoting local history and tourism to the Ohio River Valley.”

The University of Rio Grande / Rio Grande Community College is the only combined private university and public community college in the country. Serving more than 2,400 students annually, dreams become reality while nestled into the beautiful rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio.

For media inquires please contact Eric McKinney, Director of Marketing, at emckinney@rio.edu or 740-245-7225.