‘I remember watching pieces of the bridge fall off and splash in the Narrows’

The 1940 collapse of the bridge known as the Galloping Gertie is the subject of a new children’s book by local author Amanda Abler. #k5evening

TACOMA, Wash. – Seattle author Amanda Abler says she was a high school freshman in New Hampshire when she first learned of Galloping Gertie’s infamous meltdown.

“And it just blew my mind that this gigantic concrete and steel bridge could twist and turn the way it did and finally tear itself apart,” Abler told a group of people at a reading and book signing she recently on Stocklist Goods & Gifts.

As she began searching for a sequel to her first children’s book, The Spirit of Springer, Abler looked to the past, when the single-span crossing of the Narrows wasn’t nearly as robust as it is today.

“It’s an exciting story, and there’s a lot of good science behind it, too,” Abler said.

To tell the story to children, Abler needed an eyewitness who had witnessed the 1940 collapse as a child.

“I just ran a two-line ad in the Tacoma News Tribune,” she said.

One of the men who responded was Dale Wirsing, who celebrated his fourth birthday on November 7, 1940, the same day the bridge collapsed.

“I remember seeing parts of the bridge fall off and splash into the Narrows,” he said.

The book Galloping Gertie takes us back more than 80 years to see Dale Savoy walking over the bridge that was built near his home.

“But was it normal for a mammoth bridge to sway and jump even on a quiet evening like this?” Abler read to the group.

“You could feel the movement,” Wirsing recalled. “But people weren’t that concerned about it.”

Months later, in a storm, the bridge began to sway uncontrollably.

“Frightened, the man operating Gertie’s tollbooth quickly closed the bridge,” Abler read. “That was of little help to the four people who were already crossing Gertie and who were now stranded on their midspan.”

“It took me a while to realize that all the fuss wasn’t so much about my birthday as it was about the bridge falling,” laughs Wirsing.

As an eyewitness to history, Wirsing grew into a reporter, professor and historian. Now well into his 80s, he is a character in a children’s book that will be read for many years to come.

“It’s a memory I will have forever,” he said.

“All right, thanks for coming,” Abler said as she put the book down.

“Galloping Gertie” is available from Stocklist as well as other stores.

Abler says her next book will be out in 2024. It’s about Big Bertha, the giant drill that dug a highway under Seattle.

The evening of KING 5 celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, TwitterInstagram, email.

https://www.king5.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/evening/i-remember-watching-pieces-of-the-bridge-fall-off-and-splash-in-the-narrows/281-bb837f78-97a3-4851-972a-df4e448862cc ‘I remember watching pieces of the bridge fall off and splash in the Narrows’

Emma James

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