The new Harbor History Museum & the Fake 1940 Narrows Bridge remains
UPDATE: An offer dated October 13, 2010 has been made to the museum of having the metal tested by an independant specialized laboratory at no cost to the museum. This test will provide definative proof that the metal either is; or is not from Gertie. The museum has received the offer, but to date has not yet agreed to proceed. Note: The Harbor History Museum's Executive Director was Jennifer Kilmer, wife of State Senator Derek Kilmer. Senator Kilmer has served on the WA State Senate Transportation Committee, and on the Board of the Washington State History Museum. Is it possible that these associations had an influence on the decisions of the Harbor History Museum ? As of September 2011 Mrs. Kilmer was replaced as Executive Director of the Harbor History Museum by Suzanne Loiland; who has not yet commented on the issue.
Are these fragments from Gertie or not? Examinations & investigations say they are not
If this fragment is from Gertie- why did the museum put it outside by the Shenandoah, with decorative floats on it?
"Shocking deception at the Gig Harbor Museum"
Note: The opinions presented here are the author's, and do not represent those of the Harbor History Museum nor the WSDOT.
With great anticipation, and much hard work the new Harbor History Museum in downtown Gig Harbor, Washington is finally open to the public. The building is a beautiful feature now gracing the scenic & historic harbor. It was a much needed boost to the community, and the Peninsula Historical Society. The old museum was undersized, worn, and located in a less desirable place. The new museum is right on the waterfront & features roomy exhibit areas, an outside exhibit with an old fishing ship; the Shenandoah, and a separate exhibit of an old school house.
Among the many varities of excellent local history & interactive permanent exhibits, they have high quality scheduled exhibits in another section of the museum. The current exhibit, running from Sept. 18 until Jan. 16 of 2011 is a must-see "Stars and Stripes" collection of Americana. Showcasing old flags from the Civil War era, Centennials, various States admissions, and very unusual flags; they also have a large selection of American theme collectibles.
Amongst the permanent exhibits is one of the 1940 Galloping Gertie bridge that collapsed in 1940. A video on a large screen sweeps viewers right into the scene, and genuine artifacts adorn the setting. All of this portion of the bridge exhibit is authentic & completely enthralling. The blueprint you see on the middle left came from the Author's collection.
At the entrance to the Museum visitors will see a display of large fragments of metal, with accompanying snippits of the 1940 bridge. At the end of this display is a plaque, which describes the metal pieces' origin.
When the visitors read the plaque, they could assume it to say that the fragments of metal are pieces of the 1940 Narrows bridge; indeed the wording the museum wrote suggests just that. But the plaque does not say that anyone has ever verified the claim. It says the fragments were given due to requirements related to historic a site, but it doesn't explain that this happened because the original Galloping Gertie underwater historic site was extensively damaged & Laws require mitigation. The plaque says the metal in itself represents something mighty, but it doesn't say that it represents a mighty injustice.
The Museum is doing the what they decided is the best approach with this exhibit. They have been handed fragments of metal by a State agency, which are in reality not parts of the Narrows bridge; and the Museum is now involved in a game of politics.
This is a photo of Gertie's genuine remains underwater.
The following consists of photos of these fragments, photos of what the genuine bridge looks like, details on the differences, and lastly a letter by the author that was sent to the parties involved prior to this controversial exhibit ever being placed in the Museum. In the end, no official determination has been made, other than by the author, and other experts who have clearly stated that the fragments are not from Gertie. The result is an apparent deception (either intentional or not) by the WSDOT; a museum in an awkward position to say the least; and a Nationally Designated Historic Site (Galloping Gertie's actual ruins) has been damaged to unknown extents during the construction of the 2007 bridge, with no appropriate consequences levied as per legal requirements.
This photo was taken shortly after the Tacoma Narrows Constructors reported that they had "disturbed", and subsequently removed some fragments from the location of the East caisson of the 2007 bridge, at the bottom of the Narrows waterway. They made the claim that these fragments are remains of the 1940 Galloping Gertie bridge; a claim that to this day has not been verified by anyone nor any entity.
The photo above was taken in 2008, and it shows the under side of the 1950 Sturdy Gertie bridge. In fact, this side-span section of the existing bridge is the only part of the 1940 Galloping Gertie bridge that was not damaged at all when the main span collapsed in 1940. This shows the viewers an actual look at the only part of the Gertie road deck framing that survives above the Narrows waterway today. The rest of the 1940 bridge main span roadway lies at the bottom of the water. The framing you see here is what the TNC claims it recovered fragments of (part of the collapsed areas) the 1940 bridge; while building the 2007 bridge. Compare what you see here with the photos of the actual fragments they presented to the Harbor History Museum.
A closer look at the frame work- the girders and concrete roadway that made up the 1940 bridge. This is the same material as what the TNC claims they removed from the bottom of the water, even though the fragments reportedly came from the south side & some distance away from where the main span of Gertie fell.
The scan on the left shows the entire location & placement of Gertie ruins (in yellow), and the locations of the piers. As you can see in the close-up scan on the right, there are no ruins next to the piers- where the TNC claims their fragments were recovered from (inside the blue circle). The rectangles around the piers are the locations of the anchor blocks, which are made of concrete; again they are not any source of metal, but they do hold the cables which keep the pier bases in place. These cables are part of the ongoing damages to the real Gertie remains as they have been placed right across them in areas.
The blueprint plan above is the original Clark Eldridge design for the 1940 Galloping Gertie Narrows bridge road deck. It shows a cross section of the girder design including the framing members. The fragments that were presented by the TNC to the Harbor History Museum do not match any parts of this blueprint.
Another of Clark Eldridge's blueprints is shown here. This one is the top view and side view of the roadway framing design, and the frame cross members- which were beams- not thin metal as seen in the actual TNC's fragment photos below.
Here is a photo of a large fragment that the TNC reportedly brought up from the floor of the Narrows waterway. The area on the upper left of the fragment is where their diver had to use a torch underwater in order to remove this fragment from another that remained at the bottom. Unfortunately, the author could not verify from measurements and rivet hole patterns on this fragment- that it ever came from the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge. It apparently is from something else.
This photo shows fragments with an interesting & not easily explained damage pattern. Besides the multiple components "layered" together (which the Tacoma Narrows bridge did not have such layered parts to this degree), notice how the damage pattern of the bends in the metal is in various directions. This is not consistent with Galloping Gertie's vertical drop. The man in the top of the photo pointing at the fragment is Richard S. Hobbs; author of "Catastrophe To Triumph" and former head of the Washington State Archives.
Although the photo above was difficult to get (because the sunlight was on the other side), you can see inside the white circle that the two pieces which come together have a large gap at the corner. The 1940 Narrows bridge was built in part, by Bethlehem Steel and Pacific Car & Foundry. Both of these firms had strict standards of manufacture and assembly that would not have allowed for such a flimsy connection.
The shot above is further proof that the fragments are not from the Galloping Gertie remains at the bottom of the Narrows waterway. Look at the noticeable gap from the original assembly of the components of this fragment- as seen between the white arrows. There are no such adjacent framing members with a gap such as this in the construction of Gertie's road deck, nor towers.
Here is an interesting close-up of a damaged edge of one of the fragments. You can see the thickness of the metal, and imagine the sheering force it took to cause this effect on it. This is more consistent with an explosion, rather than a collapse.
The photo above provides a look at the many pieces fastened together at one joint of a fragment. The number of pieces does not correspond with any joint of the 1940 Narrows bridge girders. Again, note the gap between the adjacent horizontal members. Also of note are the broken edges which are twisted in different directions- even though they are in close proximity to each other. These damages could not have occured in this fashion from the bridge collapse where the force of the failure was a vertical sheer on horizontal framing members.
This shot shows some of the smaller fragments, consisting of long lengths of metal, with remnants of cross-bracing attached. The bracing was done at an angle from the main fragments, and is made of a thinner material. No such construction was done on Gertie's road deck framing. The foot you see in the photo is that of Rick Hobbs, who was present during the author's inspection & photographing these fragments.
The odd nature of the "filler" piece of this fragment, as seen inside the white circle, is yet another indicator. With precise measuring & construction techniques that were used in the making of the bridge; no such "filler" would have ever been utilized. Upon close examination of this area it was noted that the piece has factory straight edges- it is not the result of any cracking.
Vicki Blackwell, Curator of the Harbor History Museum; (Apr.17, 2008) "Ken, Thank you so much for your in-depth letter on the bridge fragments. I appreciate your honesty. Between you, Rick, and Robert Meister, there certainly is skepticism on the claim of WSDOT that these are true remnants from Gertie. We were pretty certain that they didn’t come from the actual collapse..."
(May 5, 2008) "I had voiced my concerns about the validity of the pieces as historic Gertie fragments with two people at the State Dept. of Archaeology many months ago."
Richard S. Hobbs, Author & Former head of WA State Archives; (March 21, 2008) "What I've learned is that the fragments attributed by WSDOT to "Galloping
Gertie" were raised from the bottom near Piers 5 and 11, while excavating
for caisson for 11, then transported to a site on the Hylebos Waterway where
TNC had some leased space. They remained there for "several months" before
their return to the bridge area and placement outside Kip Wylie's office.
Of course, who knows if the same pieces that were lifted up and sent up the
waterway are the same ones that returned?"
(May 3, 2008 in reply to the author's letter below) "Ken ...on your analysis and conclusions on the Fragments...well thought out and presented."
Robert Mester, Experienced Diver of the Gertie Remains and the Man who 1st Submitted Gertie ruins to the National Historic Register, (April 21, 2008 in reply to the Author's letter) :"Great WORK"
Dana Senge, of DKS Conservation and who also inspected the fragments with the Author, (March 17, 2008 in reply to the Author's sending photos of verfied bridge fragments in preparation of the report below) "Ken, This is interesting to see...what you are observing are the different corrosion products that develop on iron based materials...It was great to meet you last week."
The following is the Author's letter to Vicki Blackwell, the Curator of the Harbor History Museum, with a copy having been sent to Robert Mester, Richard S. Hobbs, the WA State Historic Preservation Office, and the WSDOT. It was written in April of 2008, and was noted to be of importance by all parties except the WSDOT; whom had no comment.
(April 15, 2008) I am writing to you today in regards to the
fragments that have been given to the Museum by the Tacoma
Narrows Constructors, and the WSDOT. Firstly, let me thank
you again for extending the invitation to me for the
examination of the fragments that Rick Hobbs, and Dana Senge
engaged in. I enjoyed the discussions, and time spent on
As you know, we have all been told that the
fragments were obtained from a few feet below the floor of
the Narrows waterway, and this occurred as a result of the
TNC unearthing them during the process of construction of
the caissons for the 2007 Narrows Bridge. It has been
suggested by them that they are fragments of the 1940 Narrows
Bridge. You may also be aware of the required notification
by the WSDOT to the WA State Historic Presrvation Officer in
Feb. of 2003, that the Galloping Gertie historical site had
been adversely affected by the new bridge construction.
Subsequently, the investigation of Gertie remains
underwater in 2004 found that some degree of damages had
occurred, though the amount & degree of damages are unclear.
Due to this acknowledgement by the TNC and WSDOT, Federal
law mandated some sort of mitigation to take place. Several
options for satisfying mitigation had been suggested, and by
various entities. Those suggestions ranged from: (1) Abandonment
of the new caisson’s anchor chains to minimize the ongoing
damages of the current’s dragging the chains across Gertie
remains, (2) Completing a comprehensive exam of Gertie remains
and producing a documented record after the new bridge was
completed, (3) Establishing a dive path for sports divers,
(4) Installation of underwater cameras along Gertie remains, (5) WA
State approval to sink a large vessel in Puget Sound within
a sport diving range, and (6) Possibly recovering & preserving
parts of Gertie’s roadway- side girders- support structure,
etc. for display at an appropriate facility or Museum; all
these being among the suggestions for satifying mitigation.
To date, the only action taken has been on the latter
Granted, I am not an expert in any particular field
that has to do with this subject. My higher education was in
the architectural engineering field, of which I successfully
completed a 2 year course. My experience in regards to the
subject I am writing to you about comes from self-education,
and much research, as well as discussions with people
knowledgeable in various fields relating to the bridges, and
their history. I am compelled to relay my thoughts and
concerns to you, in hopes of providing you additional input
with the Museum being handed a “can of worms” in the name of
I have several concerns that lead me to be of the
opinion that these fragments have nothing to do with Gertie,
and therefore they are questionable as to their true source.
After my examination of these metal parts, and having
taken photos, as well as examining other’s photos of the
fragments; I additionally researched the blueprints, and
compared measurements and conditions of various details. I
re-examined the history of Gertie’s collapse, and the
dismantling of what was left of the 1940 bridge. I again
looked at the history of building the 1950 bridge. I
re-examined known Narrows bridge remains. In no aspect
of this research could I find even one item that would
verify the claim that the fragments were from Gertie. Quite
the contrary, I found several facts that disprove the claim,
and more than one reason to be wary of a possibly
To summarize my findings, please
- To the best of my knowledge, none of the fragments is
a match on any of Clark Eldridge’s blueprints, nor Pacific
Car & Foundry, nor Bethlehem Steel for the Gertie bridge
parts or components. I did not find a complete match for the
rivet holes pattern, or spacing throughout any particular
fragment, nor the size & overall shape (as best as could be
determined) of the fragments. At best I found some hole
spacings as a match- but not the hole patterns. The
fragments have numerous jagged edges, and even given that
they are lacking but a select few factory straight edges &
that they are parts of larger original components of
something, I could not find any Gertie plan that shows any
component these may have been part of. Fragment #1 has the
straightest edges of the group, but the hole spacing &
overall size measurements do not match anything on the
- The thickness of the metal in some areas, such as on
fragment #5, being much thinner on some edges, therefore not
uniform across the surface is not consistent with the
collapse of the bridge, or subsequent dis-assembly of the
bridge remainder. The collapse occurred with the concrete
road deck breaking & falling, the main cable band cutting
into the cable, which allowed for slack in tension, and then
the main span girders fell apart & into the water. The
remaining towers, side spans, and main cables were carefully
dis-assembled after the collapse. No action of compressing
metal components ever occurred, therefore the fragments that
have compressed metal evident on them would not be from
- Each fragment varies in twisting & contortions from
moderate to extreme. In some places middle portions have
experienced severe forces, even while still attached to an
adjacent part that it was originally fastened to. The forces
that would be necessary to produce such damages to thick
metal did not occur in Gertie’s collapse, and surely did not
occur in the later disassembly of what was left of Gertie.
The towers, and much of the metal recovered from the Gertie
recycling did, in fact, get used in construction of several
other bridges in Washington after 1942. In other words, the
metal reclaimed from Gertie in 1941/42 was in very good
condition to be able to be used again.
- A number of the fragments have brackets, or bracing
attached at angles in relation to the length of the
fragment. I find no part or component of Gertie that has
such an angle bracing, let alone any bracing at all.
- The fragments lack crustation normally seen in
salt-water saturated metal, as evident on the known Gertie
remains, including remains under ground that I have found.
The reason for this lack of crustation has been suggested
that because the fragments were buried, they did not develop
crust. This reason does not apply to the history of Gertie
underwater remains, as they did not get buried at the time;
and during the subsequent years of tidal flow only the lower
most portions have been somewhat covered by the sea floor.
- The location given by the TNC as their origination of
discovery invalidates them from being parts of Gertie. When
Gertie collapsed, it was during an out-going tide; which
flows to the north in that location. If any part of Gertie
were to have been carried by the tide before it made it’s
way to the sea floor- it would have traveled to the north.
The location these fragments are claimed to come from is to
the south of where Gertie fell.
- The parts that Gertie consists of were a concrete
road deck over framework and rebar “screening”, the girder
sides, the main and suspender cables, and the towers. The
only parts that collapsed were the main span’s roadway and
framework/girders, as well as a small amount of suspender
cabling. The main cables, most of the suspender cables, the
side spans, and the towers were all removed, with very minor
exceptions. These exceptions amount to a relatively small
amount of rebar filled concrete (as compared to the entire
roadway) , and small sections of metal framing. But again,
this after-the-fact debris was not of the size of the
fragments, and was dropped in the location of each
respective tower to each shore. If it fell into the water in
these locations, the after-the-fact debris sank quickly, and
straight down. It is not possible for the TNC fragments to
be from Gertie in the location they claim to have been
- The TNC made no effort to verify either the
location, nor the raising of the fragments. There exists (as
far as I know) no documentation of who exactly performed
this raising, when it occurred, the placement of the
fragments before they were brought up, or the process at the
time. This lack of documentation raises the question of
- The TNC, nor the WSDOT has not made any attempt
(that I know of) to fulfill any term of mitigation, short of
this action. This may be viewed as their sole action, and in
their opinion, may be considered as the only requirement
needed by them to perform mitigation, and therefore they may
believe they have satisfied the Federal requirements.
- There exists in, not only the Narrows waterway, but
in Commencement Bay, as well as most all waters; any amount
of debris ranging from wood to metal to general trash. Ships
have traveled this region’s waters since the late 1700’s,
and the fragments, if they were really removed from the
place the TNC claims, can legitimately be said to have come
from any number of sources. Robert Mester knows of a
munitions explosion that occurred near Point Fosdick during
WW II, in which metal parts were strewn. The location of
this 1940’s explosion is in the close vicinity of where the
fragments are claimed to have come from. These fragments
could be from that source, among other possibilities.
The above determinations lead me to accurately and
honestly state that the fragments cannot be attributed to
Gertie without reasonable doubt. Although I tried numerous
times, and different ways to confirm their association with
Gertie, I have come to the same conclusion each time.
My skeptical nature also prompts me to wonder if this
action by the TNC and the WSDOT has been an intentional
deception, with motivation to pacify mitigation at the least
expendature possible. Could it be simply put, that someone
had scrap metal in their junkyard, and was told to bring it
to the bridge construction site, the TNC dipped it in the
water, brought it to the Tideflats, and then claimed it was
brought up from the Narrows waterway & was Gertie parts? If
this is a possibility (which I believe it is), then the
Harbor History Museum, the Peninsula Historical Society, and
all entities involved in proper preservation, and upholding
Federal laws have been taken for a ride. If the TNC really
did recover the fragments from the location stated, and in
the manner stated by them, they may simply be assuming the
fragments are from Gertie without any known facts to verify
this. In that case, it would be a plain assumption with no
deception intended- but the same ends being fulfilled
If the Museum accepts that the fragments are Gertie
parts, and continues with preservation & display of them as
such; then the WSDOT will have successfully fulfilled their
obligation for mitigation. If the Museum determines that
there is enough evidence to reject the claim of these being
from Gertie, or at least cannot positively verify that they
are from Gertie and therefore cannot find reason to classify
them as such; then the WSDOT will be left without
satisfying any mitigation as yet, and must therefore proceed
with another option. This decision of the fragments identity
places the Museum in a sensitive situation. And it does not
necessarily mean that the Museum has the last word on it
either. The WSDOT could possibly hire a consultant, or
supposed “expert” to make a statement that they are Gertie
fragments, irregardless of the facts. Of course, if this
were to happen, it would be a biased statement, paid for by
the State- but not unheard of in a political world that the
State is in. Also, if this were to happen, the Museum might
be told that they have to accept the State’s decision, and
proceed with the expense & display of materials in the
Museum which are not proven to be genuine.
In closing, I write all this to you because I do
not know if anyone else would, or will be as forthcoming &
provide you with an independent assessement as I have here.
My hopes are that you may discuss this fully with your
Executive Directors, and the Historical Society, and proceed
carefully given the highly skeptical details of these
fragments. Any preservation expenditures already performed,
and any future expenditures may be for not, if the fragments
are indeed not from Gertie, and are in fact, simply scrap
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