Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Is that an elephant on a bridge?

The start of the Dames Point Bridge

Dames Point Bridge: Jacksonville, FL. We had just entered Florida, the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm! I was in amazement because I couldn’t believe we were driving with the sunroof open and the windows down…and it was DECEMBER!

We decided to take a quick trip to Jacksonville to check out a beach. We were nearing the outskirts of the city, traveling south on 295, when Angie told me to take a look at this bridge. I looked but all I saw were tall metal poles about the size of power lines seen in Ohio, but shaped a bit different. This “power line” had two poles parallel to one another with a brace in between. There were, from what I could see, about two sets of these huge supported poles in a row.

What bridge? I thought to myself.

Then we got a bit closer.

Approaching the bridge. What fun! :-)
The view of the bridge seemed to get better and better as we approached it. I was awestruck at the sight my eyes were taking in. I had never seen any bridge like this in Ohio.

It was tall, like a 40 story, narrow building tall. I noticed it was supported by cables, and lots of them. These cables were lined in a diagonal fashion.

I happened to stumble across a fairly informative article about the bridge by Mike Strong. Not only did I discover some interesting facts and history surrounding the bridge, which was finished in 1988, but opened in 1989, in his article, Dames Point Bridge and Park, Strong describes the bridge best (in my opinion) by explaining the, “Dames Point’s graceful diagonal support cables look like the sails of a behemoth phantom clipper ship coming into harbor.”

What a beauty!

Crossing the bridge! What a view!!
These support cables have a huge weight to hold. Literally! They are the ones responsible for supporting the weight of the bridge’s concrete structure. According to Strong, there was “over 94,000 cubic yards of concrete used.” At 4,000 pounds per cubic yard, that’s A LOT of weight!

The Dames Point Bridge seemed to go on forever! At least it appeared that way to me as we crossed over water, land, water and back onto land. Truth is, the Dames Point is about 2 miles long, so says Strong.

As we neared the southern end of the bridge the road curved ever so slightly. Keith, who was sitting in the back, told me to turn for a quick view from that angle. I did as he said, gasped, grabbed my camera and shot a photo about as half-hazard as anyone could get. I had to twist around in my seat in an uncomfortable fashion - seatbelt choking me - and never really got a chance to look through the view finder.

My half-hazard photo. Not too shabby! 
The photo came out beautifully!

Quick little bit of information I found interesting in another fairly informative article I read by John A. Weeks, Dames Point Bridge, the curve in the road is there for a purpose. In the words of Weeks, “The sweeping curve in the highway allows for a view of the cable stayed span from a mile south of the structure.”

Yep. That’s about where we were at when I took my photo.

I could go on about the bridge and how it also goes by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge (after a well-liked Jacksonville citizen who had served as Mayor and county sheriff).

And how it used to be the largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere, but now holds second place. The Dames Point Bridge lost its title to the Ravenel Bridge in South Carolina (built in 2005).

I would rather like to relate an interesting tale about who first had the privilege of walking on the bridge.

As I was scanning the Internet for pieces of juicy information about the Dames Point Bridge I came across an article printed March 10, 2014 in the, Florida Times Union. Written by Teresa Stepzinski, the article marked the 25th anniversary of the bridge, and how it had united the city of Jacksonville, Florida.

Closer view of the bridge.
There was one line that caught my attention. Stepzinski was relating details of the bridge’s dedication ceremony, held in 1988, and wrote, “At the dedication, thousands of people plus an elephant walked across the bridge.”

Plus an elephant?

I was a bit confused after reading “plus an elephant.” I had no idea why an elephant would be needed. Thoughts came to my head like maybe the elephant was needed to test the strength of the bridge…make sure the bridge held strong, and was sturdy enough to handle the traffic that would cross it.

An AP article from The Gainesville Sun, printed September 24, 1988 provided me with enough details to fully understand why an elephant was needed. And it wasn’t to test the strength of the bridge.
Instead, an African elephant named Kimba had been elected to participate in a very important function: to lead a parade across the bridge.

Kimba’s trainers wanted to make certain she would feel comfortable walking across the bridge and so the day prior to the dedication festivities, trainers and elephant walked across, marking a moment in time when - by golly, by gosh - there really was an elephant on a bridge.

I did some further digging to see what else I could find about this elephant on a bridge and came across a great photo printed from the site. In it we see none other than Kimba herself, along with her Jacksonville Zoo trainers, Dennis Glaze and Bruce Holmes. In the background we behold the majestic towers and strung cables that make the Dames Point Bridge an architecture marvel in my eyes!

Want to check the photo? Click here.

Sources Cited

Elephant Will Help Dedicate New Bridge. The Gainesville Sun; Gainesville, Florida. September 24, 1988., Florida Times Union. March 9, 2014.

Strong, Mike. Dames Point Bridge and Park. Mike Strong (website). June 8, 1997.

Weeks, John A. Dames Point Bridge. John A. Weeks III (website).

Kimba’s Photo

Kimba the elephant on the Dames Point Bridge., Florida Times Union. September 23, 1988.

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