Thursday, February 23, 2017

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 287

 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, "Galloping Gertie," 1940
The two postcards shared this week have vintage photographs of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing 7 November 1940.  The card above has the image #35475.  Both cards were printed by Lantern Press of Seattle, Washington and were found in the gift shop of the Washington State History Museum, Tacoma, Washington.  The lower card has image #35474.  

Tacoma Narrows Bridge, "Galloping Gertie," 1940

This bridge was the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge even though talk of building a bridge at this location between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula dated back to 1889 and a Northern Pacific Railway desire for a trestle.  Before the bridge was built there was a ferry across this stretch of water.  Financing the bridge also meant buying out the private ferry contract. 

Eventually the Washington State Toll Bridge Authority (WTBA) was formed by the State legislature and $5,000 was appropriated for a study to see if a bridge could be built.  The suggested tolls would not be enough to cover the construction costs but both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army gave the project strong support so the WTBA requested $11 million from the Federal Public Works Administration (PWA).  Several consulting engineers were involved in the design and some changes were made partly to save money.  Because the planners did not expect heavy traffic it was designed as a narrow two-lane bridge.  Design modifications resulted in the use of shallow narrow girders that proved to be insufficient to withstand the winds and it fell to aeroelastic flutter.  The failure of this bridge has had a lasting effect on science and engineering.  Increased research into aerodynamics-aeroelastics and has influenced the designs of all the long-span bridges built since 1940. 

Construction started in September 1938 with completion in July 1940.  At the time it was the third-longest suspension bridge after the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge.  It was nicknamed Galloping Gertie because right from the time the deck was finished it began to move vertically in windy conditions.  Measures to stabilize the bridge were not successful and the main span collapsed in a 40-mile-per-hour windstorm 7 November 1940.

Amazingly only one life was lost and that was a little dog, Tubby, who belonged to Leonard Coatsworth, a Tacoma News Tribune editor, the last person to drive on the bridge.  There is a film record of the event made by Barney Elliott who owned a local camera shop.  In 1998 the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation due to its historical and cultural significance. 

Due to shortages in materials and labor resulting from World War II a replacement bridge was not built until 1950.  It was longer and had more lanes than the original bridge.  That bridge still stands and today is used to carry westbound traffic.  To accommodate increased traffic needs a parallel eastbound bridge was built and opened in 2007.

My Mom and Dad were living in Seattle and Dad was working on the peninsula at the time.  He had crossed the bridge several times on his way to and from work between when it opened in July and the day it collapsed.  The day the bridge fell he had just driven across and years later when I was a child I remember him telling of watching the bridge fall.  He saw Coatsworth crawling and then running to get off and he could also see the little dog that was too frightened to run across the swaying bridge and did not make it to safety.  It was a delight to find these cards and be able to put pictures with a story I remembered from my childhood.

For additional information including the personal account of Leonard Coastworth’s escape from the bridge, see:

Before and after photographs of the bridge collapse can been here:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 286

 Guinigi Tower, Lucca Italy

Here are two more postcards sent by my friend while he was on a bicycle trip from northern Italy to Rome.  They both have images from the city of Lucca, Italy.  The upper card has a Ghilardi photograph of the Guinigi Tower built in the 14th century.  Note the garden of trees growing on the top of the tower.  This tower is one of only a few remaining in the city.  The garden on the roof was originally used as a kitchen garden.  The trees are Holm Oaks that symbolize rebirth and renewal.  It is interesting to see this roof garden on the top of a Romanesque-Gothic style medieval tower.  Modern cities also often plant trees over freeways and on the tops of buildings today.  

The lower card shows an aerial view of Roman Catholic basilica church, San Michele in Foro (the old Roman forum site).  Dedicated to Archangel Michael it was the seat of the Major Council the most important assembly in the town until 1370.  First mention of this church dates from 795 AD.  Pope Alexander II had it rebuilt after 1070.  The façade dates from the 13th century and has a number of sculptures and inlays some that were remade in the 19th century.   The 4 meter tall statue of St. Michael the Archangel flanked by two other angels at the top left of the church can be seen on the postcard.  Both cards are Santori editions of Lucca. 

San Michele in Foro, Lucca, Italy

Anciently the city was the site of Ligurian, Etruscan and Roman settlements.  The current day city of Lucca has kept the street plan dating to when it was a Roman colony in 180 BC.  The walls around the old town have remained intact and traces of an old Roman amphitheatre can still be seen in the Piazza dell’Aanfiteatro. 

Like many ancient and medieval cities Lucca was a fortress and subject to periodic plundering and sieges.  Lucca prospered with silk trade beginning in the 11th century.  It was also a feudal capital in Tuscany during the 10th and 11th centuries.  For almost 500 years Lucca was an independent commune republic.  The rich and varied history through the centuries list times it was sold, seized, ceded, surrendered and liberated.  In 1805 Lucca was conquered by Napoleon, followed by rule by a succession of dukes and duchesses.  In 1861 it was annexed into the Italian State.   Lucca is the birthplace of the famous music composer Giacomo Puccini.

For additional information, see:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 285

Union Station, Tacoma, Washington, ca 1939

The black and white vintage photo on this card shows the Union Station in Tacoma, Washington around 1939.  The card printed by Lantern Press, of Seattle, Washington has the identifying image #12839.  The color photograph below is of the building as it looks today.  It is no longer a railway station but is currently used as a courthouse for the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.  I found the card in the Washington Historical Museum in Tacoma on a recent visit.

Union Station, Tacoma, Washington, 2017

In 1873 the Northern Pacific Company chose Tacoma as the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad then still under construction.  From 1873 to 1890 the population of Tacoma soared from 2,000 to 37,714.  With rapidly expanding industrial and commercial development the city became known as the “City of Destiny.” 

Tacoma’s first railroad station was built in 1883, moved to its present location and enlarged in 1892, and then in 1906 the architectural firm of Reed and Stem was selected to design a brand new station.  They chose a Beaux-Arts style of elegance and efficiency.  Once the design was accepted construction began in 1906 and was completed in May 1911.  According to the U.S. General Services Administration Union Station was hailed as the “largest, the most modern and in all ways the most beautiful and best equipped passenger station in the Pacific Northwest.”

Passenger train use diminished with the growing popularity of automobiles and later air travel resulting the last passenger train leaving the station in 1984.  The building was then abandoned and began to fall into disrepair.  In 1987 the U.S. General Services Administration received authorization from Congress to lease the Union Station to provide space for the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.  Three years of restoration and renovation followed with the federal courts occupying the space in 1992.  Although no longer used as originally intended the structure is hailed as a highly successful use of a Tacoma landmark.  The large 90 ft high copper dome with four large cartouches dominates the building and creates an impressive rotunda in the interior.  One of the cartouches can be seen as a lighter design on the dome in the photo below and as a relief on the black and white vintage photograph shown on the postcard at the top of this page.

 Closer view of the dome with one cartouche visible

The exterior is multicolored red brick with a limestone base containing ornamental details.  Union Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. 

For additional information, see:,_Washington

Thursday, February 2, 2017

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 284

Pontremoli, Italy

Here are two beautiful postcards from the town of Pontremoli sent by my friend who lives in Italy.  This past October he went on bike trip following the Via Francigena, an ancient major pilgrimage route from Northern Italy to Rome.  He came up with an idea to write and send postcards daily during this trip in hopes of providing a journal account of his travels as he went along.  Somehow things went slightly amiss with either the Italian or US postal service and I received a few cards as they were sent but several others arrived about 2 months later than expected.  Eventually all the cards arrived and now I do have the complete chronicle after all.  It made fascinating reading, the cards lovely, and the arrival of each card such a delight as the new segments of the journey arrived in the mailbox.  I cannot thank my friend enough for this generous and thoughtful gift.  The card above is an Alessandri Edition from Parma and has the number PON 24/27 at the bottom left on the reverse.  The lower card is a Murena Edition bearing the code Riv. G.M. n. 2, 186/W/12836.

Early Christian pilgrims incredibly walked this route despite occasionally encountering thieves and wolves along the way.    Even today overnight accommodations are hard to find and modern pilgrims often camp out rather than stay in hotels or pensions that would prove expensive for such a long foot journey of 400 km or about 250 miles. 

The bike trip takes about 6 days covering a distance of approximately 90+ km or 60 miles per day.  The first day was from Parma, at 200 ft elevation, to Pontremoli a distance of 98 km.  The official starting point was Fornovo where the road begins to climb hills and crests at Cisa pass, 1041 meters or about 3400 feet elevation.  Bob and I have seen bikes on mountain roads here at home and so I know it is done; however, a 3200-foot climb on a bike is quite amazing indeed.  That would be like biking up 5 or 6 Space Needles stuck one atop another.  

Pontremoli is located on the Magra River with the meaning of the town name translating in English roughly as Trembling Bridge.  Both cards show bridges across the river so I am not sure which or if there is yet another bridge the town was named after.   The buildings have the typical red tile roofs and white or pastel colored walls.  There is not much water in the river but lots of stones and the hills or mountains appear to be close to the town. 

Trivia:  It is thought that people originally settled here about 1000 BC.  During Roman times it was known as Apua.  The town became independent in 1226 by order of Federico II who chartered it in part because of the mountainous terrain.  The locality also made the town vulnerable to conquests from rival Italian and foreign lords and resulted in control switching between various aristocratic families.  The Great Bell Tower, the tallest structure seen on both cards, was built in 1322 and acted as a separation to the rival camps of the Guelfi and Ghibellini factions.  Since Medieval times Pontremoli has been often visited by pilgrims traveling from Canterbury in England to Rome.  Today pilgrims, bikes and autos can still follow the ancient route that is well marked with modern road signs as well as sometimes by stones bearing the image of a pilgrim carrying a load and walking with a stave.  My friend notes “It is a medieval village, where time has stopped.”

For additional information, see: