Eyewitness Accounts of November 7, 1940
The following accounts by eyewitnesses are excerpted from official
reports, newspapers, plus an interview and an unpublished memoir.
Project Engineer, WA State Toll Bridge Authority
"It was my bridge."
"I was in my office about a mile away, when word came that
the bridge was in trouble. At about 10 o'clock Mr. Walter Miles
called from his office to come and look at the bridge, that it
was about to go.
"The center span was swaying wildly, it being possible
first to see the entire bottom side as it swung into a semi-vertical
position and then the entire roadway.
"I observed that all traffic had been stopped and that
several people were coming off the bridge from the easterly side
span. I walked to tower No. 5 and out onto the main span to about
the quarter point observing conditions. The main span was rolling
wildly. The deck was tipping from the horizontal to an angle approaching
forty-five degrees. The entire main span appeared to be twisting
about a neutral point at the center of the span in somewhat the
manner of a corkscrew."
"At tower No. 5, I met Professor Farquharson, who had his
camera set up and was taking pictures. We remained there a few
minutes and then decided to return to the east anchorage warning
people who were approaching to get off of the span.
"At that time, it appeared that should the wind die down,
the span would perhaps come to rest and I resolved that we would
immediately proceed to install a system of cables from the piers
to the roadway levelin the main span to prevent any recurrence...."
"I was then informed that a panel of laterals in the center
of the span had dropped out and a section of concrete slab had
fallen. I immediately went to the south side of the view plaza.
The bridge was still rolling badly. I returned to the toll plaza
and from there observed the first section of steel fall out of
the center. From then on successive sections towards each tower
rapidly fell out."
In his 1986 unpublished memoir, Eldridge wrote,"I go over
the Tacoma bridge frequently and always with an ache in my heart.
It was my bridge."
Professor of Engineering, University of Washington
"I thought she would be able to fight it
"I was the only person on the Narrows Bridge when it collapsed.
When I arrived at about a quarter to ten o'clock, the bridge was
moving in the familiar rippling motion we were studying and seeking
"About a half hour later, it started a lateral twisting
motion, in addition to the vertical wave. It had never done that
"At least six lamp posts were snapped off while I watched.
A few minutes later, I saw a side girder bulge out. But, though
the bridge was bucking up at an angle of 45 degrees, I thought
she would be able to fight it out. But, that wasn't to be.
"I saw the suspenders (vertical cables) snap off and a
whole section caved in. The bridge dropped from under me. I fell
and broke one of my cameras. The portion where I was had dropped
30 feet when the tension was released.
"I kneeled on the roadway and stayed to complete the picture."
Twenty-five year old college student Winfield Brown decided to
walk onto Gertie shortly before 10 a.m. that morning. "I
decided I'd like to get a little fun out of it," he
later said. So, he paid the 10-cent toll and strolled onto the rolling
"After walking to the tower on the other side and back,
I decided to cross again. It was swaying quite a bit. About the
time I got to the center, the wind seemed to start blowing harder,
all of a sudden. I was thrown flat. A car came up about that time.
The driver got out, walking and crawling on the other side. We
didn't have time for any conversation."
"Time after time I was thrown completely over the railing.
When I tried to get up, I was knocked flat again. Chunks of concrete
were breaking up and rolling around. The knees were torn out of
my pants, and my knees were cut and torn."
"I don't know how long it took to get back. It seemed like
a lifetime. During the worst parts, the bridge turned so far that
I could see the Coast Guard boat in the water beneath."
"As soon as I got off the bridge, I became sick. So, I
went to the home of a cousin and laid down for a while. I've been
on plenty of roller coasters, but the worst was nothing compared
"When I got back, I remembered the bridge man [toll collector]
had said something about a dime each way. I mentioned it to him.
"He said, 'Skip it'."
News editor, Tacoma News Tribune
"I saw the Narrows bridge die today, and only by the
grace of God, escaped dying with it. . . .
"I drove on the bridge and started across. In the car with
me was my daughter's cocker spaniel, Tubby. The car was loaded
with equipment from my beach home at Arletta.
"Just as I drove past the towers, the bridge began to sway
violently from side to side. Before I realized it, the tilt became
so violent that I lost control of the car. . . . I jammed on the
brakes and got out, only to be thrown onto my face against the
"Around me I could hear concrete cracking. I started back
to the car to get the dog, but was thrown before I could reach
it. The car itself began to slide from side to side on the roadway.
I decided the bridge was breaking up and my only hope was to get
back to shore."
"On hands and knees most of the time, I crawled 500 yards
or more to the towers . . . . My breath was coming in gasps; my
knees were raw and bleeding, my hands bruised and swollen from
gripping the concrete curb . . . . Toward the last, I risked rising
to my feet and running a few yards at a time . . . . Safely back
at the toll plaza, I saw the bridge in its final collapse and
saw my car plunge into the Narrows."
"I saw Clark Eldridge (Toll Bridge Authority engineer),
his face white as paper. If I feel badly, I thought, how must
"With real tragedy, disaster and blasted dreams all around
me, I believe that right at this minute what appalls me most is
that within a few hours I must tell my daughter that her dog is
dead, when I might have saved him."
Several minutes before Leonard Coatsworth
drove onto the Narrows Bridge, the next-to-last vehicle
on the rolling span was a delivery truck owned by the Rapid Transfer
Company. Inside were business partners Ruby Jacox and Arthur Hagen.
The toll taker warned them that the bridge was "a little
" All of a sudden the bridge began to rock. We were afraid
the truck would turn over, so we ... jumped out. We could only
crawl on or hands and knees and got about 10 feet away when the
truck fell over."
"We crawled along hanging onto the ridge of the center
of the roadway. Just to keep our courage up we never stopped talking.
Chunks of the concrete actually burst out of the bridge deck as
it swayed, groaned and buckled. I fell dozens of times on the
"I was ready to give up, but he (Mr. Hagen) just dragged
me along by the shoulder. One of the lampposts just did miss my
head. Sometimes I was sure we'd never get off the bridge."
"I kept thinking that this bridge was something that couldn't
break. It had been inspected by government engineers. And experts
had planned it so it would stand any strain."
Unsung heroes came to their rescue. When
the wind subsided and Gertie calmed her twisting and swaying for
a short time, two workmen for the bridge's painting contractor
backed their truck onto the span, hauled the weary couple aboard
and drove safely to the west end. Ruby Jacox suffered painful
bruises on her knees, left hip and ankles. She spent the night
in a hospital recovering from "terrific nervous shock."
Photographer, Tacoma News Tribune
"I was on the Narrows Bridge when it broke
in the middle and ... I hope that I never again go through such
a nerve racking experience."
"The regular photographer was out on assignment. I was
the back up, and they told me to grab a camera and go out there.
But, they said, don't take any risks under any circumstances.
I grabbed the only camera, an old Graflex, a large and cumbersome
4x5 reflex camera that you hold against your stomach and look
down into the viewfinder."
"When I arrived, the bridge had literally run amok, bouncing
and twisting like a roller coaster. Working my way up to the tower
with the greatest difficulty, I shot a few more films. Suddenly,
the bridge seemed to sway and lurch more than ever, and I began
shooting as fast as I could."
Clifford decided to walk onto the center span to
try to save the dog, Tubby, in Leonard Coatsworth's car.
"I probably wouldn't have gone out there, if it hadn't
been for the dog. I liked dogs and had seen the Coatsworth's dog
at a company picnic recently. Or, if I didn't have the camera,
I probably wouldn't have gone out on the bridge. I got about 10
yards from the tower and stopped."
"Taking another squint into the camera viewfinder, I saw
the span buckle and start to break in the center. I pressed the
camera trigger and started to run."
"I tried to run up the yellow line in the center of the
roadway, but found myself being bounced from one curb to the other
and making no headway towards shore. I felt I could be tossed
over the edge at any time. I was running in the air part of the
time, because the bridge was moving faster than gravity. It dropped
out from under me and then bounced back, knocking me down to my
knees, banging the camera on the pavement."
"Behind me I heard rumblings and explosive sounds which
scared the daylights out of me. Having played football during
my junior high and high school days, I tucked my camera under
my arm and charging low got that added ounce of energy from somewhere
which enabled me to make some headway toward the bridge entrance."
"I was half-running, half-crawling. In a few minutes, which
seemed like hours, I was up with my fellow photographer [Barney
Elliott of the Camera Shop], who had got a considerable start,
and we both made our way to the toll gate office, exhausted, but
oh so thankful."
"Returning to the Tribune office, . . . within a very short
time I was transmitting photos of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows
Bridge to the entire world. It was only then that I noted that
my trousers were torn and my knees resembled raw hamburger. The
next morning I looked even worse. I was bruised, black and blue
from my hips to my feet the next day and for two weeks."
"I don't think anything more exciting has ever happened