Tacoma's Titanic: True or false: Gertie victim Tubby had only 3 legs

19th-century predecessor, insurance fraud, urban legend embellish story of the bridge

August 10, 2003 

Galloping Gertie.

The name first was given to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge 90 years earlier. The 900-foot bridge over the Ohio River in West Virginia was the longest suspension span in the world when built in 1849.

It collapsed in a windstorm in 1854.

* Tacoma's Galloping Gertie swayed and twisted for several hours before it finally fell Nov. 7, 1940. Waves of 3 to 5 feet undulated through the center span beginning in the early morning hours of that Thursday.

Highway officials closed the road at 10 a.m., and shortly afterward, the bridge added a twisting motion to its rhythmic rise and fall. The twisting motion grew more extreme until the roadway was rising and falling as much as 28 vertical feet and tilting 45 degrees from horizontal one way and then the other.

The first piece of the center span broke free about 10:30, and chunks of concrete began flying. At 11:02, 600 feet of the Gig Harbor end of the span shook free, flipped over and fell.

At 11:09, the rest of the center span dropped into the Sound.

* Nobody was more sorry to see Gertie go down than Hallet French, a Seattle insurance agent who'd sold the state $800,000 worth of coverage on the bridge.

But instead of turning in $8,817.88 in premiums to his parent company, he put the money into his personal bank account.

French was convicted of grand larceny and spent two years in the state prison in Walla Walla.

* Did Tubby, the cocker spaniel killed when Gertie collapsed, have just three legs? Somehow, that rumor about the bridge's only victim has found its way into several histories.

Not true, says Harold Clifford, a former News Tribune employee who knew Tubby.

"He was just a normal, healthy dog," Clifford said.

* Not all of Galloping Gertie fell into the Narrows.

The roadway on the main span fell, but both towers, the main cables and the shorter spans stretching from the towers to the shores remained.

More than 3,000 tons of steel from the cables and 4,500 tons from the towers were salvaged and sold for scrap during World War II.

* With a main span of 2,800 feet, Gertie was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1940.

At the time, it was surpassed only by San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge (built in 1937 at 4,200 feet) and the George Washington Bridge in New York City (built in 1931 at 3,500 feet).

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