Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering the day a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis August 1, 2018

This photo shows the opening spread of a feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the 35W bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett Ebling before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and and his then fiancee, before the collapse.

 

ELEVEN YEARS AGO TODAY, the unthinkable happened in Minnesota. The I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed at 6:05 p.m., killing 13 and injuring 145.

At the time I was a freelance writer for the now-defunct Minnesota Moments magazine. Just months after the collapse, I interviewed survivor Garrett Ebling and his then fiancee and a passerby who rushed in to help. I wrote a feature spread that included shared images of Garrett and of the devastation.

 

Garrett Ebling’s book.

 

All these years later, I remain impressed by Garrett’s strength and determination as he recovered from serious injuries. He would go on to pen a book about his experience. Garrett is a former Faribault Daily News editor, the reason I originally connected with him post bridge collapse.

 

This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. I shot this image several years ago at the Minnesota History Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today I remember this catastrophe that profoundly impacted Minnesotans and how we view bridges. I remember, too, those who died while simply traveling across a bridge over the Mississippi River. And I remember those who survived, their lives forever changed.

 

Crossing the “new” 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

August 1, 2007, remains forever a heartbreaking day in the history of our state.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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34 Responses to “Remembering the day a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis”

  1. becky spitzack Says:

    Great remembrance. I didn’t know Garrett
    wrote a book about his awful experience.
    Thanks…..

  2. Back in March of this year a pedestrian bridge being constructed here in Florida collapsed onto traffic below and six people lost their lives. It brought back memories of the Mpls bridge collapse. Just going about your daily life. It really makes you think about living for today. So heartbreaking and it affects everyone to a degree. I took a moment of prayer this morning. Take Care

  3. Still wrenches my heart each time I read about this. I remember watching it on our local news as a new mom. I remember hugging my kids and wishing that I could always protect them from all of the pain and suffering in the world. The good thing is that they have been trying to improve bridges since this moment in time.

  4. Colleen Hondl Gengler Says:

    For anyone not on the bridge that day but who used it routinely, thoughts would have been like mine. I live in outstate Minnesota but often went to meeting in the Twin Cities. Invariably, I used that bridge. On that day, I again had a meeting but this time it took place in St. Cloud. I often thought of how I possibly could have been on the bridge. In fact, I was on my way home from the meeting when I heard the news on the radio. So unbelievable. I’m sure many Minnesotans have similar memories on this anniversary.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    I remember this day – living in Iowa made it pretty real to me as well. Thanks for always remembering to keep this at the forefront so those who lost their lives and who were injured are remembered.

  6. Wow…it has been that long? I remember it like yesterday.

    I had just gone over that bridge less than a week prior when I was in St Paul for reserve duty. I had gone the I35W as the traffic on I35E my normal route was backed up due to construction. I still think about it every time I cross the new bridge.

    The changes to our whole State bridge system are still being evaluated and replaced due to the results from that incident. This summer drivers may complain about the I35 North at Forest Lake but that bridge was replaced due to inspections that occurred after the I35W incident.

    This article also shows how important writers are to our society. How they write, document, research and retell the stories that affect all of us. Thanks for sharing this moment and the memories of those who were part of that tragic day.

    • Yes, the residual of the bridge collapse remains as efforts continue to make our bridges safe.

      Thank you for valuing writers. Journalists and writers are such an important part of a democracy. I wish more people realized that in a time when the free press is continually under attack.

      • Funny that you mention free press. I was so much a part of the government side of Public Affairs and writing for so long and I know all about the “spin” that is organized and put out before each news conference. I hated that part of my job! I now am even more a supporter of what journalism does to keep our country and our government from hiding truths.

      • Thank you for your strong support of a free press.

        I fear more and more that many Americans are adopting the attitude that journalists are the enemy, as our Commander in Chief would suggest. Now, more than ever, we need journalists who ask probing questions, seek out the truth and report those facts despite the animosity toward them on all levels. Sometimes I cannot believe we’ve reached this point in our country of “hating” journalists. I truly fear for America. Journalists are vital to a free country as “the fourth estate,” ever watchful.

      • If you go a step further- a journalists has touched every single story that has shaped our national political and policies and created public debate, brought about changes and presented and exposed injustices where it they have existed.

        What the current administration wants us to think is that the WH controls the public viewpoint and not “we the people”.

        I have known many journalists who have given their lives in order to bring the real story to the public. Some of them even became the story. It is a messy business but journalists are brave people who help to keep governments and people with money honest (at least they try).

      • Thank you for your unwavering support of journalists. I’m sorry about those you knew who gave their lives to reveal the truth.

        It’s so easy for people to criticize the media. As a former newspaper reporter, I experienced “hate” from those who preferred that I not write the truth. And that was in small town Minnesota. Decades ago. Many wished that I write only features and good news. How dare I quote a school board member or some other public official who made a statement during an open meeting. What especially rankled me was people who asked to read my story before it went to press. Nope, not gonna happen. Ever. That’s called censorship. I had to remind them that I was a professional and if something was not clear in my mind, I would call back to clarify. I had great editors who always backed me up.

        I fully agree with your comment about the WH. Sometimes I cannot believe what I am hearing. In this, a free country, in 2018.

      • I think reporting in a small town has even more challenges than in a larger city.

      • Probably given the tightness of a small town. I also always felt like I was being watched, especially when not working. The expectation is always there, too, that you will cover every single event in town, which would leave you with zero free time. I worked my butt off–all day and then to long meetings in the evenings and then stories to pound out (on a manual typewriter) by deadline. And the pay was (and still is) awful. I loved working as a newspaper reporter when I was young and single.

      • I have heard the same from reporters in Northern MN too. What always got me is that when the local town meeting knew there would be a reporter at the open meeting- they would hold a close door meeting with only council members and then hold the open meeting with no content. The one reporter got wise to the antics and started showing up early and just walked in in the closed meeting. She had guts and I always admired her for doing it and getting to the bottom of what was actually going on. I am sure there are people in your community that think as I do but maybe have been afraid of telling you how much your work was appreciated.

      • Good for that strong Northern MN reporter who stood her ground. I had to do the same at times, especially regarding release of public information.

        I never worked as a reporter in the city where I currently live.

  7. A nice piece here, Audrey. Such a tragedy! The photos of the collapse or just horrifying! The new bridge is a beauty!

  8. Another thought… we had a Parking garage in the area collapse, yesterday. In Dallas. If you google it, you’ll see some awful pictures.

  9. valeriebollinger Says:

    It is one of those events where you remember where you were at the time it happened.

  10. Almost Iowa Says:

    When I worked downtown, I used to go running during the noon hour. My route took me under that bridge every day for ten years. Being the geek that I am, I often gazed up at the trusswork and reminded myself not to cross that bridge.

    At the time of the collapse, I was working in downtown Saint Paul and remember finding a parking place under the Lafayette bridge. Gosh, I thought, lucky me, I found a open place in a crowded lot. I returned to find little pieces of bridge on the hood of my truck.

    On a side note regarding the relationship between the press and the president, I say, you get what you pay for. I seem to recall a set of debates where one candidate got 90% of the coverage to the determent of the other candidates. Some conspiracy theorists say that the (liberal) press pushed the coverage of Trump because they thought he was the most beatable candidate. I can’t say that I subscribe to that theory but I have seen worse things from the partisan press.

    Today we read that The New York Times refuses to fire its new technology editor, Sarah Jeong, for publishing outrageously racist Tweets. A thing for which it fired its last new hire for the same job.

    Apparently NYT feels that racism and sexism are okay so long as the object of the scorn is white and male.

    I don’t get too excited about such things – because the standards of the press have fallen so far – but honestly, when you act like Trump, it makes it harder to criticize him – which to do, honestly and objectively, should not be difficult at all.

    • You are much more politically aware them I am.

      Yes, standards of some press have fallen. I’ll concede that. But not all. What really concerns me are the attitude toward the press, efforts to suppress the press and the attempts to shape a narrative that is anything but the truth.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Trust in the press is in free-fall.

        According to a 2017 poll sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Society Foundations: -> here

        – More Americans have a negative (43%) than a positive (33%) view of the news media, while 23% are neutral.

        -Today, 66% of Americans say most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion. In 1984, 42% held this view.

        -Less than half of Americans, 44%, say they can think of a news source that reports the news objectively. Republicans who can name an accurate source overwhelmingly mention Fox News®, while Democrats’ responses are more varied.

        -On a multiple-item media trust scale with scores ranging from a low of zero to a high of 100, the average American scores a 37.

        ..

        One can blame FOX NEWS, the alt-right and Trump for this sad state of affairs or one can blame the press itself. Though I tend to take a little from column A and a little from column B, I tend to think the opponents of the media are better at surfing popular opinion than generating waves of discontent.

        I remember back when we integrating the Minneapolis Police. We actively sought out women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Hmong, Vietnamese and college educated recruits. The objective was to build an institution that reflects the community it serves. When a cop speaks the same language, understand the same dialects and share the same experience, they hear what is being said and make fewer mistakes.

        The modern media could use a dose of the same integration medicine.

        -Most polls show that the majority of reporters are Democrats. That is a political problem – but I think it is more serious than that. I can hardly listen to NPR/MPR anymore (something I used to love) because of its insular, almost snotty progressive tone. It sounds like a culture that is closing in on itself to the exclusion of the majority of Americans.

        – The economics of the press is resulting in younger, less experienced and more youthfully activist reporters. It is the rule of 22. As the CEO of Buzzfeed once remarked, Reporters are 22 years old, earn $22K and work 22 hours a day. Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser did not agree with this assessment, he claimed the average reporter was 28, went to Yale and didn’t know a damned thing.

        – All national reporters live in Brooklyn and drink at the same coffee shop. Well, that’s a joke, half of national reporters live in Washington DC but take the Acela to drink their coffee in Brooklyn. Okay, that is a joke too – but it points to a serious cultural problems which fosters an echo chamber that the public instinctively distrusts.

  11. Jackie Says:

    Hard to believe it’s already been 11 years, still feel sad for those who were affected, and the loss of lives. I was at Target and I got a group text from my Brother….”has anyone heard from Brice ( my son living in the twin cities at the time) My Brother had account for all the nieces, and nephews in the Twin Cities except Brice. This text was the first I knew of the bridge collapse. You can imaging I was a basket case….. Brice answered his phone on the first ring. A sigh of relief and a big “Thank you to God’s protection”. I’m guessing this all happened within 20 minutes of the bridge falling.

  12. Gunny Says:

    This incident was criminal and heartbreaking! While I was not there, I was deeply saddened by this tragic event. God Bless.


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