DOWNTOWN — The State Street Bridge turns 65 on Wednesday, and bridge historian Jim Phillips says that's a good reason for Chicagoans to stop by the bridge at State Street and Wacker Drive that day.
Although there is no celebration planned, if visitors swing by between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., they should cross with caution — lest they reenact one of the bridge's most newsworthy events since it reopened after a facelift in 1949.
That's when the six-lane moveable bridge will be opening to let sailboats and barges pass underneath.
"Kind of an interesting thing that happened in 1981: a person was caught in the middle of the bridge as it went up — she got kind of an unexpected ride," said Phillips, who maintains the Chicago Loop Bridges guide.
Lizzie Schiffman outlines some of the bridge's history:
"Imagine somebody — like a cat, trying to hang on with its claws — she held on as long as she could and sort of slid down," he said. "She didn't go into the river, which is good. She landed on a police officer and he broke her fall."
Phillips says he likes this story because "it's a little nicer than some sort of kind of semi-tragic event" from the bridge's history.
"It wasn't really tragic, but I'm sure the lady wasn't real tickled about it," Phillips joked.
The State Street bridge was officially christened the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Bridge when it opened in 1949, dedicated as a memorial to World War II veterans who fought in the Philippines.
The dedication reads "to the memory of those gallant heroes, from the Chicago Area who were members of the besieged garrison on the Bataan Peninsula and at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, in World War II. May the courage and fortitude displayed by this group in the face of adversity be a constant inspiration to our citizens."
The current bridge is the fifth to connect State Street across the Chicago River, and has stood for half of the bridge's total lifetime. The first one was built in 1864 but was destroyed in the Chicago fire.
"To me that was kind of interesting ... maybe we've learned something technologically to be able to have a structure stand for that long a time when prior to that, there were four bridges that didn't last nearly as long," Phillips said.
The current State Street bridge's construction is so sturdy that it was honored by the American Institute of Steel Construction when it was erected, for exhibiting "innovation, aesthetics, and cost effectiveness in [its] engineering and design."
Most recently, the bridge became a national television star after it served as the backdrop for comedian Conan O'Brien's weeklong series launching Chicago icons (like a 10-foot bratwurst) across the bridge while it was propped upright.
The State Street Bridge, Chicago's second largest downtown bridge, was the last to be built in Chicago with two bridgehouses, both featuring art deco stylistic accents. The bridgehouses are not open to the public, however.
In 1998 the bridge was rededicated with a plaque to honor all Filipino and American veterans who fought together in World War II.