Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Last kiss for this city icon

April 12, 2007

Monday was the end of any smooching on the "Kissing Bridge."

City crews kissed the long-time bridge off, cutting the remaining suspension cable and cutting the wooden structure into pieces. The bridge -- and the one it replaced -- had been fixtures in northwest Baldwin City for decades. Recent damage to it forced the city to tear it down because of liability issues, said City Administrator Jeff Dingman.

Legend has it that Baker University students used the bridge as a place to go kiss, safely away from the campus. That led to something else.

"A lot of marriage proposals were made on that bridge," said Becky McMillen, who lives near the bridge on 11th Street. "It was a tradition.

"It's just one of those things that make Baldwin special," said McMillen. "It's too bad it couldn't be fixed."

The reason for that? Money. The kiss of death, so to speak.

"It was too dangerous to allow it to stay," said Dingman. "We don't have any immediate plans for replacing it. It is just too costly to put an appropriate bridge of that size in there. We looked last year at replacement bridge options and it's deep into the five digit numbers.

"We may look at including it if we ever apply for a grant to improve that area," he said. "I realize that some folks have sentimental value attached to it, but we can't replace it right now with the existing priorities that need addressed."

McMillen had heard that it would cost $100,000 to replace the bridge. Dingman said it wasn't that much, but close to it. Currently, the city is restoring the "Women's Bridge" on High Street with the help of the Kansas Department of Transportation. Last year, the city -- with major help from Douglas County -- replaced the High Street bridge between Fifth and Fourth streets. Another vehicle traffic bridge that needs replacement is north of the Women's Bridge on Elm Street between 10th and 11th streets. It has weight restrictions and is the only access to West Baldwin except U.S. Highway 56 with the Women's Bridge closed.

The Kissing Bridge had fallen into disrepair over the years. It had been there for more than 30 years after replacing another wooden bridge known as the "Crooked Bridge," which had crossed the creek for 50 years, according to McMillen.

In fact, it was that Crooked Bridge that helped spawn the history that would become the Kissing Bridge. It was used for the same purpose and was the site of many marriage proposals. Long-time local couple Joe and Betty Simunac are a big part of that history. It was a kiss there (shown in picture above) that eventually led to Joe's eventual proposal.

"No, that was a prelude to the proposal," Simunac said of the kiss that led to a yes. "Why of course, it must have been. It's just a fond memory of what was to become 65 years of wedded bliss."

The kiss, the proposal and the long-standing marriage that resulted is part of the lore that led to the "new" bridge being referred to as the Kissing Bridge.

"That's right," he said. "If it hadn't been there, maybe we wouldn't have gotten married. It was there a long time before we were."

Although he's sad to see the Kissing Bridge go, he realizes it's a sign of the times and, well, aging.

"I suppose everything has its day and that bridge has been around a long time," said Simunac. "It's just one of those relics in Baldwin that you hate to see go."

But, recently, vandals put the final blow to the bridge, snapping one of the suspension wires.

"We had heard several months ago that they were going to tear it down," McMillen said of the city. "We think that some kids finished it off."

Those were the vandals that ruined it for other children that regularly use the bridge to get to Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center that is west of the bridge. And, there were other regulars on the Kissing Bridge.

"A lot of kids do walk to school that way," she said. "A lot of joggers and walkers use it. We see from our kitchen window where cars with out of state plates stop and take pictures at the bridge."

And, the McMillens had even more use for the bridge. For the past 21 years, it has served their family in many ways. Not only was it just fun to walk the bridge, but the grandchildren grew up playing "Billy Goat Gruff" on it. The folk story is about a troll that lived under a bridge and three goat brothers walked across it to get to the grass on the other side. The troll would come out and bother them. Just like crossing the bridge, that won't happen any more.

"I did find out that when the bridge fell, it hit the troll on the head," said McMillen, tongue firmly in cheek.

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