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A Glimpse into History

Bridge dedication gave hope
to Depression-era crowd

May provide inspiration for
opening of new Milton-Madison Bridge

By Don Ward
Editor

October 2010 Cover

October 2010 Cover

(October 2010) – It was very cold that day.
That’s the one memory that resonates among those who were there on Dec. 20, 1929, and have lived long enough to recall the day the Milton-Madison Bridge was ceremoniously dedicated.
They are in their 90s now, but their memories, though scant, are vivid considering they were only teenagers at the time.
As the communities of Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., prepare for a two-year-long Bridge Replacement Project of the 80-year-old structure, it is interesting to look back at how the two towns celebrated the original bridge opening – especially as a committee of local business and nonprofit groups begins to plan yet another celebration to open a new bridge in 2012. In fact, a 35mm nitrate silent film of the ceremony has recently been restored and will soon be available for sale as part of the current Bridge Project’s historic preservation effort. The film, which was donated to Historic Madison Inc. in 1993 and kept in storage, was restored and converted to DVD for $6,000 by a special lab in Rockville, Md. The eight-minute, black-and-white film gives us a brief glimpse into another time – before television and cell phones and the Internet. It was a time when townspeople gathered to celebrate such monumental achievements with marching bands and parades and speeches.

Read about the new bridge
groundbreaking ceremony plans.

Newspaper accounts of the 1929 festivities describe below-freezing temperatures and leaden skies that resulted in photos of people donning heavy topcoats, derby hats, scarves and mittens. The event took place only a few months after the Stock Market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression was well under way in America. Few people owned automobiles, but the bridge was open to pedestrians as well. It cost a nickel to walk the bridge and 45 cents to drive across it until the bridge was freed of tolls on Nov. 1, 1947.
Despite the gloomy economic times, the historic celebration to open and dedicate the new bridge did much to brighten spirits and usher in a new age. The original “Milton-Madison Bridge Project” became a much-heralded engineering feat that took two years and $1.365 million to complete. So its opening was cause for celebration among residents and dignitaries from many towns throughout the region.

Historic 1929 film restored

A recently restored DVD of the 35mm nitrate film of the 1929 ceremony that occurred at the original opening of the Milton-Madison Bridge is available for sale from Historic Madison Inc. HMI is taking orders and copies of the DVD have been ordered. The price has not yet been determined. To order a copy, call HMI at (812) 265-2967. A two-minute excerpt of the restored, eight-minute film can be viewed online at: www.MiltonMadisonBridge.com. The film was donated in 1993 to HMI by Mary Lorenz Klein and Robert E. Lorenz Sr., heirs of the original filmmaker Henry Lorenz, who owned a production company in Madison. It had been kept in storage until the current Bridge Project came along and provided $6,000 to restore the film to DVD. Call (812) 265-2967 to order a copy.

Queen contests were held in Madison and 17 other surrounding towns, including Milton and Bedford, Ky. For several days in early December 1929 leading up to the dedication ceremony, residents voted on the nominees in their respective towns to name their queen. Then in mid-December, the 18 finalists met for a luncheon at Madison’s Hillside Inn, whereby the “Queen of the Bridge” was to be selected. At the luncheon, Elizabeth Miller, the queen from Columbus, Ind., suggested that the Queen of the Bridge be either from Madison or Milton and not from one of the outlying communities. All agreed, but then Anthony Buford, advertising counsel for the National Toll Bridge Co., spoke up, saying that as Host Queen, Madison’s representative, Helen “Babe” Schnabel, was ineligible. As a result, Milton’s Marguerite Pecar inherited the title.
When the day arrived for the dedication ceremony, Indiana’s delegation was headed by Indiana Gov. Harry G. Leslie, while the Kentucky delegation was led by Tom B. Duncan, president of the Louisville Board of Trade and representing Louisville Mayor William B. Harrison. Duncan was actually standing in for Kentucky Lt. Gov. James Breathitt Jr., who at the last minute could not attend. Officials representing Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, New York and other cities also attended.

Harry Leslie & Tom Duncan

Photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc. and were taken from the recently restored 35mm nitrate film.

Gov. Harry Leslie (left) shaking hands
with Louisville's Tom Duncan.

Old clippings from The Madison Courier and other newspaper accounts describe the ceremonious ribbon-cutting that took place at noon that day at the state border on the bridge, just above the Indiana shoreline. Leslie and Duncan jointly cut the ribbon, then shook hands, marking the official end to the monumental construction project by J.G. White Engineering Corp.
“The bridge is a dream of our fathers’ come true,” Leslie was quoted to have said. “It is another milestone in the development of the two states and will open a new era of business and add strength to the ties which already bind the states closely together.”
Duncan responded by saying, “We may feel that this structure is of great benefit, but its greatest value is to coming generations.”
In a surprise to the crowd, 10 airplanes from Indianapolis suddenly appeared and flew overhead, dropping 100,000 leaflets bearing congratulations and floral tributes from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Merchants Association. The planes were led by H. Weir Cook, Indiana’s World War II flying ace. “Their part was considered one of the most spectacular attractions on the program,” the newspaper report read.

Scott

Scott

Robert A. Yunker, president of both the Pearl Packing Co. and the Madison Chamber of Commerce, served as master of ceremonies and then introduced 21-year-old Pecar, the “Queen of the Bridge.” Pecar was accompanied by 3-year-old Kathryn Butts of Madison. The youngster had been selected to assist the queen and help untie the ribbon.
Helen Rowlett, 96, of Milton and now a Madison resident recalls very little about that day. Only a 15-year-old at the time, she does remember eating some delicious hot stew that helped keep her warm. And she remembers how beautiful Pecar looked.
“I remember that they served some type of moo-goo out of a big iron pot. It was free and it was so good,” Rowlett said. “Margaret was a little older than me, but I remember that she was so worried about her complexion and pimples breaking out. She was so pretty.”

Reva Webster

Reva Webster

Reva Webster, 96, of Milton and was among those nominees who vied for the title of her town’s queen. She lost to Pecar, who was six years older, but Webster was allowed to ride on the Milton float in the parade with the town’s other nominees.
“We liked to froze to death. Our feet were so cold,” she recalled. Local businesses sponsored the queen contestants, and Webster was sponsored by Eli Ward, who owned a small grocery store in Milton. Pecar, meanwhile, was sponsored by her father, George Pecar, a wealthy man who owned Milton’s largest grocery store.
“I think I got one vote,” Webster joked. “But Margaret’s father worked hard to make sure his daughter won. He was adamant about that.”
The throng of people then walked onto the Indiana side to watch the ensuing parade of queens riding floats, beginning from the Milton side, then across the bridge and down Madison’s Main Street.
Officials and dignitaries, meanwhile, had been taken to a reviewing stand in the Jefferson County Courthouse yard to watch the parade. The Ormsby Village Band of Louisville played “My Old Kentucky Home.” That was followed by “On the Banks of the Wabash,” played by the Franklin (Ind.) Masonic Marching Band.

1929 Parade

Photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc. and were taken from the recently restored 35mm nitrate film.

More than 73 floats took part in a
1929 bridge dedication parade
down Madison’s Main Street.

“Beautiful floats in all their splendor then formed the next sparkling link in the parade,” the report reads. Each float carried its town’s queen and court. Represented were Madison, North Madison, Versailles, North Vernon, Greensburg, Columbus, Osgood, Patriot, Jeffersonville, Vevay and Hanover in Indiana; and Milton, Bedford, Campbellsburg, Pleasureville, Eminence, New Castle and Louisville in Kentucky.
Towns and businesses also sponsored their own floats, which totaled more than 73 in all. “A long string of cars followed the bands and floats,” the report reads.
Perin Scott, 91, of Madison doesn’t remember much about the bridge opening. He does recall riding in the parade in his father’s car, along with Bob Finch, a childhood friend. Scott’s daughter has a photo of her father riding in the parade down Main Street.
Scott also remembers the extreme cold weather and tells of a trumpeter who was playing on the bridge when his lips froze to the brass instrument.

Marching Band

Photo courtesy of Historic Madison Inc. and were taken from the recently restored 35mm nitrate film.

One of two marching bands
performs on the bridge during the
1929 dedication ceremony.

After the parade, the dignitaries were taken to the Brown Gym on Broadway Street to take part in a VIP luncheon for 500 invited guests. Several congratulatory letters sent by officials in other cities were read. Madison Mayor Marcus Sulzer welcomed the guests and predicted prosperity for Madison and the region as a result of the bridge. Other dignitaries spoke, including Gov. Leslie, Duncan and J. Graham Brown, a Madison native and donor of the Brown Gym after having become a successful Louisville businessman.
Louis Munier of Madison was 10 years old when the bridge was dedicated. He did not get to attend the ceremony because his family lived out in the country and “it was so cold that day, my dad didn’t want to drive into town to see it.”

Rowlett

Rowlett

But Munier said whenever the family did go to town during the construction of the bridge, they always went down to the river “to see how they were coming along.
“It took them two years to build it, and it was quite a sight to see it going up,” he said. “They started at both sides of the river and came together in the middle.”
Munier, 91, said he never walked the bridge but went over it in a car in the late 1930s for the first time. In the late 1940s, he drove a wholesale grocery truck for Scotts Grocery Co. and delivered to stores in Indiana and Kentucky and often crossed the bridge to visit his Kentucky clients.
“That’s when you had to pay the toll to cross it,” he recalled. He said that so many people from Kentucky worked at the Jefferson Proving Ground that their repeated crossing of the toll bridge helped contribute to lifting the toll earlier than expected.

Munier

Munier

Prior to the bridge being built, Munier said he crossed the river on the ferry boat once. “Now they’re bringing back the ferry while they build the new bridge, so maybe I’ll get to do that again.”
As for living to see a new bridge built across the Ohio River in Madison, Munier said, “I had surgery on both legs a couple of years ago, but if I can hang on, maybe I’ll get to walk across that new bridge.”

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