Riding the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Stirs Memories of the Past
May 10th is an odd anniversary for Floridians. In 1980, the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed, after being struck by a freighter during a storm, and its pilings caved. Several vehicles, including a pick-up truck (driver was one of the few survivors…the truck hit the barge first, then bounced into the water) and a Greyhound bus carrying 26 people dropped 150 feet into the water. Richard Hornbuckle stopped his car just 14 inches from the edge of the broken span. In an interview, he reported that visibility was severely limited that day and the next thing he knew, the bus he was following simply disappeared. Now, after avoiding the gaping maw by inches, I would think the guy would have scrambled as fast as he could off that bridge, wouldn’t you? Not this guy. He went back for his golf clubs. Interesting choice of priorities! In all, 40 people lost their lives that day.
The old bridge, which had suffered damage from ships before, and on-going corrosion from seawater, was no longer operable or fixable, so the FDOT decided to build a new bridge. Since stopping on the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge for non-emergency reasons is strictly prohibited, all photographs were taken from the car:
Some say there are supernatural powers afoot, due to various reasons. Numerous suicides have taken place from the top of the bridge. Both bridges are believed to be cursed by ancient Native Americans when their middens (shell mounds) were disturbed during construction, but there has been no verification of that claim.
And then there is the story of the vanishing hitchhiker, young, female, blonde and beautiful, trying to catch a ride near the middle span. Toll takers have heard the story many times from different people: when the car stopped, she’d get in, but as they approached the summit of the bridge, the hitchhiker would begin to cry. When the driver turned to look at her, she was gone.
The structure soars and the yellow paint on the cables looks golden when the Florida sun blazes just so on the “sails” that some claim aliens use to communicate with their home planet.
The old bridge, with its missing middle span, has been shortened and is used as a fishing pier and is also reputed to be haunted with apparitions of the bus flying past them, it’s passengers’ faces frozen in fear, except for a lone man in the back who looks out the window and smiling, waves to them.
My mother feared driving over any bridge and, as a young girl, I’d have to talk her over it. When the first bridge fell into the water, my brother called me up and said, “Mom was right!”