Jun 13, 2007

One Morning on the High Level Bridge

(Toledo, OH) I hate heights.

There. My most noteworthy neurosis is out in the open, for all the world to see and for the amusement of those who read; at some point in the 1990s I developed acrophobia, and there have been times when this phobia has been incapacitating. Perhaps there was a subconscious motive behind my decision last winter to take photos under the High Level Bridge.

Nonetheless, I was interested in taking some pictures of the Toledo skyline, and thought that there would be some impressive views on the High Level Bridge, which is officially known as the Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge.

Actually getting to the point at which good photos can be taken, of course, was the real challenge, but a cup of coffee can work wonders in matters motivational.

Skyline of downtown Toledo, OH, as seen from the High Level Bridge (aka Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge) over the Maumee RiverLeft: Skyline of downtown Toledo, OH; click picture for larger image

And magnificent panoramas abound when looking at downtown Toledo from the High Level Bridge. Even at this early hour of the day there were already boaters cruising on the Maumee, perhaps heading out to Lake Erie to get away from the projected 90-degree temperatures today.

Yet it was at the halfway point across the bridge when my fear of heights really took hold. In the middle of the bridge the safety fencing stops (no unsubstantiated Jack Ford anecdotes, please), and vertigo began to settle in. Even holding on to the rail was no help for me, as once can feel the bridge bob and sway in the wind and with the passing tanker trucks from the East Side refineries.

A grandmother and her son were crossing the bridge, traveling west to east as I gripped one of the suspension cables in a vain attempt to steady my nerves.

"Beautiful view, isn't it?" she cheerily offered.

"Yes, beautiful," I managed through gritted teeth, envious of people who can manage to walk in a carefree manner on a narrow sidewalk hundreds of feet above a certain watery death. I resisted the urge to holler at the boy to save himself, and shuddered as he peered over the four-foot railing.

Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge, also known as the High Level Bridge in Toledo, OH over the Maumee RiverLeft: Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge; click on picture for larger image

It was time to walk back down the bridge, and I felt a bit silly that I was not able to make it across the entire span, but also relieved that I was a few minutes away from solid ground. There were indeed a few beads of sweat on my forehead, and the bridge seemed to swim as I walked back westward toward a sensible height.

"Sensible" being, in my definition, within a foot of the ground.

I much prefer taking pictures of bridges from the ground, and from Ottawa Street the view of the High Level Bridge grandly rising above the Maumee River was inspirational. This is the street that runs along the Owens-Corning campus and behind the Oliver House, and there are few sources of heart-pounding anxiety.

Bless you, oh solid earth.


sarah g said...

Nice skyline. Can I use your picture?

babbleman said...

Wow, great skyline shot Mike. Those rooftop units on the OI building are butt ugly. Maybe you can ps them out.

historymike said...

Sarah G:

Sure, just link back to my blog or throw up a "courtesy of historymike" or something.

historymike said...

(laughing at babbleman's OC comments)

Hasn't that evolved to Detrich-ing our photos?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

historymike said...

Whoops - I suppose I ought to note that I altered the brightness and saturation of this image to cut down on the 9:45 am glare of the sun, lest someone with mad script_mod skills accuses me of hypocrisy.

Quick shoutout to The GIMP 2.3.18, the best freeware photo retouching, image composition and image authoring in the world.

microdot said...

This will give you the willies:
I worked on the Toledo Terminal Railroad Bridge for 4 years at night.
I was the guy who was up in the bridgehouse operating it.
Part of my job was to inspect the bridge every night and if one went out, I had to climb all over the bridge to change the warning lightbulbs. My second week alone, the phone rang and it was the Coast Guard telling me that their pattrol boat had noticed that the light on top of the brodge house was out.
What ever Acrophobia I had went away forever that night as I climbed up the rickety metal ladder in the wind and darkness high over the middle of the Maumee.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Loved the JaFo line.

Stephanie said...

As always, I love your prose. But, I must pose this question...

"Even holding on to the rail was no help for me, as once can feel the bridge bob and sway in the wind and with the passing tanker trucks from the East Side refineries."

Was that for effect, or did you really feel/imagine the bridge bobbing and swaying? I wouldn't think that a bridge that can have numerous cars on it without falling down could bob and sway.

As for my fear: I'm currently desensitizing myself from arachnophobia by sitting in my basement to do my homework. Actually, I pretty much thought they'd go away after I cleaned out all their webs. I was mistaken and now I'm just being stubborn. I pay for the house, dang it. They're just squatters!

historymike said...


You'd never catch me working a job like that!

historymike said...

Anonymous #2:

You must be a lifelong Toledoan to know that old JaFo yarn.

historymike said...


A suspension bridge is designed to handle wind and seismic variances, and it will noticeably move when facing even moderate winds.

The "bob" effect is most noticeable as trucks pass from section to section of the suspended concrete. My guess is that there is a 2-3" shift when the heaviest trucks pass by.

Winds at Michigan's Mackinac Bridge - the third-longest suspension span in the U.S. - were so high that Leslie Ann Pluhar's Yugo was blown off in 1989.

Stephanie said...


I guess I've never crossed a suspension bridge...at least not on foot.

I've never felt a bridge (that wasn't for pedestrians and over a creek) that actually moved.

I think I'd find that to be scary and I don't have problems with heights!

(And this is why you ask "stupid" questions. You just might learn something.)

historymike said...

Agreed, Stephanie. When I am a student in a class my hand shoots up all the time.

I remember at an academic conference asking about a word I wasn't sure I heard correctly, which turned out to be the French word métissage.

The speaker seemed put off, as though everyone should know this word, but heck - if I hadn't asked, I would have sat there, silently ignorant.

Stephanie said...

I'm not even sure that's a word you'd be likely to come across if you did know French as a second-language, let alone it being one readily used in the US.

...and the learner teaches the ignorant, the ignorant become learned, and...

Hooda Thunkit said...

From a purely statistical point of view, you are highly unlikely to be thrown over the railing.

Even less likely is the bridge falling down, for any reason.

So statistically you are most likely to fall to the surface of the bridge (less than two feet) by ANY of a number of plausible mishaps than anything else.

Not very scary to me, but then I don't suffer from what you do, which changes your perception.

Not a fun thing to deal with because statistics mean nothing to a troubled mind/soul :-|