Sunday 25th November 1990
After a howling wind- and rainstorm on Thanksgiving Day, Washington state’s historic floating Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge between Seattle and its eastern suburbs, broke apart and sank to the bottom of Lake Washington. Because the bridge’s disintegration happened relatively slowly, news crews were able to capture the whole thing on camera, broadcasting it to a rapt audience across western Washington. The Murrow Bridge, named after the state highways director (and brother of famous newsman Edward R. Murrow), was the brainchild of engineer Homer Hadley, who in 1921 proposed a “floating concrete highway, permanent and indestructible, across Lake Washington.” Figuring out a way to cross that lake, between up-and-coming Seattle and its (at that time) sleepy small-town neighbors to the east, was a particular challenge because an ordinary “fixed-pier” bridge was out of the question: The lake was too deep, and its bottom was too mushy. Construction began on the bridge in 1939; it was completed 18 months later. In November 1990, the 6,600-foot-long bridge, made of 22 floating bolted-together pontoons, was in the process of being converted from a two-way road to a one-way road. (A parallel bridge had been completed the year before, effectively doubling the amount of traffic that could cross the lake.) The state highway department alleged that construction crews had left the pontoons’ hatches open, leaving them vulnerable to the weekend’s heavy rains and large waves. At midday on November 25, the center pontoons began to sink. As they disappeared under the water, they pulled more and more of the crumbling roadway down with them. By the end of the day, the bridge was gone.