Our Coast Magazine 2018:OC18
A KIDNAPPING AND ACCIDENTAL BURIAL DURING CONSTRUCTION A TOLLBOOTH WORKER CALLED AUTHORITIES WHEN SHE SPIED A KIDNAPPING VICTIM BOUND IN THE BACK OF A CAR.
THE LOCAL LORE Two well-known legends involving the Astoria Bridge — which spans the 4-mile width of the Columbia River and connects Oregon and Washington— tell of a tollbooth worker who foiled a kidnapping and of a man accidentally buried inside a concrete bridge support.
THE HISTORY In 1987, when tollbooths still operated on the bridge, tollbooth worker Peggy Kile called authorities when she spied a kidnapping victim partially covered and bound in the back of a car, according to a newspaper clipping dated May 8 of that year. The victim whispered “Help” to Kile three times while her kidnapper “fumbled in his pockets for the $1.50 toll charge to cross the span.” A sawed-off shotgun was later found in the car. The victim was freed and the
perpetrator ultimately charged with theft, kidnapping, and possession of a firearm. Old newspaper archives confirm this. “When we were getting ready for the 50th anniversary of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, it was definitely a fact that tollbooth attendants were telling us that they were calling on kidnappings,” Burns said. As for the myth of a bridge construction worker who fell and was “buried” in one of the bridge supports while concrete was poured during construction: “We could not substantiate that myth,” he said. “Many of the men on our panel for the 50th anniversary of the AstoriaMegler Bridge said something like, ‘I don’t know, but Bill told me about it.’” What was substantiated, according to Burns, were several major accidents. One included a supervisor knocked off the bridge by a falling bucket during construction and died. A crew member broke his back from a fall — a barge
happened to be underneath him — but survived. Another substantiated story is that of a stray dog who accompanied the workers to the top of the bridge. The workers fed and played fetch with the dog during breaks. One day the stick was thrown too far, and the dog jumped to its death.
THE ENDURING MYSTERY Local experts are fuzzy on the burial legend. Goodenberger recounted stories from local sources in which a worker was knocked into the bridge support as concrete was being poured. His coworkers, the story goes, watched helplessly but could do nothing. “We interviewed about 15 guys on a panel, and they swear everyone knows there was a guy who fell in.” Yet when he and his fellow researchers scoured the newspapers in preparation for the bridge’s 50th anniversary, they couldn’t find anything specific. >>
Local historians John Goodenberger (left) and Clatsop County Historical Society executive director McAndrew “Mac” Burns (right)