Niagara Gazette

October 12, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: 'Miss September' rises to the south

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Bridge Buffs — Pardon us while our girders burst with pride. Our much-maligned South Bridge, site of perpetual repaving and scorn, has been selected as Miss September in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2014 calendar and its image won second prize in their first-ever bridge photography contest.

It’s in mighty elite company. First prize went to a crossing in Pamban, India. The Pamban span (sorry, couldn’t resist that) seems suspended above a clear sea in the middle of nowhere. Miss December is photographed from one of those maddeningly reliable Swiss trains as it penetrates a 4,200-foot-high tunnel across the Landwasser arch of concrete stilts to Schmitten, population 264. Bridge to nowhere, anybody?

An august panel with more degrees than a thermometer store studied some 6,000 entries, “striking photos that highlight the design and engineering achievement,” according to the contest rules as provided by ASCE marketer Chi Wang, whose afternoon we disrupted with an avalanche of e-mails and phone calls.

“No failures of engineering,” the rules stressed (translation: no collapses), and honest photography (“no fish-eye lenses”).

And so with these constraints, one Michael B. Stuart of Lewiston, whose wife, Nicole, is the portrait photographer in the family, lined up an evening shot from the southwest side, the bridge (two, of course, as you know) bathed in blue light against a sepia sky. No tolls. No construction barriers. It looks like summer, but on a tight deadline, we were unable to link up with the shooter himself.

How we found out about this speaks to the variety of our friendships without benefit of Facebook. A covered-bridge student in Pennsylvania sent us a link, along with a note, “Have you seen any of these bridges?” Doug opened it and e-mailed back, “Heck, one of ‘em goes right over our house.”

One thing led to another, including an e-chat with grandson, Doug, a regular at ASCE meetings near Pittsburgh. As it happens, one of the contest’s “Viewer’s Choices” is a weather-ruined covered bridge not far from his home town. Guess rotted boards don’t count as “failures of engineering.”

We doubt you’re going to find these calendars in Barnes & Noble (not that we’re going anywhere near the place, what with the Trader Joe’s mob scene) but the Society itself has them on sale at two for $20. While the website turned out harder to negotiate than the South Bridge on hockey night, you could call 703-205-6203 to get started.

Our very own bridge — beauty in the eye of the right beholder. Come visit. You can see it from our backyard, 12 months a year. Who needs Switzerland?

Contact Polly and Doug at pollyndoug@hotmail.com.