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Eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a feat remembered

Eleventh Hour Of The 11th Day Of The 11th Month, a feat Remembered

Magnificent Mile? Last week, the Michigan Ave. Bridge was stuck open for 50 min. In 1992, it stayed up for 52 days!

Magnificent Mile? Last week, the Michigan Ave. Bridge was stuck open for 50 min. In 1992, it stayed up for 52 days!

by ROB McMANAMY | Nov 11, 2015

On this Veterans Day, aided by a brief reminder last week that saw Chicago's Michigan Avenue Bridge (now the DuSable Bridge) become stuck in the up position for an hour, my thoughts unavoidably turn to 1992. That fall, the same 74-year-old bridge in the heart of downtown was under repair when a cable snapped, a counterweight dropped and its south bascule leaf abruptly rose, sliding off its iron hinges.

The leaf wedged itself against the abutting supports and stayed that way for the next seven weeks. Needless to stay, as the prime Christmas shopping and tourist season neared, city officials and big-dollar merchants on Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" began to, well, freak out. All the while, as the pressure mounted, contractors and both forensic and structural engineers (see Wiss, Janney, Elstner Assoc.) worked to restore the span to service as quickly as possible. At the time, I was Chicago bureau chief for ENR magazine, so my office was within walking distance. There was plenty to report on.

Eerily familiar: Last week's hiccup no doubt triggered flashbacks.

Eerily familiar: Last week's hiccup no doubt triggered flashbacks.

You can read more about the details of that repair here (and the fault-finding here), but I bring this incident up now because I have always remembered that the two engineers in charge of the hectic emergency repair — Bob Herm of contractor Pitt-DesMoines and Edward Geer of consultant Tokola Corp. — both agreed on an unusual deadline for their project. Both veterans themselves, as well as sons of veterans, as I recall, the two men instructed their crews that the lowering of the bridge leaf had to be complete by 11 am on Nov. 11, a feat that they did accomplish. When I asked why, Herm and Geer looked at each other and said, almost in unison, "Because that's the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- the exact moment that World War I ended."

At first, I didn't make the connection, but then the pair reminded me that the roots of Veteran's Day lay in that very first Armistice Day. And that the Michigan Ave. Bridge, itself, designed by Daniel Burnham's associate Edward Bennett, had opened to the public in 1918, just months before the end of the war. Enlightened, I found myself moved by this unexpected tribute, which is why I share it with you today.

So often, so many of us may have trouble finding meaning in our day-to-day chores, or appreciating the value that others may put on their own work. But sometimes, those reasons rise to the surface and we are privileged to see what motivates others. Of course, what is revealed may not always be the noblest of intentions. But somehow that just makes it even more meaningful when we encounter someone else's higher purpose. All these years later, that still makes me feel even more connected to this day.

Chicago, Nov. 11, 1918: Perhaps the first parade ever to cross the Michigan Ave. Bridge, 97 years ago today.

Chicago, Nov. 11, 1918: Perhaps the first parade ever to cross the Michigan Ave. Bridge, 97 years ago today.

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