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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Tower Light Falls

During a brief but severe gale which accompanied a thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, the south guy wire supporting the big steel lighting tower at West Bridge and Jefferson Streets [now Lexington] snapped at its anchorage. The giant puff of wind, catching the tall lacework of steel on the vulnerable quarter, snapped the cast iron support at the ground level and laid the tower, a thin, twisted and writing serpent of metal, along the east curb line of Jefferson Street. That no one was killed and the property loss was of small consequence, aside from damage to the structure itself, may be attributed to the driving rain and the watchful care that Dame Fortune seems to keep over things in Grand Rapids.

As in most such local incidents the margin by which death and injury were escaped was marvelously narrow. Three feet separated Motorman M.J. Hanrahan from the tons of grinding steel where is came to rest. A trolley pole came in through the windows of Hanrahan’s car and escaped G.A. Winston’s head by a few inches. The mass of steel came so close to a horse owned by Mr. Edison as to wreck the buggy and strip off the harness from the animal.

Hanrahan says the big tower held its alignment during practically the whole sweep through the ninety-degree arc of its fall. Not until it was impaled on a pair of cedar posts on the northeast corner did it crumple. Twenty feet north of these posts stood Edison’s rig. The horse had strayed from where it had first been fastened and stood in the path of the tower. But the momentary pull of a trolley guy wire ere it snapped jerked the falling tower out of line and while it came down over the buggy it grazed the horse, stripping the breeching from his back and tearing him loose from the rig. The horse vaulted an iron railing that penned him close to the mass of steel and ran a block.

The lamp platform of the tower struck and buried itself in the roadway. The four big arc lamps were disintegrated by the force of the blow. The tower carried down two trolley poles and stripped the wires of telephone companies, fire alarm and police signal systems, municipal lighting plant, and the Edison Company. The tower lay across the track and service was interrupted until late at night on the Stocking and West Bridge Street lines west of the scene of the accident.

General Manager Freshney had men on the spot in record time and the emergency and construction and wrecking crews of the Grand Rapids Railway Company were on hand shortly. In surprisingly short time sledges and chisels and saws cut the tower in two and the lower section was dragged out of the way. The line gangs began picking up the tangle of wiring and restoring their circuits. To restore its trolley the street railway found it necessary to set two poles.

General Manager Freshney favors the removal of the towers and so it is probably that the committee and the board of works will desire to recommend this course of action. When a similar agitation was begun some time ago residents in the outlying districts especially, entered strenuous protest and there is little doubt that many remonstrances will be received now for the tall shafts have come to be almost a part of the city and they have a large number of warm friends.

Excerpted from the Grand Rapids Press, May 26, 1908, page 11.

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