Highways and Byways
When it was being built in the years following
the Great Depression, the Huey P. Long Bridge
in Jefferson, Louisiana was ahead of it's
time. A high-rise trestle bridge of it's kind
had only been attempted one other time in
the swampy environs of New Orleans -- this
was the Mississippi River Bridge (now the
Crescent City Connection).
As with any feat of modern engineering, it
had it's challenges and it's set backs.
The Huey P. Long Bridge was designed by Ralph
Modjeski. This Polish-born American bridge
designer and builder, outstanding for the
number, variety, and innovative character
of his projects. He was the son of the actress
Helena Modjeska (1840–1909). After study
in Paris, he settled in the United States
and from 1892 practiced as a consulting bridge
engineer in Chicago. Among his best known
bridges The Huey P. Long Bridge New Orleans.
In the history of bridges in the United States
Ralph Modjeski's name will always be remembered.
He was born Rudolf Modrzejewski in Krakow
in the year 1861. Early in his American career,
Modrzejewski changed his name to Ralph Modjeski.
He found that Americans had great difficulty
pronouncing, spelling, or remembering his
complex Polish name. His mother, the famous
Polish Shakespearian actress, Helena Modrzejewska,
who brought her family to the United States
in 1876, had the same problem. Upon the earnest
advise of her friends she changed her name
from Helena Modrzejewska to simply Madame
Ralph Modjeski's European education,
in addition to languages and mathematics, included
musical studies under Kazimierz Hofmann, son
of the world renowned pianist, Joseph Hofmann.
Curiously, during that same period Modjeski's
fellow student, was the illustrious, Jan Ignacy
Paderewski. Ralph Modjeski was an extremely
proficient pianist; in seven lessons he had
learned four of Kohler's etudes by heart and
almost the entire sixth sonata by Mozart. If
Ralph Modjeski had chosen a career in music
instead of engineering the world might have
gained a famous concert-pianist, but would have
lost one of the finest bridge designers.
Engineering won and Modjeski completed his
education in his chosen field at the Ecole
des Ponte et Chaussees in Paris. He graduated
in 1885 leading his class with a degree in
Civil Engineering. With his mother, the famous
Helena Modrzejewska,already in America, Ralph
returned to the United States and began his
engineering career in Chicago where he worked
for seven years with one of the leading bridge
builders of that time, George S. Morison.
In 1893, Modjeski decided to
embark on private practice in the bridge design
field. He obtained his first major project -
the design and construction of a seven-span
combined railway and highway bridge over the
Mississippi River, at Rock Island, Illinois.
Later Modjeski developed a set of standard
bridges designs for the Northern Pacific Railroad.
From this point he rapidly progressed, designing
an almost unbelievable number of this country's
finest major bridges.
Frank M. Masters of Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania, was employed by Modjeski in 1904.
Twenty years later in 1924 Modjeski and Masters
formed a partnership. Today this firm continues
to operate from offices in Harrisburg, New Orleans,
Chicago, and Washington, DC.
Time does not permit listing the many bridges
in which Modjeski and his partners were involved.
It is also significant to note that Ralph
Modjeski was often called upon as a consultant
and adviser. After several disastrous failures
in the construction of the worlds longest
cantilever-truss rail bridge in Quebec, Canada,
Ralph Modjeski was called upon and brought
the project to a successful conclusion in
1918. Modjeski was also chairman of the board
of consulting engineers in charge of the design
and construction of the great eight mile long
BAY BRIDGE in San Francisco, which was finished
In Pennsylvania, Modjeski designed what at
that time was the longest suspension bridge
in the world - the present BEN FRANKLIN BRIDGE
in Philadelphia. Excitement reigned in that
city on the day President Calvin Coolidge,
assisted by the Army corps of Engineers, opened
the bridge across the Delaware River.
Only a few years later Modjeski designed
the unusual, tied-arch Tacony-Palmyra Bridge
further upstream on the Delaware. Some of
Pennsylvania's most interesting bridges have
been designed by Ralph Modjeski and his partners.
Many of them won national awards for their
artistry of design. Graceful lines, arches,
and staunch utility have always characterized
Modjeski's work. Almost all of the bridges
that Modjeski and his partners designed are
still in use.
Ralph Modjeski, was almost 80 years old when
he died in 1940. And many have so said it
is he that travels the country haunting many
of the Bridges he built and designed.
The first train to cross the Public Belt
Railroad's new Huey P. Long Bridge, December
16, 1935, was one of the Southern Pacific's
largest freight engines. The opening of the
bridge was celebrated with elaborate ceremonies,
including a historical transportation pageant
that preceded the trains over the bridge.
The boy scouts dressed as Native Americans,
colonial horsemen and mounted guards, a pioneer
stage coach, a primitive locomotive, a "horseless
carriage," and modern automobiles. Once
the first train had crossed the span, an excursion
train carrying nearly 1000 people left Union
Station for a trip to Avondale and back. Regular
train service on the bridge began on December
17,1935 and continues today.
Legend has grown up around the Huey P. Long
bridge. Many say they have seen Ralph Modjeski
ghost. They relate that he walks the entire
span as if inspecting every inch of it. And
the fact that allegedly several workers were
entombed aliive in the colossal cement pilings
holding the bridge in place. Trestle workers,
too, were among the men who lost their lives
in the effort to erect this homage to the
late Louisiana Governor. Knocked from their
high perches by misplaced rebar or rods, the
trestle workers plummeted to their deaths
in the muddy Mississippi River below.
Once it was complete, the new
bridge was often used by hobos who took advantage
of the new link that allowed them to cross the
river with apparent ease. But all too often
they could not make it across in time and were
either downed by freight trains or knocked into
the surging river by trucks or passenger cars.
Even today the Huey P. Long Bridge has it's
share of accidents.
It is said that some of these accidents are
caused by modern commuters trying to avoid
striking what appear to be pedestrians on
the busy bridge.
Several commuters who had "near misses"
in the recent past have claimed to have seen
men in overalls walked abreast on the bridge,
or someone climbing from over the side of
the bridge and suddenly appearing in view.
Swerving to avoid these "workers"
modern day motorists end up in fender benders
of their own. While boating enthusiasts in a sail boat or Princess Yacht may not see any pedestrian apparitions because they are passing underneath the bridge, they should still exercise caution when steering their vessels in the vicinity. Sail boats and Princess Yachts for sale can be big investments, and no owner wants to have a boating accident because they were startled by an apparition on the bridge.
Could these amorphous entities be the remnants
of workers now entombed in the aging structure,
or killed in the process of raising it? Many
people insist this is the only explanation.
The 4.5 mile (7.5 km) Huey P. Long Bridge
in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana carries four
lanes of US 90 and a two-track railroad line
over the Mississippi River. Huey P. Long was
a former governor of Louisiana. The bridge
is a favorite railfan location, and is the
longest railroad bridge in the U.S. The bridge
is owned by the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad
(AAR reporting mark NOPB), which is owned
by the city of New Orleans and managed by
the Public Belt Railroad Commission. The bridge
was opened in December 1935. It is hated by
many drivers in the New Orleans area due to
its narrow width—9-foot wide lanes with
image from Google Local