BY JENNIFER CROWLEY
In June the long-range weather report indicated that a very hot July was in the cards. To this day whenever I see a heatwave in the forecast I think of the Country Time Lemonade commercials I watched growing up (you know the ones). From here my mind started to envision The George Bridge and what it might feel like to splash down into the sparkling waters of Oatka Creek below.
But what did I really know about The George Bridge?
Despite living in Scottsville for nearly seven years, I knew very little about the bridge which is Scottsville’s primary landmark. So I decided to learn about it. I started my quest for knowledge by asking around (and by ‘asking around’ I mean I posted in a social media forum for longtime and former Scottsville residents) about the bridge – my first question was simple: how long have people been jumping off of it?
Little did I know that with that posting, I was opening a pandora’s box. Within an hour of inquiring when leaping from the bridge became a rite of passage for local kids, the robust online dialogue took a turn towards how the bridge got its name, “who” George really was.
Prior to writing about The George Bridge in the July 5th issue of The Sentinel, I’d only walked over it a handful of times. If you’d asked me how it got its name, I would have replied that it was probably named in honor of someone named George, perhaps an early settler, former mayor, captain of industry or other person of influence. And all of those answers would have been very wrong because you see, the bridge is simply named after the name written on the side of it. I’d had it all backwards by assuming the Bridge’s now iconic “GEORGE” was merely a reinforcement or abbreviation of the structure’s formal name. Instead by tagging the bridge with his name, “George” made it so.
But George who? That became the question I set out to answer.
Initially three Georges emerged as the main visionaries/artists/rebels of interest. Reading through about 100 comments on the Facebook thread I’d started and some additional information received through a credible source, it seemed one George in particular was probably not involved, he just happened to have a popular name for the era.
And then there were two.
For the most part, all involved in the debate agreed on three points: that the bridge was painted (in other words, christened) in the 1960s, that the two Georges were in their early teens at the time, and that they happened to be good friends. Beyond that there were mostly differing thoughts and theories around which one was the central figure to the great bridge caper.
Digging a bit deeper I learned that both men were alive and residing in the Rochester area. More surprisingly, I actually had three-degree-of-separation connections with both of them. I thought that getting to the bottom of how it all happened (under the cover of night?), how exactly he did it (standing on the ledge, right?), and community reactions (gasps?) might not be very difficult.
I was wrong again.
After a bit of silence on the topic and me feeling like the quest would go unfinished, my trusted source made contact with one of the Georges. Through this local wealth of information George relayed a message to me: the Georges had made a lifelong pact not to reveal the truth about ‘that day’ until one of them dies.
All right, so maybe there was a bit more to the message, but as I spent some time back at the bridge with a group of high school kids from Livonia, I decided that the secret the two Georges held is worth me keeping as well. Taking pictures of the boys jumping – off of a tall tree as well as the bridge – I thought about how the Georges and friends had been doing the same exact thing more than fifty years ago. But without smartphones, and clearly without any desire for notoriety. Today it would be virtually impossible for this type of story to unfold because secrets are so few and far between. So much of our lives are documented in near-time and news travels entirely too fast.
So who am I to interfere with lore that has been spun over half of a century? And with that on the mystery shall live.