Riding the Aerial Bridge’s Lift Span

Tourists take a ride in the “Monkey Cage,” ca 1968. [image: LL]

While Duluth’s aerial bridge has been of interest to visitors since it was first built in 1905, in the 1960s Duluth made much more of an effort to make it a tourist attraction. In 1965 City officials resurrected an idea their predecessors had twice dismissed as unsafe: Public rides on the aerial lift bridge as it raised and lowered from June to Labor Day. That August Charles Cox and Dean Carlos of Higgins Industrial Supply Company installed chain-link fencing along the bridge’s lakeward sidewalk to create a safe enclosure for riders; the bridge operators called it the “Monkey Cage.” Later that month the bridge became a slow and careful carnival ride, and anyone over five years old could enjoy it for twenty-five cents.

“The bridge operators hated it,” Bridge Supervisor Ryan Beamer said in 2007. “It made extra work for them, and also created safety concerns that had nothing to do with the bridge’s practical operation.” Chief Operator Don Bowen validated Beamer’s words back in 1967: “This passenger thing really has been nerve-wracking,” he told a local reporter. “Now, instead of stopping people, when the bells ring, it’s like a dinner bell. People just come running aboard.”

Those safety concerns became all too real the day when one woman panicked. As the bridge began to rise, she opened the gate and ran toward the North Pier. Fortunately operator Richard Lyons was keeping an eye on the passengers and quickly shifted the bridge into reverse. But the bridge lost its race with the fleeing woman. When she reached the end of the bridge deck, it was still twenty feet in the air. She jumped and landed on the pier, but not without sustaining serious injuries. If Lyons had not stopped and reversed the bridge, she very well may have died. Despite the bridge operators’ dislike of the rides, they continued until 1973.