June 10, 1990: Woman Dies on Aerial Lift Bridge

On this day in Duluth 1990, Barbara Ann Paplior died in what is arguably the most notorious event in the history of the Zenith City’s aerial bridge. At 11:30 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday, as the bridge prepared to lift to allow the Vista King to pass under it, fifty-year-old Paplior got on despite the warning lights flashing and bells sounding. She may have been disoriented; her family later said she suffered from manic-depressive disorder and had experienced a psychotic episode just two days earlier. She was almost halfway across when she realized the bridge was rising—and she panicked. Witnesses told the news media that she screamed, “Help me! Somebody help me, please!” If she would have stayed on the sidewalk and not moved, she could have safely rode up and back down on the bridge, but she apparently didn’t know that. She ran back toward the north approach and, when the bridge was thirty to forty feet above the ground, she leaned over and attempted to jump. But she became caught in a V of the bridge’s metalwork, facing west with her legs sticking out toward the lake. As the lift span continued upward, it carried Paplior toward the stationary north tower; dismembered by the rising bridge, she died instantly. Witnesses described the event as gruesome. The bridge’s operators were unaware of the mishap until after it had happened and witnesses called 911. Read about other casualties of Duluth’s Aerial Bridge here.

Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge featured in a color lithographic postcard ca. 1930. (Image: Zenith City Press)ft