A local man shares his memories of attending the dedication of the first Mark Twain Memorial Bridge which took place on Sept. 4, 1936.
What were you doing on Sept. 4 when you were 6 years old?
The older you are, the more challenging the question likely is.
Now put yourself in Joe Yohn’s boots. Although it’s been 77 years since he was 6, the Frankford man still has some memories from Sept. 4, 1936, which happens to be the day the previous Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in Hannibal was dedicated.
“I don’t have too many,” said the 83-year-old Yohn. “I was just 6 years old. I can’t remember too much. I wasn’t old enough.”
The day was a special one for Yohn since he was the only one of John Richard and Edna Yohn’s 10 children who got to attend the dedication.
“I don’t know why, but I was the only one that went with him,” he said. “I was kind of lucky to get to go.”
Yohn was living with his family near the Mark Twain Cave at the time of the dedication. He says they made the 10-minute trip into Hannibal that day in his father’s Chevy coop. Even though early September days can still be hot, Yohn recalls the conditions being “comfortable.”
Yohn and his father did not have ring-side seats for the dedication ceremony.
“We got there kind of late, so we were way back to the end of it (crowd),” he said.
Among the dignitaries on hand that day was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who delivered a speech and then snipped the ribbon that marked the official opening of the span.
“I seen him (Roosevelt) up there, but I didn’t see him up close. Just because I seen President Roosevelt up there don’t make me old,” laughed Yohn, who admits it was a challenge making out the president from the others on the stage. “I could tell they were men because none of them had a dress on, but I couldn’t really point them out.”
Estimates were that a crowd of 75,000 were in attendance that day. Yohn recalls confirming that total for his father.
“My dad said, ‘How do you know it was 75,000?’
“I told him I counted them.
“He said, ‘You can’t count that far.’
“I said, ‘Yes I can. I counted their feet, then I divided by two and got the right answer.’ Ain’t that the way to do it?
“I did say approximately because there was one guy there with a wooden leg, so I didn’t count him,” chuckled Yohn.
Most people who remember the previous bridge, recall it as an aging structure with spots of rust and areas of crumbling concrete. What was it like brand spanking new?
“It looked just about like the one we’ve got now, except it was just two lanes,” said Yohn. “They had a toll house up on the top where they collected the money when you went through.”
Even after the bridge opened, Yohn still remembers cars driving over to Illinois in the dead of winter when the Mississippi was frozen solid.
“They didn’t want to pay the toll,” he said.
Yohn’s recollections of that day in 1936 were stirred last month when the Courier-Post ran a story detailing that an amateur film of the proceedings, shot by four Hannibal-area men, had been found on the Internet.
“It (story) was interesting. I kept the paper. I said, ‘I remember that,’” said Yohn, adding at some point he would like to view the minutes of silent footage that were filmed that day. “That bridge is already gone and they’ve built another one.”