BLAZING GOSPORT SPAN FALLS, KILLING ONE, INJURING 9 MEN
Bert Dittemore, Young Merchant, Plunges To Death
Vandals Blamed In Firing Old, Disputed Bridge Over White River; Volunteer Firemen Fall With Span
Pg. 1 & 7. Daily Herald - Telephone. Friday. Oct. 28, 1955. Vol. 79, No.143. Price Five Cents. Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana
By BILL DYER
Submitted by Albert Scarborough
A flaming span of the ancient covered Gosport Bridge collapsed 30 feet into White River early today, killing one volunteer Gosport fireman and injuring nine others who were battling the fire which was believed to have been started by vandals. The same firemen had extinguished a similar fire at the bridge a night earlier in a two hour fire-flghting chore. The body of Bert Dittemore, Jr., 32, Gosport merchant and assistant fire chief, was recovered from the stream an hour after the bridge fell. The other firemen had to pry him loose from a cable that was across his chest and was being held down by the weight of the bridge span. Joseph King, 22, who held Dittemore's head out of the water while the others worked with the cable, said "he never was conscious. He didn't know what hit him." Others listed as Injured: Robert Tharp, Larry Snodgrass, J. V. Wampler, Darrell Porter, Richard Felton, Frank Burkhart, Jr., Charles Morgan and Vernon Wampler. Porter, Tharpe and Fulton were treated and released at the Bloomington Hospital. The volunteer firemen had been called out at 12:45 when someone discovered the bridge was on fire. King said they took the Gosport fire truck to the edge of the bridge, and stretched a hose to the end, and started spraying water on the flame, which were primarily on the roof and the sides. "The floor was burning a little," he said, "but It seemed solid enough." King said he and Felton were holding the end of the hose when he heard a "loud crack, and I knew we were going down." "What saved most of us," he , said, "was that cables attached to the sides of the bridge pulled the sides away and the V-shaped roof came down over us like covering." King said when the bridge stopped falling the men found themselves knee-deep in water. "We looked around to see who was hurt," he said, "and I saw Bert with his face in the water." King said the men had difficulty removing the cable from Dittemore's body because the bridge was across the cable, and that handsaws and other tools were used in the effort. "We finally got him loose and pulled him back to the bridge," he said. Nightmare Experience King, who called the whole thing "like a nightmare", said he didn't know how long it took to remove Dittemore's body and to get the other injured back to shore, but that it was approximately 4:40 a.m. when he finally left the scene. Police and firemen converged on the area from all surrounding communities, including Bloomington. The Bloomington Fire Department rescue truck was sent after a call was received here for a fire truck. Fire Chief Horace Robertson said he had refused to send a fire truck because the bridge had been condemned and was not worth saving. Sheriff Clifford Kinser and several of his deputies went to the scene, and were joined by State Troopers and other volunteer rescue workers. The bridge span that fell was the last of two spans built by Monroe County in the joint 3 span bridge project. The first span fell in 1954, but no one was Injured in that crash. The remaining, span, owned by Owen County, is made of steel, but has a wooden floor. The bridge has been the center ot controversy between the two counties for years, with Owen County Commissioners demanding Monroe County help them recondition the bridge, and with Monroe County refusing on grounds the bridge was beyond repair. Recommend Razing State Engineers recently recommended the fallen span be razed and removed from the area because it was hazardous. Feeling In Gosport today was mixed. Some residents felt the tragedy was the work of Halloweeners. Others declared It was "pure vandalism." Still others Indicated they though the fire was started by "someone in Bloomington." "We knew this would happen sooner or later," said Joe King. "That bridge was bound to hurt someone. " However, he added, "We thought It was our duty to try and put the fire out."
Douglas said the work "definitely was the work of vandals." He said the bridge had been set afire the night before, but the blaze was discovered in time to be extinguished. Fire Chief Horace Robertson said he understood two gasoline cans had been found near the bridge Tuesday night. "This ought to give someone something to think about," said one Gosport resident darkly today. Actual cause of Dittemore's death had not been declared today, but Owen County authorities said they believe it will be either "suffocation" or "drowning."
Mr. Dittemore was a native of Gosport, the son of Bert and Hattie Dittemore Sr. He was operator of a dry goods store in Gosport, a veteran of World War II, president of the Gosport Lions Club, and a member of the Gosport Methodist Church. Survivors include his wife, Lois Dunning Dittemore; a daughter, Victoria; his mother, Hattie Burton Dittemore and a sister, Bernice Dittemore. Funeral services will be conducted at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Whitaker Funeral Home in Gosport. Rev. Arnold Adklns, and Rev. E. M. Minton will officiate. Burial will be in the Gosport Cemetery. The body remains at the Whitaker Funeral Home where friends may call after 7 p.m. today.
The Gosport Volunteer Fire Department had just been reorganized in the community's bid to lower fire Insurance rates and the membership had been bolstered to 26. Dittemore was named assistant chief. The department was described as "fired up" under the new leadership and the belief was expressed freely in the community today that the department perhaps would not have sought to save the condemned bridge had it not for been for the fresh emphasis on fire-fighting. Meanwhile, Gosport merchants were seeking to raise $1,000 to offer as a reward for Infomation leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspected arsonists. Occupations of those injured flre-fighters were varied. Porter, Burkhart and Livlngston are filling station employees, Tharpe is the Monon agent at Gosport, Felton works for the Chrysler Corporation in Indianapolis, Snodgrass Is a trucker, Wampler a member of the Town Board and operator of a nursing home and King is assistant manager of the Indianapolis Tent & Awning factory at Gosport.
There are records from contemporary newspapers of the Halloween, 1955 fire and the death. A reward was offered and never collected. The condemned bridge MAY have had an earlier fire but records for the 1955 fire and death are there for those who want to bother looking.
Your post states that a fireman was killed fighting a fire at the Gosport covered bridge and that no one was found guilty. That account is totally untrue and it was not related to any murder. Some boys from Paragon, Indiana set fire to the condemened bridge as a halloween prank around 1950-52 and were sentenced to a few years at the Indiana Boys School. I was born in Gosport and raised in Paragon and south of Paragon. My family used the covered bridge weekly to visit my grandparents and other family members who lived in Gosport until it was condemned.
There are a few different stories as to why the West span of the covered bridge was replaced with an open iron span. The one that I have heard the most, and that makes sense to me, is that travelers crossing the bridge could not see the approaching trains. I do know that the wrought iron span was a product of the Indianapolis Bridge Company, and was built no later than 1885. Indianapolis Bridge was the short lived predecessor to the Indiana Bridge Company, and was in business from 1883-1885.
Another note,this concerning the arson of the bridge. The man killed was the Assistant Fire Chief, who was pinned under a fallen beam and drowned. Apparently one of the men responsible for the fire was a good friend of this man, and after having heard what happened returned to the scene to help.
The two rail lines mentioned in the description where the former Pennsylvania Railroad's I&V line(Indianapolis and Vincennes) which is today run by the Indiana Southern Railroad, and the former CSX Transportation "Monon" Louisville line which was abandoned in the early to mid 1990's. The Monon line was RIGHT next to this bridge. It's depot was directly nearby as well. The PRR line was just West of the Monon and at a higher elevation. A veiw of the Monon in 1910 during White River flooding with the old Covered bridge can be seen at http://www.monon.monon.org/gosport/06-22-gosportflood1.jpg
Another small view of the truss end including steam and diesel trains on the Monon can be seen at http://www.monon.monon.org/gosport/06-22-steam-diesel.jpg
I am glad to see a photo of the bridge up. I have seen photos, but they were of both poor quality and copyrighted so I was sill looking. I don't know about the condemnation date. The July 1949 newspaper article said it had been condemned then.
Lots of interesting folklore about the hybrid construction of the bridge with tales of arguments among the building commissions and such. Too bad it's not true.
I don't think this was the first bridge on the site, but I haven't been able to find out more...yet.