Friday Flashback #182

Tomorrow is Leap Day.

Today’s Friday Flashback honors another kind of leap.

Since its construction in the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River I-95 bridge — back then, it was called “The Connecticut Turnpike” or “Thruway” — has been the scene of very occasional (and daring) (and stupid) leaps.

Startled drinkers at the Black Duck bar — and before it, Davy Jones’ — have watched teenage and 20-something guys (it’s always males) land in the water nearby.

The Saugatuck River bridge, under construction in 1957. Back then, I-95 was called the Connecticut Turnpike.

“06880” does not recommend this. The jump is spectacularly dangerous. And who in his right mind would even think of standing on the side of the bridge, with traffic whizzing by?

Nevertheless, if you have a story about leaping off this bridge — or any other one in Westport — click “Comments” below.

Feel free to comment too with any non-bridge Leap Year stories of your own.

34 responses to “Friday Flashback #182

  1. Ray O'Sullivan

    Used to jump off the Merritt Parkway bridge into the upper Saugatuck river from the underside girders. Turns out the water wasn’t that deep later on in years. 1st time I jumped, I think it was only 8 feet deep. Had to make sure you got to the middle.

  2. larger version of pic available?

  3. Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    The closest I can come was jumping off the Merritt Parkway bridge over the Saugatuck in ‘64 when I was 12. Hit the water so hard that it split my jeans on both legs.

  4. In the 1950s my father and his brother were returning to town from a car race in NJ. with a race car in tow. It was a Sunday and they suddenly thought it would be a good idea to stop and scale the GW bridge.

    So they did.

    Unfortunately, neither had anticipated what might occur if they were spotted. They were spotted as they reached the top – and reported as probable suicide jumpers. The bridge was immediately closed and the resultant backup was biblical.

    The detective who later questioned the two men in a nearby precinct asked my uncle what the letters “BSA” stood for on his jacket. Although it was, in reality, the name a British motorcycle manufacturer, he reportedly responded “officer, that stands for Bridge Scalers of America”.

    For reasons unclear, this information caused the detective to give up and set the two free. They never told their parents. And never climbed another bridge.

  5. Cal Neff as legend has it. He was that crazy!

  6. Colin McKenna did it when he was 11. Circa 1975. His father even bragged about it.

  7. Well, sadly the last jump was a suicide as I recall just a few years back. I won’t mention any names other than they were a Westporter.

  8. Danny Purcell (Purcell Movers) and his brother in law Bobby Zeoli were half in the bag at the Duck one afternoon and decided to make a bet for their bar tab, a bet that most would only make when heavily under the influence.
    The bet was, who could make it first, across the street, up the grass embankment opposite Minuteman cleaners, onto I95, race to the area above the channel, and jump into the river. If memory serves, Bobby paid the tab and his own medical bills, Danny went back inside for a few more Cocktails.

    • Kathryn Zeoli

      That is not correct. We were all at Rit Purcell’s
      house at a gathering when the bet was made. The was not a tab before the jump. Everyone went down to the bridge and waited below. There was a side road that took you right down to the water where everyone waited. Bobby did not go to the hospital
      went home. Did end up with a huge black and blue
      on his lower back…….

  9. Cal Neff and Glen Cummings jumped together …following day… the bottom of their feet , back legs ,and back were entirely black and blue …

  10. Bill Boyd Staples 66

    I vaguely recall Glenn Cummings telling me he did it more than once..

  11. Charles Taylor

    We moved into 1 River Oaks Rd 8/15/1958 and I 95 was not yet open. We went down and ran around on it!!! Would try that now!

  12. Charles Taylor

    Devils Den leap from the small. BRidge
    After football practice to cool off.

  13. My brother jumped off that bridge on prom night wearing his tux…

  14. Carl W. Leaman

    Some of us still call it the Turnpike.

  15. Patrick Laffaye

    In the early 70s when I was 8 years old, my mom was driving on the Conn. Tpke towards Exit 17 and completely ran out of gas at the top of that photo. She didn’t want to leave my little sister and me in the car, so she made us get out and we all proceeded to walk single file across that bridge!! There were at most 18 inches of raised concrete as our “walkway”, with absolutely no shoulder. Later, the bridge was rebuilt with breakdown lanes added. It was like walking a tightrope in the late evening with poor lighting and cars whizzing by just a few feet away!! We then walked down the exit ramp, made a left and visited the gas station where the CB real estate office is now!! How crazy was that??

  16. Stupid, yes, and never quite certain I’ve had the right mind, so yes, I jumped off it, twice. The first was on a dare, and for a bit of incentive money pooled by fellow patrons of the Black Duck (enough to buy everyone a round of drinks afterwords). If I recall correctly, Tim Romano took up the collection. I was 18, and living proof of why it was very wise to later raise the drinking age from 18 to 21.

    I tried to keep it formal and classy: As my brother mentioned, it was prom night and I was wearing a tux. Terry Brannigan drove me to the top and dropped me off. Traffic wasn’t bad; a reflection of the times, plus it was late at night. I remember it feeling lonely up there, and everyone looked so tiny way down below. I was too dumb (and a wee bit inebriated) to stand there dwelling on how dumb it was so I jumped, and fell, fast, chin tucked, feet hooked together arms to my side.

    It was a long way down. I remember it hurt a bit to hit the water at that speed. My feet hit the muddy bottom (I think it was low tide) but no damage done. My prom date left me, and I had to take up another collection to pay for the rented tux.

    The second time was simply to prove I had done it the first time, which actually made sense to my teenage brain. It hurt.

    Word got out to my parents and the cops, all of whom gave me some pretty stern lectures. But the Marine Corps recruiters were impressed.

    It was good preparation for later years, when I became a military freefall parachutist with a Marine Force Recon Unit. My highest HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) jump: 32,000-feet, with oxygen. We often landed in water, at night, with SCUBA gear attached, and we participated in the first HALO jump ever conducted north of the Arctic Circle, over Norway, in the coldest of the Cold War. The landings were a lot nicer under canopy.

    My advice to current Staples students: There are better, more prudent ways to prepare for your future than jumping off a bridge. Also: Don’t drink and jump! (I’m available for commencement talks.)

  17. Dave Petty, Jeff Rudge and I climbed up to I95 by where Tarantino’s is and hopped over the railing and jumped off the bridge one June afternoon during our senior year at Staples – we planned it out for high tide and jumped right over the channel (we had an unnatural fear of getting stuck in the mud underwater). We were veteran Devils Den jumpers and since this was quite a bit higher we jumped with our sneakers and jeans on – our version of protective gear.

    After we jumped we climbed out of the river and were just standing around in our wet jeans in the commuter parking lot under the bridge by the Duck, still dripping wet. A Westport policeman (not Mark or Dave) then pulls in to the lot, drives over to us and says “we’ve had reports from concerned motorists on 95 about some boys jumping off the bridge . . . do you guys know anything about that?” Of course, we gave the “no officer, we don’t know anything about that” response. He then looked at us, standing there in our dripping wet jeans, and said with an ever so slight grin, “you guys are crazy” – and then he drove off.

    • Back in the day…it was no big deal…other than…” those crazy kids are out of their #$@&in minds!” We used to jump off Castlerock in Wacabuc, NY. +- 60 feet and “The Devil’s Punchbowl out in Colorado. Glad I didn’t live in town back in the day!