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Postcards: No bells or whistles spared for Missouri River bridge dedication

By Linda Emley

A few days ago, I was talking to a friend about the old Lexington Bridge and when it was dedicated. I had always wondered who was the first person to drive across the bridge and what day it actually opened. I was hoping to find the answer to these questions in an old newspaper.
The Oct. 15, 1925 newspaper talked about the upcoming bridge dedication that was set for the 5th day of November. Committees were formed in Richmond and Lexington. Both worked together to make it a big success. Mayor James Wall and the president of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, F.G. Weary, were in charge for Ray County. I was really excited till I read, “The bridge is nearly completed and a few cars have already crossed it. It is sure that Saturday of this week we will see the bridge thrown open for general traffic.”
After searching a year’s worth of newspapers, I was sad to find that we will never know for sure what date the first car crossed the Lexington Bridge. It never occurred to me that some of the construction crew was the first to drive across the bridge and I’m sure they were probably the last to drive across when it was shut down in 2005.
It was dedicated Thursday, Nov. 5, 1925. Schools on both sides of the river were dismissed so all the children could attend the celebration. Many of the stores in Richmond were closed because everyone was going to be in Lexington. The Missouri Pacific Railroad even offered special fares so out-of-town visitors could come join the party.
“The official dedication of the Lafayette-Ray County bridge across the Missouri River near Lexington proved to be an event that far surpassed all expectations as to the crowds and completeness of the program. From 8:30 Thursday morning until 1 o’clock Friday morning a crowd estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000 thronged the streets of Lexington and all available parking spaces for cars were filled all day long. The ceremonies started at 8:30 when the cannons and rifle volley sounded the salute to announce the opening of the festivities in honor of the opening of the $1,500,000 bridge.”
A parade was held with floats, decorated vehicles, mounted policemen from Kansas City and several bands. Prizes were awarded in many categories, but Richmond did not win in any of the categories. We should have seen the handwriting on the wall and realized that one day in the future it would forever be called the “Lexington Bridge.” It was located closer to Lexington, so I am OK with that but I wonder when we started calling it the Lexington Bridge.  This might have been the beginning of the “friendly” rivalry we now share with Lexington. The Lexington and Richmond high school football teams play the “Bell Game” each fall and the winning school keeps the bell until the next year.
“Shortly after 1 o’clock a large crowd began to gather at the bluffs overlooking the Lafayette approach to the bridge and by the time the regular ceremonies of opening were supposed to start, approximately 20,000 people were present to witness the affair that had been so carefully planned. A shot was fired from a cannon located high up on the bluffs and this was the order to commence the proceedings. The Richmond bugle corps sounded a call from the Ray County side and were answered by the Lafayette corps and immediately two decorated cars begin to approach the artistically decorated lattice gates from the Ray County approach and Miss Ray County played by Miss Eleanor Hamacherå of this city, 4-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hamacher of this city and Miss Lafayette County, portrayed by Miss Ruth Winkler, 4-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Winkler of Lexington, swung wide the gates and then embraced, emblematic of the friendship existing between the two counties.” There were some other little girls that greeted each other and then some boys acting as pages released 20 carrier pigeons.
From there the party moved to the Lexington courthouse and Gov. Sam Baker and many politicians made comments, but the most touching part was the pause for a minute in honor of the six men who died building the bridge. Those who gave their lives were Thomas Scott of Kansas City, James Hendricks of Sedalia, L. M. Atwood of Lexington, T.A. Gray of Shawnee, Okla., E.B. King of Lexington and Frank Harrison of Omaha, Neb.
The skies over Lexington were filled with aerial stunts preformed by regular Army airplanes. The U.S Air Force was not formed until 1947, so in 1925 all U.S. military airplanes were part of the army. In the afternoon there were a couple of football games and in the evening there was a street dance that many from Richmond attended.
The Lexington Bridge was taken down by a series of explosions over several days in August and September 2005. It had been in service for 80 years.

The Pioneer Mother looks west toward the old Missouri River bridge. The image of the bridge and statue are pictured on a postcard mailed in 1937. The card was sold by an Oklahoma man. (Submitted photo)

The Pioneer Mother looks west toward the old Missouri River bridge. The image of the bridge and statue are pictured on a postcard mailed in 1937. The card was sold by an Oklahoma man. (Submitted photo)

The next Lexington bridge was dedicated June 25, 2005. Three days later it was officially named the “Congressman Ike Skelton Bridge” by Senate Bill 233. On Sept. 19, 2005 a plaque was placed on the bridge to make it officially Ike’s bridge.
The first bridge took three years and cost $1.5 million The second bridge took nine years and cost $50 million. I hate to think how much the third bridge might cost. We can only hope the current bridge is still in good condition when it hits the 80-year mark in 2085.
There are two things the old Lexington Bridge had that the new bridge doesn’t – the “Madonna of the Trail” and the World War Memorial. I miss seeing these two memorials on my way to Lexington, so sometimes I drive over to visit them. It gives me a peaceful feeling to come around the corner and see the “Madonna” standing there.
There are 12 locations  in America that have a “Madonna of the Trail” statue, so we are very lucky to have one close to our town. They are placed from the East Coast to the West Coast along a historic route that honors the pioneers that traveled in a covered wagon.  We need to thank the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution for these statues. They are located along the National Old Trails Road, which was mainly Route 40. They were dedicated over a period of two years from 1928 to 1929.
Artist August Leimbach created the mold. The poured algonite stone sculptures are a  mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement and lead ore. They are close to 10 feet tall and weigh five tons. All are the same except the historical information on the base of the statue, which is different for each location.
All but two of the Pioneer women face west. The first Madonna in Bethesda, Md. is facing east so she is looking toward our nation’s capital in Washington. D.C. The last one on the trail in Upland, Calif. faces south. The other locations are Beallsville, Pa., Wheeling, W.V., Springfield, Ohio, Richmond, Ind., Vandalia, Ill., Lexington, Mo., Council Grove, Kan., Lamar, Colo., Albuquerque, N.M., and Springerville, Ariz.
The Lexington statue was dedicated Sept. 17, 1928 and Jackson County Judge Harry S. Truman presided over the dedication.  The Lexington D.A.R. was appointed the official keeper of the monument, but Richmondites were present for the dedication. This monument was rededicated Sept. 28, 1978.
The Richmond News had this Sept. 21, 1928: “Mrs. F.G. Weary, regent of the Richmond Chapter of the D.A.R., has received two checks from Lexington, one for a $25 second prize won by the float entered in the parade at the unveiling of the D.A.R. monument, the other for $10 is for a decorated car in the same event.” I find it interesting that in the good old days there was a parade for everything and everyone took pride in being part of the event.
The World War monument is located at the south end of the old Lexington Bridge site. It was dedicated in 1925 and is a 75-foot concrete stairway that ascends the bluffs. The walk up these steps is well worth the view. You can sit on the steps and look out over the river and see for miles and miles. It is a really beautiful way to see the “Free State of Ray.”

Have a story about the old bridge or new one? Write Linda at rayc...@aol.com.

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