Anyone else ever have nightmares about the old Cooper River Bridge?

I did, when I was a toddler. Or at least, when I was a pre-schooler.

Now when I say “nightmare,” I don’t mean the kind that makes you wake up screaming in a sweat. When I was a kid, that kind of dream was usually about a witch inspired by the one in “The Wizard of Oz” — only scarier. I’ll tell you about one of those another time.

But the bridge dreams were creepy, and unsettling, and undermined my basic confidence, as a child, in living in a world governed by sensible laws such as gravity.

And I had a bit of a flashback when I saw this Tweet today, from a photog at the Post & Courier:

Notice how narrow it was? Notice how it kept rising in a way that could be really disturbing to a little kid riding in a car driven by an otherwise trustworthy adult?

It kept rising, and rising, leaving the Earth far behind, abandoned…

Anyway, I would have these dreams in which I’d be riding in a car climbing up like that, rising and rising and rising, and then… it wasn’t a bridge anymore. No girders, no solid pavement. It had become a ribbon, no more than an inch wide, and so thin and flexible that it waved about in the thin air as it rose higher and higher…

And that was it. The dream would then fade away (possibly due to imagined oxygen deprivation). Or maybe I would wake up — I don’t remember now. Just not the same way as with the witch dreams. In any case, whether I was awake or asleep at the end, the dream had transported my mind to a very weird place.

I last lived in Charleston when I was about 2. I think these dreams were a couple of years later, and I wasn’t sure where they came from. But I connected them in my mind with “that bridge” my mother would occasionally mention, talking about the great lengths she would go to to avoid having to cross it when we lived down there. And I would think, “that’s the bridge in the dream…

I wasn’t sure, though. Not until sometime after we moved back to South Carolina in 1987, and one day I had to drive down to Charleston, and for whatever reason had to cross the Cooper, and… it sort of blew my mind. Suddenly, in the strength of my 30s, I was back in that childhood dream, only it was real life. And it felt sort of like the bridge was going to dematerialize under me — because that’s what that bridge did.

I only crossed it a couple of times after that, until the Arthur Ravenel went into operation in 2005.

That one’s nothing. It’s so wide, you don’t even realize you’re up in the air. Acrophobia or no, I can drive back and forth on that one as much as you like.

And I’m glad the old one’s gone…

12 thoughts on “Anyone else ever have nightmares about the old Cooper River Bridge?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    To really appreciate the effect, you have to click on and enlarge that image from the Tweet — as I’ve done above. There’s an unearthliness to it. You see those girders reaching up into the sky. You see more sky around you to the left and right. You’re claustrophobically trapped amid all those other cars that are too big for the lanes, which were designed, in 1929, for Model As.

    What you DON’T see is any point in the future where you’ll again be in contact with the ground. You’re just rising, rising into nothingness. That’s how that bridge felt; all the visual cues available enhanced that perception…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Anyway, good for ol’ Arthur Ravenel. Neoconfederate or not, he did a good thing there.

    Of course, it shouldn’t have been named after him, because nothing should be named after living pols. But he and the others who advocated for replacing the nightmare bridge did a good thing.

    Ravenel was one of those iconoclastic people you used to find in Congress, before the ones and zeroes. Very conservative, but also known as an advocate for the environment. As Dana Beach said, “Arthur Ravenel probably did as much as anybody to make it safe for conservatives to be conservationists…”

    You don’t find a lot of people like that these days…

  3. Lynn teague

    I have lifelong fear of heights from evacuating from a hurricane on that sucker when I was 11. My father was driving. He was a civil engineer who designed bridges for SC. We crawled along at a snail’s pace with the bridge swaying wildly in the wind while my father talked about the dire need to replace the Grace bridge but the difficulty because there was “nothing down theh but Coopah Rivah mud.” He elaborated, saying that “Coopah Rivah mud” was notoriously unstable.

  4. David L Carlton

    *My* nightmare was more practical. I’m ascending the bridge in a car with a straight drive, and the traffic abruptly slows down, too late for me to downshift. I stall out, and can’t restart without slipping back into the car behind me.

  5. Barry

    After college I use to go to Charleston a lot. A friend there told me that a civil engineer buddy of his thought that bridge might collapse at any time and would not let his family drive the bridge.

    Walking the new bridge is a lot of fun. It’s not easy though.

  6. Dave Crockett

    The old bridge never bothered me as an Upstate native, but my Charleston-borne wife was also terrified by it and never failed to recall those memories every time we were making the pilgrimage to her mom’s house in Mount Pleasant. But I must say, during OUR 18-hour evacuation of her mother from a hurricane threat later using the 525 bypass, some of those new bridges ALSO had a bit of sway to them in the wind!

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    After I posted this yesterday, I remembered something… that’s not just a childhood dream. That bridge crops up in dreams today, but the context is different, and it’s often mixed up with bridges in other places where I live.

    For instance, I frequently find myself in a place that is sort of, but not exactly, New Orleans. And I find myself needing to cross the river from, say, Algiers over to the city, and I look ahead of me and see that, instead of being the relatively normal New Orleans bridge, it’s that insane one from Charleston, just rising absurdly into the air. And I decide I’m not going.

    In some variations of this dream, about a mile over to the right — where the ferry is, or was, in N.O. — there’s a tunnel you can take under the river. I’m not sure I ever take that, though. There’s something about it that’s confusing to me, and I’m not sure where I would end up.

    I don’t know why I don’t take the ferry. I liked that ferry back when I lived there…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That movie came out in 1965, the year we moved to New Orleans. And they had the world premiere there, and we attended it.

        But Steve didn’t show up. Major disappointment for my 11-year-old self. (No, wait — I looked it up, and this was a few days after I turned 12.) At that time, “The Great Escape” was still my favorite movie of all time, and I had also been a fan of “Wanted: Dead or Alive.”

        Edward G. Robinson showed up, and stepped out on the stage, pointed at us with his hands like he was holding a Tommy Gun, and said, “You dirty rats!” Which is cool in retrospect, but didn’t mean much to me then. Before my time.

        Ann Margret was there, all hot and dolled up. Which would have meant more to me at a slightly older age…

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