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Gig Harbor: Sea of Glory and Childhood Nightmares

Gig Harbor is a boater’s paradise that still retains its Croatian fishing village roots. Its waterfront is lined with a marina that is crowded with an array of sailing and fishing boats. With its views of the bay with Mount Rainer as a backdrop, Gig Harbor has a near storybook quality. Being the landlubbers that we are, we passed on the multitude of boating opportunities, and instead strolled along the marina enjoying the harbor views, the parks with their Croatian memorials and the historic buildings.

To reach Gig Harbor we crossed the Narrows Bridge whose current nickname is “Sturdy Gertie”. Not only is this one of the largest suspension bridges in the world, but it’s also the bridge that had to be built twice. The first Narrows Bridge, completed in 1940, became known as Galloping Gertie, ("Galloping" because of its rocking motion in strong winds and "Gertie" because it was made of girders). When the bridge unexpectedly and dramatically collapsed in a windstorm four months after completion it was captured on film by a local television station.

We headed to the Historical Museum when we learned that it had a video of the original film footage of the collapse. Danny remembered that he had seen the film replayed on television as a child. Sitting on folding chairs, we watched the black and white news footage of the disaster. The film was definitely dramatic ... especially the images of the terrified people who were trapped on the bridge and had to run for their lives.

After watching the video Danny shared memories from his childhood: "I remember watching the bridge collapse on television when I was about 7 or 8 years old. It made a huge impression on me. I remember asking my dad why someone would build a bridge that wasn’t safe. It really challenged my beliefs … for the first time I realized that the adult world wasn’t a perfect or safe place. For sometime afterwards I had recurring nightmares of the man who was running for his life as the bridge twisted and churned behind him."

U.S.S. Vincennes — United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

The story of how Gig Harbor got its name was recounted in a book that Danny had just read entitled Sea of Glory. The book tells the story of Captain Charles Wilkes and the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. The story goes that when Wilkes was exploring the Puget Sound in 1841, he launched a gig (a small boat) to chart the area. When a storm unexpectedly approached, the gig rowed into the bay for safety … hence Wilkes named the area Gig Harbor.

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