Tubby: Tacoma Bridge Disaster's Only Fatality
Tubby became a famous dog in history for being the only one to die that fateful day the Tacoma Bridge collapsed.
On July 1, 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound in Pierce County, Washington opened to traffic. The bridge was nicknamed Galloping Gertie because of the vertical movement of the deck during windy conditions. On November 7, 1940 the bridge collapsed under 40 mph winds.
Leonard Coatsworth, a news editor for the Tacoma News Tribune, was driving on the bridge before it was shut down, and in the car with him was his daughter's cocker spaniel in the backseat. The dog's name was Tubby, and according to Coatsworth's wife, Tubby "had three legs and was paralyzed."
"Just as I drove past the towers, the bridge began to sway violently from side to side. Before I realized it, the tilt became so violent that I lost control of the car... I jammed on the brakes and got out, only to be thrown onto my face against the curb... I didn't think of the dog when I first jumped out of the car," Coatsworth recalled. "I started back to the car to get the dog, but was thrown before I could reach it. The car itself began to slide from side to side on the roadway. I decided the bridge was breaking up and my only hope was to get back to shore."
Coatsworth's colleague, photographer Howard Clifford, was told to go to the bridge to capture pictures. According to Clifford, "When I arrived, the bridge had literally run amok, bouncing and twisting like a roller coaster." After learning about Tubby, Clifford (who liked dogs and had recently seen Tubby at a company picnic) tried to get the dog but failed to reach the car.
Also at the scene was Frederick Farquharson, an engineering professor who was hired to find a solution to reduce the oscillations of the bridge. He was there to monitor the bridge's motion and, being a dog lover, also tried to get Tubby out of the car. He made it to the car, reached in to get Tubby, and the frightened dog bit him on the hand. Farquharson gave up and managed to make it back to safety moments before the bridge collapsed.
Sadly, the car with Tubby inside fell some 200 feet into the water and was quickly swept away from the ruins due to the swift tides. Tubby was the only one to die.
"With real tragedy, disaster and blasted dreams all around me, I [Coatsworth] believe that right at this minute what appalls me most is that within a few hours I must tell my daughter that her dog is dead, when I might have saved him."
On October 14, 1950 the replacement bridge, nicknamed Sturdy Gertie, was opened to traffic.