Bridge anniversary marked by victims' families, survivors

35W bridge collapse anniversary
Tracy Howard wipes away a tear during a ceremony marking the fifth year anniversary of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 at the Mill City Museum. Howard has a friend who lost his wife in the collapse.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Survivors and families of people who died in the I-35W bridge collapse marked the five-year anniversary of the tragedy together Wednesday in downtown Minneapolis.

They gathered in the ruins at the site of the Mill City Museum, near the scene of the tragedy, for a ceremony to remember those who died when the bridge collapsed and fell into the Mississippi River.

A bell rang 13 times, one chime for each person who died.

To evoke what happened at 6:05 p.m. that day, there were spoken-word performances, readings of poetry, and a short play called "In the Water."

OK, are you in the water now? I'm standing on a piece of the bridge. There's water all around me. There are a lot of cars in the water. There's people in those cars. We're getting help.
I'm really starting to worry about the people in those cars.
Minneapolis 9-11.
There's water rushing in through the car window. It's like a movie. You don't want to be in this movie.

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Composer Ralph Johnson co-wrote a musical tribute called "Crossings," from the perspective of families left behind, and their memories.

"You'll hear little statements like, 'He loved baseball. Who doesn't love baseball?'" said Johnson.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who spoke during the ceremony, said he thought the remembrance would be more meaningful with an emphasis on artistic memorials rather than speeches.

"There have been a lot of words said about this. I've said plenty, I've been at funerals where remarkably wonderful memorials have been said to people," said Rybak. "But really at this mark, to use the arts to tell a much deeper story I think means an enormous amount."

Each work of art was based on interviews conducted by photographer Vance Gellert. He spent two years getting to know survivors and victims' families while photographing them for an anniversary exhibition at the Mill City Museum.

"The images are roughly placed on this stylized bridge, similar to the positions they were on in the bridge," said Gellert. "Everybody on the periphery are the first responders, medical people, and then all these people in between were on the bridge."

The exhibition debuted Wednesday and will continue through December.

Gulgun Kayim, chief of arts, culture and creative economy for the city of Minneapolis, said art allows audience members to experience emotions their own way. That's important, since each survivor or family member of a victim is healing at their own pace.

"Some have moved on. Others haven't dealt with it. I think that's the nature of trauma," said Kayim. "People deal with it individually as they will. And art is a place where if they want to access it, they can come and access it, but they certainly don't have to come if they don't want to."

Mark Holmes came, and said he still feels resentful. His son Patrick, who was driving home when the bridge collapsed, is one of the victims.

"Just a shame that we had to lose him," said Holmes. "In fact, we didn't have to lose him. It was brought on by ineptitude of certain people and businesses."

Holmes said he doesn't need memorials to remember his son.

"We're thinking of him, we're remembering him every day," he said. "But this is necessary for the state, for the country, for the politicians, to stand up and look at what's going on with the deterioration of highways, bridges, and allowing them to collapse."

Holmes said memorials like last night's should remind the powerful of their failings.