Almost Yesterday: The Freeing of the Bridge
It seems like almost yesterday that Claude Miller accepted the final passenger toll paid to cross the Mississippi River bridge at Cape Girardeau. The bridge was to become free at 5:30 a.m.on June 29, 1957. At 5:29 a.m. Jerry Burchet of McClure, Illinois, reached out of the window of his pie truck and handed his fee to Mr. Miller so that he could cross the bridge into Illinois.
One minute later, Harold McBride became the first person to cross the free bridge when he drove his Kimball Company truck back into Missouri from Illinois. In the first 12 hours after collections stopped, 4,370 vehicles crossed the bridge. Twelve year-old George Bachhorst, Jr. won an all expense paid trip for two to New York City by correctly guessing the number of vehicles which would cross the bridge on that historic day.
All of Cape Girardeau celebrated the day of the big bridge freeing. There was a motorcade, speeches, a ribbon-cutting; two queens, a Miss Illinois and Miss Missouri. People danced in front of the Frisco station on Main Street and although rain postponed the evening's fireworks display, nearly 20,000 people returned on Sunday evening to finish the celebration.
Cape Girardeau officials understood the impact this change would have on the city. Rush Limbaugh, the distinguished attorney, said, "We have had a free bridge placed in our hands. May we be worthy of it."
Three days later the toll house was removed and the bridge could be crossed without stopping. It seems like Almost Yesterday.