One hundred years ago, on June 11, 1918, car no. 350 from the Northern Ohio Traction and Light Company’s Mountain Line Trolley rounded a curve and started to cross over the High Bridge [AKA: Glens Bridge] from the east toward Front Street in Cuyahoga Falls. It never made it to the other side.
The Mountain Line trolley car was originally a part of the Akron and Cuyahoga Falls Rapid Transit Company. It left Akron from the corner of Mill and Main streets, went north and turned east on Furnace Street. Then it went across the Little Cuyahoga River on a 325-foot trestle, up to Forest Hill, over to Home Avenue and a 350-foot wooden bridge which crossed over Tallmadge Avenue and Bettes Corners. The car proceeded north on Home Avenue in Akron (becoming South Main Street in Cuyahoga Falls) to Taylor Street. Turning west on Taylor and crossing the railroad tracks, it turned north on Water Street. From there it was just a short distance to the sharp turn west on Prospect and over the High Bridge to Front Street. Then it would return to Akron by the same route.
Motorman Leroy Bessemer had just stopped at Prospect Avenue to drop off his wife and child about 4 p.m., so they could walk the rest of the way to their home. There were six people left on board as the trolley slowly crossed the bridge at about 4:10 p.m.: Bessemer; conductor O.D. Gilmore; machinist Henry Van Loosen; Emory Prior, an attorney and secretary of the Falls Savings and Loan Company; Charles C. Hoy, a Falls cement brick manufacturer; and Liuzzi Peligione, a young Italian Akron resident.
Near the mid-point on the bridge, fate would have its way and some unexplained anomaly caused the front wheels to leave the track and break through the wooden planks beside the rails and to fall through the bridge’s iron railing on the north side. It plunged almost 90 feet to the river below, landing on its roof and collapsing the sides.
Employees of a nearby Akron, Kent and Ravenna Trolley car on Front Street heard the crash and ran over to see what happened. A rope was quickly tied around the AK&R conductor, who was the smallest in stature of the group of men, and he was hurriedly lowered over the side of the bridge to the wreckage below in order to search for any signs of life.
He related his experience to a reporter later:
“I was the first human being to witness the results of this terrible accident up close. As I was being lowered down to the wreck, I could only see two bodies…as my main interest was to get aid to the injured, I located the bodies as fast as possible, and had the people on the bridge pull them up.
“The only person I believed to be alive, and made a determined effort to save, was Liuzzi Peligione, an Italian lad, who had been thrown clear of the wreckage into deep water. His feeble efforts [were] to no avail as he drowned before I could get help to him. By this time, men had reached the scene from other places and I was extremely glad to turn this gruesome job over to them.”
According to Mary L. McClure, local historian and author of High Bridge Glens of Cuyahoga Falls, initially it was feared that all six men on the Mountain Line car had perished that day. “However,” said McClure, “rescuers noticed some movement by Bessemer. Miraculously, both Bessemer and Van Loosen had survived their harrowing fall into the Cuyahoga River.
“Ropes were quickly lowered from the bridge, and Bessemer was lifted to safety. According to eyewitness accounts in the Akron Beacon Journal, Van Loosen’s rescue did not go as smoothly. As with Bessemer, rescuers tied a rope loop underneath both his arms. As they lifted Van Loosen to within a few feet of the bridge, the knot in his rope harness suddenly started to loosen, and startled onlookers feared he would fall into the river for the second time that day.
“Luckily, Van Loosen was able to grab on to the remaining rope and dangled from one arm until he could complete his journey to the top of the bridge and a waiting ambulance.” Some of the other passengers might have survived the fall and lived but were trapped under the heavy wreckage and drowned.
The bridge was no stranger to tragedy. On May 9, 1893, Gustav Schuler and Martha Kline were taking a moonlight buggy ride and began to cross the bridge unaware that workmen had previously removed a section of the wooden planks. More than likely, this was in preparation for laying the tracks for the trolley service which was to begin later that year. Barriers had been set up at each end alerting to the danger but it is thought the horse pushed one aside and it was not seen by the riders. The horse fell through the opening first and landed on its feet on a rock ledge just under that portion of the bridge, while, unfortunately, the carriage with the young couple continued forward and fell into the river, smashing to bits.
The next morning, a passerby noticed the horse patiently standing there, but there was no sign of the victims below with the wrecked vehicle. Rescuers searched in vain for days along the river’s edges but no traces of the couple were seen. Two weeks later Miss Kline’s body was discovered but it would be years before the partial remains and some items of clothing belonging to Schuler were ever found.
Over the years others have fallen, jumped from, or driven a motorcar off of the Glens Bridge. Jeri Holland, local author and paranormal researcher is founder of Cuyahoga Valley Paranormal. Her group investigated portions of the Glens in 2003. In her book Haunted Akron Holland writes: “High Bridge Glens is a well-kept secret by the local paranormal groups. Although very active with paranormal activity, it is not a location frequented by many searching for ghosts.
“We felt that the rushing river falls would add to the possibility of recording ghost voices on tape. This audio contact with a spirit, known as Electronic Voice Phenomena [EVP], refers to any conversations with ghosts, spirits, and the dead using electronic equipment. Messages may or may not be heard while being recorded, but they are certainly heard when you play back the recording…the best recording time is very late at night. EVP captured in this area have included the following: ‘Get help,’ ‘Help me,’ ‘Hello,’ ‘It’s nice to see you’, and ‘Look.’
“Besides the audio evidence at the Glens, investigators have had many personal experiences. A handful of witnesses claim that while visiting the overlook bridge, they either see or feel the Mountain Line trolley traveling toward them across the bridge. While standing on the eastern side of the bridge, people have felt the bridge vibrating rapidly, as if a trolley is approaching. Then, the vibration abruptly stops. Others have seen apparitions of men donning top hats on occasion.”
Today the area features a two-acre park-like setting built in 2009 with a gazebo, benches, and picnic tables placed throughout the site for the public to use. The bridge is newly updated and there is a boardwalk ramp which brings the visitor closer to the river for a scenic view. So, whether you choose to sit and eat a picnic lunch during the day, or visit late at night (to sit quietly using ghost-hunting equipment) if you listen closely you just might hear car no. 350 rumbling toward you.