Tuesday, September 7, 2010

London Bridge, Lake Havasu, Arizona

Strange as it may seem, London Bridge (or at least, A London Bridge) is in Arizona. In the 1960s, it became clear that London Bridge was no longer structurally sound - increased vehicle traffic (and heavier vehicles) and an expansion of the bridge itself proved too much for the foundations, which had begun sinking into the Thames. Rather than simply demolish the bridge, the London government decided to auction it off. It was purchased by Robert McCulloch, who intended to use it as the centerpiece to a housing development and tourist attraction at the artificial Lake Havasu. A new London bridge was built in London, and the old one was moved (sort of, see the commentary below) to Arizona.

Ghostly happenings were reported as early as the bridge's opening ceremony. According to some witnesses, a pair of people, man and woman, dressed in Victorian clothing were seen walking along the bridge. One witness said that she had assumed that the two were actors hired to take part in the festivities, only to find out later that no such actors had been hired or requested. Since then, people in Victorian garb have been occasionally reported on the bridge, and those who report them claim that the apparitions vanish as soon as the witness tries to approach them.

Two other apparitions occasionally reported include a British police officer in the well-known "bobby" uniform who appears to be on patrol, and a woman in a black dress sometimes seen on the bridge at night.

Visitors to the bridge have also reported having been pushed by invisible forces, and witnessed glowing globes moving along the bridge. EVP enthusiasts* claim to have captured ghostly voices while on and near the bridge.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

*Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) is the term given to voices found on tape recordings that are said to come from spirits. These voices are said to be audible on the recordings, but not to have been heard at all during the process of making the recoding. The problem is that there are numerous ways that commercially available recorders can record voices (tape recorders are notorious for picking up and recording radio signals not audible to the person making the recording, for just one common example), and add to that that most EVP aficionados hold that you need to have white noise in the background, and you have a setting custom-made for false voices via pareidolia.

Commentary: Robert McColloch is one of the few people on the planet who has managed to elevate knick-nack collecting to literally monumental levels. When the sale of London Bridge was announced, he made the purchase and had the materials from the dismantled bridge delivered to the location of Lake Havasu City, his planned retirement community in the Mojave Desert. A reinforced concrete bridge was constructed in the shape of the 19th century London Bridge, and the masonry from London bridge pains-takingly arranged on the concrete bridge's exterior to replicate the appearance of the bridge that had stood on the Thames. So, technically, this is not the same London Bridge that stood in London, but is a new bridge clad in material from the original bridge.

The bridge connected an artificial island in the artificial lake to the city, and on the island stood "the English Village" - a mock village with an open-air mall, hedge maze, and museum (much of the "village"* has fallen into disrepair). For the record, having been both to England and to the Mojave Desert within the same month, I can think of no stranger juxtaposition than a mock English village in the Mojave.

That people have reported ghosts here should come as no surprise. London Bridge itself is among the most recognizable bridge names in the world (even if people frequently confuse it with Tower Bridge) due both to sharing it's name with one of the world's largest cities and the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down." Within the United States, mention of London tends to conjure up images of Victorian London - the world of Dickens, and also of Arthur Conan Doyle - and so it is only fitting that the ghosts that people claim to see here also appear to date to this period of history. Alongside this image of London, most of us Americans view it as a busy, exciting city, and so the idea of people being bumped out of the way by the spirit of a Victorian commuter is also very much in keeping with the images that this bridge conjures in the American imagination.

Also, let's face it, having London Bridge in the middle of Arizona is going to create some weird cognitive dissonance in pretty much anyone, and is a situation that is literally begging for a ghost story.

Incidentally, I am a lover of B-movies, so one of my favorite facts about this bridge is the fact that it was the subject of a really cheeseball 80's horror movie starring David Hasselhoff. The movie, titled alternately Terror at London Bridge, Bridge Across Time, and Jack the Ripper in Arizona (and directed by a fellow with the marvelous name of E.W. Swackhamer) concerns the spirit of Jack the Ripper escaping from the brick within London Bridge in which it had been imprisoned, and only David Hasselhoff can stop the murderous ghost! The movie was just as good as it sounds, but it's a fun way to kill a Saturday afternoon nonetheless.

*I have an urge to visit this place and ask everyone where #6 lives.

Video Special: And because I love you all so very much, here's a chunk of cheesy goodness:

Sources: Examiner.com, Prairie Ghosts, Thriftytraveling.com, Haunted Bridges, Wikipedia

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