Old photos of towboat hitting bridge became an internet sensation,
dramatic pictures of Cahaba have been posted on a multitude of websites.
In fact, there are so many sites about Cahaba that one site was created just
to keep track of them all. For a history of Cahaba sites, visit this site.
Capt. Jim Jarrell, marine traffic manager for
Madison Coal, said the company rebuilt Cahaba and renamed it Capt. Ed Harris.
It now operates on the Kanawha River from Point Pleasant to Boomer, W.Va.,
handling barges of coal, chemicals, cement, stone and other commodities.
The accident at Rooster Bridge wasn’t forgotten
by any means. Photos of the mishap hang in the offices of Madison Coal and
Warrior & Gulf. They have been the occasional topic of discussion on
the Internet. But for the most part, they have been hidden from public view,
and the accident was all but forgotten, except in the memories of a few —
until February, that is, when the photos began appearing all over the Internet.
It’s hard to say for sure who first put the
photos on the Internet. One website that has tracked where the photos have
appeared lists 17 sites where they can be found. It lists another four sites
that had the photos online but crashed because so many people clicked in
to get a peek at them.
Who can blame people for being interested?
Tom Winkle of De Kalb, Ill., an engineer on
M/V Joy Anne Keller that runs the lower Mississippi River, had never seen
such a thing in his 25 years working on the water. He said the photos have
been making the rounds at the university in his hometown, and have been especially
popular among mariners in the Gulf of Mexico. He emailed the photos to friends
as far away as Australia and Europe.
“This has really gone far and wide,” he said.
And it’s not just mariners. Matthew Guerreiro
is a hedge fund manager who lives in New York City. He is a recreational
sailor and enjoys following the maritime industry, but has never worked on
Yet, he was so intrigued by the photos when
a friend told him about them that he enlarged one of the shots so he could
read the name of the company on the towboat. He was captivated by the tale
that unfolded before his eyes.
“It was almost like you were watching a train
wreck about to happen as you scrolled down the (Internet) page,” Guerreiro
said. “It was a relief to see it come out all right on the other side of
The appearance of the photos after all these
years has also prompted people to pick up the phone in search of more information.
Bob Warren, manager of administrative services for Warrior & Gulf, said
dozens of people have called seeking more information, including some mariners
who simply want to reminisce.
“We have been inundated with calls about those
photos,” Warren said. “I’ve been told that Ripley’s Believe It or Not is
interested in them.”
Jarrell said a couple of dozen people — including
lawyers and even a West Virginia state legislator — have called Madison Coal
wanting more information. The Democrat-Reporter has also heard from people
who want to hear about the first newspaper account.
Rob Bernhard, who lives outside of Chicago and
works for a rail freight company, began tracking which Internet sites ran
the photos after he got emails about the shots from three friends. He also
put the photos on his own website.
Bernhard said his site got an estimated 13,000
different visitors the first week of March alone. “There’s obviously a lot
of demand for these images,” he said.
Bernhard also took it upon himself to determine
where the photos first appeared on the Internet. The answer, he said, may
lie with Ray Fagan of Pascagoula, Miss. Fagan said he first saw the photos
about three years ago when they were being emailed around Gulf Coast shipyards.
He converted the photos so he could post them on the Internet and placed
them on his personal website where friends could see them.
Fagan said the photos sat there for two years
with hardly any visits, and he forgot about them. But when he went back on
his Web page in February to check it out, he saw it was receiving more visits.
Then he transferred the photos to a different website that was easier to
edit, and the visitors began coming. And coming and coming.
In two days alone, more than 26,000 visitors
came to Fagan’s site to see the photos. Fagan’s records show that they came
from at least 70 different countries, including Europe, Australia and the
Far East. They came from South America, the Middle East and places such as
Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia and Zambia.
The sheer number of visitors overloaded Fagan’s
website, and the company that hosted his Internet pages billed him $2,721,
he said. Fagan said he pulled down the website and has tried to raise money
to pay the bill. But, he added, the story was compelling enough to motivate
him to visit the accident site and make contact with eyewitnesses.
“The stories vary, probably because of the passage
of time, but it’s still an amazing incident and an incredible series of pictures,”
Still, that doesn’t fully explain how photos
from so long ago have popped up on so many Internet sites. And that has Randy
Leo, a technical illustrator from Austin, Texas, scratching his head. Leo,
who has also put the photos on his personal Internet site, is intrigued by
the interest they have generated.
“The question in my mind is why has it surfaced
20-something years later and generated such an interest?” he said. “I don’t
have an answer for that. I’d like to know.”
This article has been posted in its entirety from the June/July 2002 issue.
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