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A Brief History of Wild Shit Witnessed by Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge Operators

Inspired by recent viral events, we asked two operators what they've seen from atop the iconic bridge.

Captainspock89 via Wikipedia Commons

“Don’t lift it! Don’t fucking lift it, I’m on the fucking bridge! Don’t lift the shit!” implores a pedestrian streaking across Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge as alarm bells sound. “Don’t lift it! Don’t lift it! Don’t lift it!!!”

“No need to run ma’am,” bridge operator Seth Honemann calmy responds over the P.A.

That New Year’s Day 2020 scene, captured on video and recently spread far and wide across TikTok, has amassed 1.1 million views. (It just keeps going viral, again and again.)

“It was an extremely quiet evening in the canal, a typical January night,” Honemann remembers. “I was getting ready to make a lift for an outbound ore boat, and there was no rush—I didn’t see any pedestrians, I did my pedestrian warning over the P.A. Then, all of sudden I looked at one of my cameras, and here comes this girl just running up to the bridge, which unfortunately is extremely common to see. They try to beat the bridge.”

With it being a calm winter night, the operator says he decided to let the pedestrian stroll across the bridge at her leisure. That’s not what happened.

“Once they get on the bridge, they usually walk. This one, in particular… did not,” Honemann says with a chuckle. “I think she set a record for getting across the bridge. Her screaming almost sounded like a mosquito buzzing around, it was very faint with the pilot house doors closed. That’s when I got on the P.A. and told her no need to run. Someone getting injured is the last thing you want. It’s definitely less stressful when people can listen to the announcements and not try to beat the bridge.”

Homemamn and his colleague, longtime Aerial Lift Bridge Supervisor David Campbell, were kind enough to share other memories from their unique perch above the Twin Ports.

Memorably stressful

“Oh my gosh, every year has its moments,” Honemann says. “Generally, the ones that always get you, are the more stressful times: people riding scooters across the roadway of the bridge, trying to beat the bridge, cars doing silly things, riffraff trying to hang onto the bridge as it’s lifting.” 

“People do things not realizing we have cameras everywhere on the bridge. We see you,” adds Campbell. “I always tell people: It’s an extremely stressful job for the operators. It’s not because of the boats, we know they’re going underneath us; it’s not the cars, we can control the traffic. The thing that makes it the most stressful? The fact we’re lifting 1,000 tons and the public can walk up and touch it while it’s moving. You get pretty good at reading people to the point of, ‘Yeah, they’re not stopping.’” 

Papa hoverboard

“I did have a dad this year during Grandma’s Marathon,” Honemann says. “He was on a hoverboard, pushing a baby stroller over the roadway of the bridge. I even went outside and told him, ‘What are you doing?!’ He said, ‘I’m only doing it this once!’ And I told him, ‘Don’t do it at all!’ I never had to yell at a father on a hoverboard pushing a baby stroller before, that was definitely a first.” 

Snapping sailboat

“That instance right there, there were a lot of situations working against the little boat,” Honemann says of this viral incident from 2018. “His motor went out on him, and there was a heavy, heavy inbound current. We’ll see some water emergencies, but the boaters generally are pretty good to each other. If you’re going out on Lake Superior, you have to have some kind of knowledge of how to drive a boat. Thankfully the boating community is pretty smart, for the most part.” 

Hello, waves

“Weather-related things have impressed me the most,” Campbell says. “We had a storm come through a couple years ago, I was standing outside my office door looking at the canal, and a wave touched the bottom of the bridge, meaning it was 15 feet. I watched the wave go by in front of me, and it was over my head—it’s like, ‘That’s a weird vantage point, watching a wave going perpendicular to you, why am I not underwater right now?’” 

Iced out

“About three years back we had an ice storm come, packed the entire east side of the bridge with ice,” Campbell says. “So much so that we could not lift the bridge. We had between 60,000 and 80,000 pounds worth of ice on the bridge. It took three days to de-ice it so we could lift it again.” 

Summertime bar close

“Most of the time they’re harmless, they just sort of bob and weave their way across the bridge. It’s fine,” Campbell says. “This summer, we had somebody take an electric scooter and throw it over the side of the bridge. And some lady, who was really upset at somebody for something, took her really nice-looking mountain bike, pitched it over the side of the bridge. There’s nothing we can do about it up in the pilot house. If somebody’s throwing a scooter over the side, we’ve got you on camera. Three days later, the police had the person who threw it.”