HOLMBERG: The case of the missing rope swing

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Okay, it’s not breaking news. This is not a CBS-6 investigation.

It’s just a missing rope swing. One that goes missing from time to time.

And yet, it’s an identifiable part of the cityscape, a Richmond tradition, if you will, every bit as evocative as the smell of Shockoe Bottom or the vista atop Sunset Hill where Grace Street surrenders for a clifflike block.

At least two generations and perhaps more have loved this rope swing hanging high from the railroad trestle between Brown and Belle islands on historic Tredegar Street.

It’s about 40 feet above the mighty James River, which offers a mostly friendly little eddy – with a deluxe sandy bottom – to embrace the tens of thousands of laughing, splashing swingers.

You know this trestle. At one time, it was one of the longer stretches of elevated track in the East, stretching all the way from the western shoulder of Fulton by the old Gas Works all the way to our famous Hollywood Cemetery to bypass Church Hill and the failed railroad tunnel in its belly. (The only place the elevated track briefly touches the ground is below Poe’s Pub, a spot called “Coney Island” by the train folks.)

The rope has been tied to the trestle by brave souls. Among them, Oregon Hill denizen Cabell Jordan, who died last Friday after a 13-year run with a heart transplant.

There are endless stories of parties at the spot, of beautifully painful belly flops and amazing double flips with twists and dives.

You could take the easy swing from the lower edge of the pier, or climb a chain ladder to the top of the concrete trestle support for an exciting jump that would sling you far out into the river – several seconds of honest, wingless flight.

There have been three drownings in this eddy during the past decade, including a 15-year-old swimmer who got swept away there two months ago. But only one life threatening emergency – in 2009 – seems to have anything to do with the swing itself.

For the most part, the swing has been good, clean, wild fun.

Why it gets cut down remains a minor mystery. There are those on the sandy beach who will tell you they’ve seen Richmond firefighters cut it down. But the crew at Firehouse 6, right up the hill, says no way. A spokesman for RFD says it’s definitely not them.

Nathan Burrell, the new chief leader of the James River Park system, also tells me his crew didn’t do it.

I spoke with a spokeswoman for CSX railroad – it is their property – and she said she didn’t know and would be some checking. She did say, “Safety is our first priority.”

It would be typical of our modern times that a fun tradition would be cut down in the name of safety.

But my guess is the swing will return, sooner rather than later.

Please be careful out there. If you’re not a good swimmer, stay away. The current is stronger than it looks.

Happy summer 2013!


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