Rochester eclipse: Did the Pont De Rennes bridge really crack during the last eclipse?

Did the Pont De Rennes bridge really crack during last eclipse?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Ninety-nine years ago on Wednesday, there were nearly 2,000 people gathered on the Pont De Rennes. They were crowded together to try and see the first ever total solar eclipse in Rochester’s recorded history. But their celebration was disrupted when so many people caused the pavement on the bridge to crack — or, so the story goes, 99 years later.

On Jan. 24, 2024, newspaper headlines from Jan. 25, 1925 started circulating on social media. “River Bridge Cracks under Strain of Eclipse Fans,” read the now-defunct Rochester Herald. The Democrat and Chronicle went with “ECLIPSE GAZERS FLEE BRIDGE IN FALL SCARE.”

To hear the story firsthand, News10NBC went to city historian Christine Ridarsky, who told us the real story: Something did crack, but it wasn’t the pavement.

“It was the middle of January, it was about two degrees that day, and [the bridge] was iced over,” she said. “What actually cracked was the ice on the top of the bridge.”

Even so, the loud sound and inch-long crack right down the middle of the pavement still sent folks scurrying off the Pont De Rennes (which was actually known as the Platt Street Bridge back then).

“If you look at the photographs that were in the newspaper it was pretty impressive,” Ridarsky said. “There’s probably an inch wide crack that you can see. I totally get why people would have been afraid by that. “

A printout of the photo of the crack that ran in the Rochester Herald on January 24, 1925.

Later in the day, articles say an engineer declared the bridge completely safe, and explained away the ice crack.

“The weight of the people did not do any damage to the bridge,” Ridarsky said. “It was just a natural shift in the bridge, which they’re meant to do over time.”

Despite the scare, and despite a cloudy day, Ridarsky said people still enjoyed the eclipse.

 “There was some great midday sunset-style-type settings,” she said. “If you read the articles, they talk about the lilac-colored skies, and the mauves and the golds. So it was quite an experience.”

The total solar eclipse coming to Rochester in April will be the second ever in the city’s history. And just like in 1925, people will come from far and wide to witness the natural phenomenon. Their celebrations and their stories — like the Pont De Rennes almost cracking — will make it into history books.

“These kids of event just are the kinds of things people remember,” Ridarsky said. “They’re the stories people pass down throughout their lifetimes. So someone who goes to this event in April and watches this eclipse —that’s the kind of story they’re going to tell their children, their grandchildren, and maybe even their great-grandchildren.”

To see more of News 10’s coverage of the 2024 eclipse, click here.