Sellwood Bridge Bagpipe Funeral Procession
Friday 3 June 2016 — Category: Outings
Back a few months ago, on the evening of February 25, 2016, hundreds of people participated in a bagpipe-led candlelight procession across the 90-year-old Sellwood Bridge in southern Portland, Oregon, for a final farewell before the new replacement bridge across the Willamette River would be opened.
Remembering the great experience I had had in a mass gathering on bridges the previous August — see Portland’s Annual Bridge Pedal and Stride 2015 — I thought it would be fun, as well as meaningful, to participate in this unique event, especially on a dark winter’s evening.
I decided to take public transportation to the ceremony after an orientation tour at Free Geek earlier in the day. From the SE Tacoma / Johnson Creek Station on the new MAX Orange Line it was a 1.25 mile walk west along Tacoma Street to the bridge.
I arrive about 20 minutes before the 7:30 start, but I was just in time, because for some reason they decided to begin the procession early. I hardly had time to catch my breath after my 25-minute very-rapid walk!
As the crowd surged forward at the eastern end of the bridge, I was fortunate enough to find myself just a few strides behind the bagpiper. Portland’s Unipiper aside, there is something moving, even spine-tingling, about the sound of a bagpipe.
I’m sure there are many examples, but this piece by the Piano Guys comes to mind. And I have always loved this Dan ar Braz concert, especially the Call To Dance that begins at 7:12. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, then you don’t have a drop of Celtic blood in your veins! Bagpipes and electric guitar are a match made in heaven!
Perhaps a solo bagpipe is even more moving, particularly when the piper is playing a dirge rather than a joyful dance tune. Add to that marching in the middle of the road across an old bridge in the dark with hundreds of other people with flashlights and candles ... well, it was quite a special moment.
There were numerous reports of this event in the media the next day. I think their counts were too low — there was easily over a thousand people on the bridge. And none of the articles mentioned the name of the piper — not even the official event announcement. If you know the name of the piper, please leave a comment below.
It didn’t take very long to traverse the 2,000-foot bridge. At the western end the piper found a place to stand and kept playing for a while, as the crowd continued to grow. By this time it was still ten minutes before the offical starting time! I’ll bet there were lots of disappointed people who had missed the bagpipe procession.
Now that the main event was over, there wasn’t much else to do there. But before I left I did have the presence of mind to take some shots of the gorgeous view of downtown Portland, with the lights reflecting on the Willamette.
After indulging in quite a few of these cityscape shots, the official starting time of 7:30 finally arrived. Fighting my way back through the huge crowd, I eventually reached the eastern end of the bridge, and by 7:40 was on my way back to the MAX station. The hike to the station, plus rides on two trains, brought me to my truck at the Gateway Transit Center about 90 minutes later. Then it was another 90-minute drive back home to Albany.
Taking pictures under the dark conditions was very difficult. Even at ISO 6,400 many images turned out blurry, because both I and the crowd were constantly on the move. For the best shots, I should have set up a tripod further down the bridge and photographed the procession’s approach. But then I would have only been a documenter instead of a participant!
Even though they have some quality issues, I think that my shots are actually kind of nice, because they give a good feel of what it was like out there that evening: dark, crowded, chaotic. And I’m really happy with my Portland night cityscape — the first one I have ever taken in more than a year of being positively passionate about Portland! The six photos above are now part of the Portland Miscellaneous 2016 album.
In an interesting coincidence, on the very day I posted this article, OregonLive.com posted their own article about the old Sellwood Bridge: Sellwood Bridge Demolition Begins (Photos)