Dr. Know: The Roebling’s Hums, Outdated Signs, and Hidden Memorials


Now that I’m driving on the Roebling Suspension Bridge again, I’m reminded of something. The metal grid that makes my tires hum is not the original surface, right? What floor did Roebling first install, and when did the metal grid replace it? —HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, GRID

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Dear Looking: 
A popular belief is that we all continuously replenish our dead cells, completely replacing our bodies every few years. This is untrue. The internet, as usual, clears up everything: The cells of our bodies and minds are controlled, obviously, by the CIA from Area 51.

Considerably less controversy surrounds the replacement parts on our beloved Roebling Bridge. The original floor was made of wood. This was appropriate for its era, but not without its drawbacks. There was that time in 1922 when a boat caught fire directly underneath the bridge, making firemen frantically hose down the floor to keep it from igniting. Yikes.

In its 151 years, the Roebling deck has seen several makeovers. Not until 1954, however, did a steel grid replace the wooden floor, weighing much less and easily shedding snow and ice. But wait a minute—what’s that funny noise? Motorists discovered a new driving sensation when grid met rubber. Kids called it the “tickle-y bridge,” but most adults went with “singing.” A fresh grid in 1996 made things noticeably louder; drivers sang along with a heftier karaoke accompaniment. Windows up, please.

Why is the giant concrete sign for John Nolan Ford in Pleasant Ridge still up? The car dealership closed at least 10 years ago. The corner of Ridge and Highland is the business hub of that whole neighborhood, and must be prime real estate. Why is that big sign taking up space? —SIGN ME OUT

Dear Out:
The above question proves once again why only experienced and reliable journalists such as the Doctor can be trusted to provide our readers with accurate information. The aforementioned sign does not say John Nolan Ford, but only John Nolan, an important difference we shall address after correcting your other errors. The locale is not Pleasant Ridge, but Columbia Township, a geographically fractured municipality that has enough self-esteem issues, thank you. And please; the dealership did not close “at least 10 years ago.” It was precisely 10 years ago, on July 20, 2008.

“Prime real estate,” however, perfectly describes the corner of Ridge Road and Highland Avenue. That is why, a decade after the Ford Motor Company bought out the Nolan dealership, the Nolan family still owns the property. And why they converted it into the John Nolan Business Center, home to several varied commercial concerns, all of whom gladly operate in the shadow of the neighborhood’s most visible, well-known, impossible-to-miss, Gibraltar-like landmark. Should an 18-wheeler ever lose control and collide with that thing, bet on the sign.

While prepping for the Flying Pig Half Marathon, I saw something curious on the race’s route map. It showed the course passing “near the Chatfield Memorial” at Columbia Parkway and Kemper Lane. I know that area pretty well, but I’ve never heard of this. Who is Chatfield, and where is that memorial? —MEMORIAL DAZE

Dear Daze:
First, congratulations if you finished even half of the Half Marathon. Second, many thanks for inspiring the Doctor to try some creative trespassing. He found a lonely driveway at the foot of Kemper Lane, and
trod into a wooded overgrown thicket that resembled a set from Blair Witch Project 4. Past the scattered furnishings of Mid-Century Hobo, he located some worn stone steps and rusted railings—almost certainly the sad remains of the Chatfield Memorial.

Frederick H. Chatfield deserved better. Born into a prominent Cincinnati family, he devoted much of his life to charitable works, including the development of our city’s beautiful parks. After he died suddenly in 1930, part of this wooded area was cleared for an ornate memorial, where visitors could relax and contemplate Mr. Chatfield’s many aesthetic contributions. The location made perfect sense at the time, but after 1938, when residential, two-lane Columbia Avenue became walled-up, six-lane Columbia Parkway, the site was apparently abandoned. Now it exists only as a name on a map. If you’re in the market for a free mattress, though, several are back there.

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