Tindall Bridge has been the scene of both triumph and despair. It is a triumph of engineering and construction and yet is associated with the despair and sadness that walk hand in hand with death. It is a figurative, and some say literal, link to those who have crossed over to the other side.
Rebuilt in 1915 by the Champion Iron Company in Sandusky County this steel structure provides a crossing over the Sandusky River. The original bridge along with most others in the county was destroyed by a great flood in 1913. This was one of the worst floods in the history of the area, destroying many homes and killing livestock and citizens.
The current bridge is technically referred to as a riveted seven panel Pratt through truss. It has a total span of 332 feet and a width of 15.7 feet, in essence making it a one-lane bridge allowing the passage of one vehicle at a time. While smaller in span than other steel bridges, it boasts a load capacity of 25 tons. The bridge is easily located off CR 209 (Rice Street) in Balleville, Ohio, a suburb of Fremont.
So what is it that makes Tindall Bridge so infamous? In this case, the claims could be classified as a mixture of urban legend and haunt phenomena. The story goes that a child was born out of wedlock and thrown over the bridge where it met its demise. Some claim to see the spirit of the mother walking under the bridge crying as she searches for her baby. At first, you may think that this is the story of the haunt. This is not the case. For reasons we will discuss later this is actually the story of the urban legend. The ghost story for this location is that a murder victim from the 1950s roams the area beneath the bridge sobbing and asking for help or shrieking loudly.
The first question that comes to mind is “What tragedies have occurred at this location that might lead to a haunting?” Actually, a few incidents have occurred here that could possibly trigger paranormal activity. Let’s start with two that do not seem to be related to the haunt in question. On July 22, 1922, a forty six year old woman accidentally backed off a 20-foot embankment. The accident itself did not kill her. The official cause of death was a heart attack from the shock of the accident. In March of 1948, a thirty three year old man committed suicide beneath the bridge. Police found his body in his car after he shot himself. The gentleman’s attempt to shoot himself through the chest failed. On his second attempt, the bullet found its mark right through his head. As one might imagine it was not a pretty sight. Recently it would appear that someone met their demise in an auto accident near one of the stone lots adjacent to the bridge. The most notorious event in the Fremont area, in Sandusky County, garnered plenty of media attention and remains closely linked to Tindall Bridge to this day.
On May 2, 1955 at 2 a.m. Sam Tannyhill, age 26, a man with a criminal record, walked into the Hut Restaurant with the intent of robbing it. He entered the restaurant but left shortly thereafter when he noticed a cab driver dining inside. Tannyhill returned |some time later and confronted the lone waitress / cook on duty, 29 year old Shirley Bradford, with a gun demanding money. Mrs. Bradford opened the cash register and gave him the night’s take of $100. Things didn’t end there. Tannyhill forced Shirley to leave with him, figuring she would immediately phone police. The plan was to drop her off out of town so it would take her a few hours to walk back before she could contact the authorities.
Sadly, Tannyhill changed the plan. In the car, Shirley called Tannyhill by name. She knew his sister. Of course, this startled him as he was just out of prison and didn’t know his sister’s friends. Tannyhill idolized his sister and told Shirley no harm would come to her if she promised not to tell his sister about the robbery. Very upset and thinking she had an advantage by playing on his soft spot Shirley refused to make any such promise. She told Tannyhill that she would tell his sister about his crime and that he was a “lousy brother”. Tannyhill later told police that he took Mrs. Bradford to Tindall Bridge to “slap some sense into her”. The slapping got out of hand and ended with Tannyhill beating Shirley to death with a piece of iron pipe from a car jack. This account seems to differ from his testimony at trial where he testified that Shirley got a hold of his gun and fearing that she would take the opportunity to shoot him, he picked up the car’s jack from the floor and bludgeoned her with it. Police found her body near the creek the next morning. Tannyhill fled to Missouri where he was later apprehended. At trial, his attorneys opted for an insanity defense but failed and Tannyhill was sentenced to death. Sam Tannyhill went to the electric chair on November 26, 1956 at the Ohio State Penitentiary.
It was a brisk day in May when Fringe Paranormal visited the bridge. We arrived in the early evening to survey the area while there was plenty of daylight to get our bearings. There is space to park on both ends of the bridge and signs warn drivers that it is a one-lane bridge. The banks around the bridge are sparsely wooded allowing access to the river for those that are careful and sure of foot. We spent much of our time at the site trying to find natural explanations for some of the claims of unusual activity. Down near the riverbank we noticed that some of the trees had a light colored bark that as it grew darker could possibly be taken for a person dressed in white. Is this a likely explanation for sightings of an apparition near the bridge? This is a matter of opinion. If a witness is in the right frame of mind and catches a glimpse of such a tree in their peripheral vision under the right environmental conditions this could be a logical supposition.
Our research indicates that the bridge was white up until 2012 when it was painted the blue color that it wears today. We wonder if the white coloring of the bridge had any bearing on reports of apparitions beneath the bridge. The driving surface of the structure is grated metal, which would possibly allow reflections from above to travel down towards the river. Would headlights from a passing car reflect the white color from one of the beams down onto the water below creating the illusion of movement? It could be possible but we cannot state that with any degree of certainty. We did drive over the current blue incarnation of Tindall Bridge several times. Our witnesses down on the riverbank noticed nothing that could be mistaken as paranormal. Some time later when we analyzed our audio and photos we did not discover anything out of the ordinary.
So what did our excursion to Tindall Bridge dig up? We found nothing in the way of evidence of paranormal activity but we did turn up something interesting during the research phase of this investigation. As you recall there is a haunt and a “cry baby” sort of urban legend associated with the bridge. The haunt aspect could be possible based on the documented murder, suicide, and accidental deaths at this site. However, that leaves us with the burning question, “What about that woman who is searching for her crying baby?” That is where good research comes into play. The body of a newborn baby WAS found under a bridge. The baby was found under a Tindal bridge, but not our Tindall Bridge. There is a Tindal bridge (one “L”) in Birmingham in the UK. The story goes that in September 1868:
From this piece of information, we can reach the very possible conclusion that the legend of a woman crying for her baby was based on some confusion by a researcher at some point long ago. It would seem that someone mistook the same named bridge in Birmingham for the bridge in Fremont. You’ll note that the plaque identifying the bridge in Birmingham is spelled with one “L” while the archived story related above spells the name as “Tindall” with two “L”s thus adding to any confusion one might have while researching the bridge. Another factor that may figure into the urban legend concerns the family history of Shirley Bradford, the murder victim whose plight we related earlier. Shirley’s husband abandoned her some time before the murder, but Shirley wasn’t alone. She had a 10 -year-old son to care for. It’s quite possible that a mish-mash of the stories of the Tindal Bridge baby in the UK and the story of Shirley murder at our Tindall Bridge also contributed to the birth of the urban legend. We are certain that the urban legend can be dispelled and that we can declassify our Tindall Bridge as a crybaby bridge. This leaves us with the alleged haunt surrounding this location.
Does the specter of a murder victim roam the grassy banks beneath the bridge? Maybe some other unfortunate soul remains to wander in search of something. Perhaps the only ghosts that haunt this location are the memories of woe and tragedy. Only time and persistence can uncover the truth. Until then we are left to wonder and continue our search for answers.
A video of the bridge we found on Youtube
Read more about Tannyhill’s crime and execution: “Three hours to Live”
Check out this article as it appeared in the January 2016 edition of Phenomena Magazine
You may also check other issues of the Phenomena Magazine at their website
Ohio Ghost Hunter Guide III: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Ohio By Jannette Rae Quackenbush
A Grim Almanac of Birmingham By Karen Evans
A History of Northwest Ohio: A Narrative Account of Its Historical …, Volume 1 By Nevin Otto Winter
Birmingham’s Tindall Bridge http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3628711
Toledo Blade Newspaper archives