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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Frisco Bridge Mystery

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2008 at 4:41 PM

b133/1243719769-lipesign-friscobridge.jpg Hanging beneath the old Frisco Bridge is a sign that has baffled me for two years now — ever since I discovered it during one of my drunken “explorations” (I was looking for a shortcut to West Memphis). But as you can see from the scan, a bright red metal sign dangles from the underside of the old bridge. Neatly cut into the quarter-inch steel are the words “S.L. Lipe 1943-2004.”

Who was S.L. Lipe, and why is he memorialized in such a strange location?

This isn’t that easy to find. To see it, you have to get on Crump Blvd. heading west and take the Metal Museum Drive exit. Be careful, because if you miss this exit, the next stop is West Memphis. The drive loops beneath the old bridges, but just as it passes beneath the Frisco Bridge, there’s a dirt road on your right, which heads towards the river and deadends below the bridge. Look up — after you’ve parked your car, NOT while you are driving! — and you’ll see the lozenge-shaped sign.

Somebody put a lot of work into this. For one thing, the mounting chains are actually welded to the steel understructure of the bridge. It would take a tall ladder just to do that. And the sign itself is a work of art, finely crafted and neatly painted.

But what is, or was, Lipe’s connection with the Frisco Bridge? I searched Shelby County death records, old phone books, and googled and googled. Nothing. I even called the National Ornamental Metal Museum to see if someone there had made the sign, or perhaps knew who did. Nope. Even though some of them had also noticed this fine piece of metalwork, they could shed no light on the mystery.

I even managed to find a website for the Frisco Railroad, and posted a message asking for information about Lipe, but got no responses. I would get vague answers like, “I think he worked out of the Cairo station,” but that certainly doesn’t explain the sign here. I am assuming, you see, that he had something to do with the railroad. The bridge itself was constructed in 1892, so it’s rather unlikely he had anything to do with the bridge. Unless he was part of a maintenance crew, and he was very proud of the work he did on the bridge??

But after all this effort, all I can say is that it’s an unusual and remarkable memorial. But that’s pretty much all I can say. Isn’t that enough for you people? Must you always have answers to everything?

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