The turnout rivaled Fourth of July fireworks shows; spectators trekking in from far-off parking spaces, even bringing their bikes out of winter storage. Snow could not keep hundreds from saying goodbye to the Champlain Bridge.
"We travel across it all the time and want to be here when it goes down," said Mike Kachmar of Addison.
As the crowd spread along the Vermont side of Lake Champlain trying to get a clear view of the fated structure, kids knew what to expect from the demolition.
"BANG!!" Julian Slesar of Monkton demonstrated.
"BAAAMM!!" Will McCormick of Addison shouted.
"Like... KA-BOOOMMMMMM!!!! Except louder," explained Caleb Hoh of Burlington. "A lot louder!"
Those predictions were right on the money. When the bridge blew up, witnesses could be heard gasping.
"It was the coolest thing ever!" exclaimed Emily Singley of Boston. But it was not exactly what she expected. "No. It was really fast. I thought it would happen slower."
Most of the onlookers seemed just as stunned. After 80 years the bridge became part of the landscape.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see it," said Josh Benning of Vergennes.
"Everybody feels a great loss that an old friend has died," said Elsa Gilbertson, of the Vt. Division for Historic Preservation.
Perhaps the person who watched this process the closest is Lisa Cloutier, owner of the Bridge Restaurant. Now called the No Bridge Restaurant. She's lost tens of thousands of dollars since the bridge was condemned in October.
"I just saw this cloud of dust and everything going up and it was gone," she said. "I was like, 'It's gone now!' And I was sad. I almost started to cry. Now it's really gone."
She'll reopen her business when a temporary ferry starts running-- officials hope by February. Until then, expect this kind of traffic around the construction site: people trying to grab a picture of the bridge wreckage to go with other less tangible memories from demolition day.
"The sound of it, just feeling it in your chest when the explosion went off," explained Jill Fitz-Gerald of Monkton.
And for some collectors-- the ultimate souvenir-- a heavy piece of the metal debris.
"My own little piece of history," said David Saintcross of Albany, N.Y.
Asked what he would do with the chunk of bridge, Saintcross answered, "I don't know. A gift?"
Many of these witnesses to history promise to be back here in 2011 when the new Champlain Bridge is expected to be dedicated. This region will be waiting for its new connector-- its new landmark.
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