Charles Dickens on his Susquehanna River crossing: ‘I was in a painful dream’
This mile-long covered bridge replaced the bridged burned by the Union Army to stop the Confederates from crossing the Susquehanna River. A cyclone blew down this bridge in 1896, and it was replaced by an iron structure. The bridge – the third of six to cross the river at this point – would have been akin to the covered bridge Charles Dickens used to cross the river some 25 miles upstream. But by 1896, slits to allow light into the dark interior had been added. Background posts: Susquehanna River helped mold part of York County’s southern tier, Photo collection adds to York County’s historic record and When the bridge over the Codorus moved.
Charles Dickens’ account of his crossing the long covered bridge from the Susquehanna’s west shore into Harrisburg raises a point few would consider today.
In a bridge nearing a mile long, how would you see? …
It’s akin to rail trailing through abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels in Fulton County. You cannot see the other end.
Coachmen in those days before electricity would have gone without lanterns, which would have been fire hazards. And mules pulled locomotives crossing through the Wrightsville covered bridge – and probably others – because sparks could ignite the wooden structures.
By now, Dickens, the English author who was traveling through America in 1842, had left York County and was ready to cross from Cumberland into Dauphin. Samuel Stubbins of York County was at the helm of the coach, and Dickens was riding shutgun, as the following account from “American Notes” suggests:
“We crossed this river by a wooden bridge, roofed and covered in on all sides, and nearly a mile in length. It was profoundly dark; perplexed, with great beams, crossing and recrossing it at every possible angle; and through the broad chinks and crevices in the floor, the rapid river gleamed, far down below, like a legion of eyes. We had no lamps; and as the horses stumbled and floundered through this place, towards the distant speck of dying light, it seemed interminable. I really could not at first persuade myself as we rumbled heavily on, filling the bridge with hollow noises, and I held down my head to save it from the rafters above, but that I was in a painful dream; for I have often dreamed of toiling through such places, and as often argued, even at the time, ‘this cannot be reality.’
At length, however, we emerged upon the streets of Harrisburg … . “