“Right outside of Fayetteville, there’s a famous bridge known as the Tilly Willy Bridge and it’s a very old bridge and it’s torn down now but it still has a lot of legends about it. Mostly, there’s this legend of a lady dressed entirely in white who fell off the bridge into the nearby creek and died so now her spirit haunts the area including a nearby field. It’s a common attraction for people to go to the bridge to try to see something scary.”
The informant for this piece is a woman in her late 40s who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was born in Joplin, Missouri but moved south to Fayetteville and has lived there for almost 18 years by now. Fayetteville is a college town as it is adjacent to the University of Arkansas. Due to the proximity of the town to the Ozark mountains, the Ozark culture influences the town alongside the culture of those going there for college.
The piece was shared with me via a phone call with the informant. This exact topic was brought up in response to my general question looking for local folklore of the Fayetteville area.
I think this bridge is used in a similar manner to other pieces of ghost folklore. The bridge is used by the town to establish a communal identity coming from knowledge of the story. Fayetteville is also the convergence of several cultures, as it is the college town for University of Arkansas, making the Tilly Willy Bridge possibly the result of several different cultures converging on the town. The use of ghosts in this story is also useful because it shows a lack of interest in the past and the non-urbanized world. As mentioned before, the town is somewhat close to the Ozark Mountain Range, which is known for its isolated communities. As such, inventing a story about a haunted area of the wilderness would incentivize staying within the boundaries of civilization, which makes complete sense. Making the abandoned bridge haunted also shows the classic bit of American folklore wherein the past is haunted as a means of putting one’s perspective towards the future. The final bit of folkloric importance in this bridge is how bridges are common places of superstition and liminality, as seen in other cultures. In that regard, the Tilly Willy Bridge fits into this tradition.
The Main Piece
The Gods have always been seen as powerful figures. In this tale, the Gods of our world have revealed their righteousness and sympathy for man. When two lovers have been forcibly separated because of their dueling families, as they are locked away on two separate sides of their households, the Gods decide to intervene in the dispute. They help the two lovers see each other again by calling upon the birds of the region to create a bridge for them once a year. They are allowed to spend their time together upon the bridge until the sun rises. Then, they must depart and wait the long year once again. The performer states “I always thought that it was so cute how they would wait for each other. I mean a year is a really long time and they only had that one night, but that one night must have been super magical.” She did also say that she may have left some parts out of her story since it was a long time ago.
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Elizabeth was told this story by her father whenever she went to sleep during her youth, around the ages of six and seven years old. It was one of her favorite stories as she imagined finding her perfect soul mate, someone willing to wait every year for just one night with her. There was a time in her life where she would request the story every night. The story is a representation of true love, but also her dreams and goals as a child. As she looks back on it she says “I know it’s lame, but I still hope to find someone like that. It’s the stuff fairytales are made of ya’ know?” She says she is unsure of whether or not her dad made it up or not, but whenever she mentioned it with friends they would claim to have never heard it before.
I was told this unique story as I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
I learned a lot about the type of relationships Elizabeth fantasized about and the context of which these fantasies were instilled in her. It was great to hear about her childhood and her love for stories. I was interested in hearing the full story since she did say she felt she may have left some parts out, so I researched more. Although I could not find the version Elizabeth mentioned, there are different versions, some not even including lovers exist all mentioning a bridge of birds. One version is: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. While plot lines, details, or circumstances may vary in different versions there remains the common factor of a bird bridge being formed which I found interesting.
Hughart, Barry. Bridge of Birds. N.p.: St. Martin’s, 1984. Chronicles of Master Li and Number
Ten Ox. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
In Queretaro, Mexico there’s basically a bridge with arches that runs from one side of the city to the other. And the story is that they used to be two separate cities at the end of both bridges, and on one side of the bridge lived a nun in a monastery, and on the other side of the bridge lived this really rich man and the really rich man lived, oh the really rich man fell in love with the nun, and the whole reason there is a bridge is that it’s basically an irrigation system, because the nun had to get water from the other city because that’s the only way she could because there was no water in her own city, and so, um, the rich man built this bridge that is an irrigation system that brings water from his city to her city. And that’s basically the story. That’s the story of why the bridge is there. It’s like famous. It’s in Mexico.
This is a really romantic legend that attempts to explain the history of the town’s bridge-aqueducts. The bridge is very long, very beautiful, and fairly unusual. Regardless of whether the tale is true or false, it is a lovely explanation for the construction, and reveals some information about the city’s culture and values. We see that the city likely values religious commitment (the nun does not break her vows), but people of Queretaro also seem to feel the love of a man for a woman (perhaps particularly an unattainable one) can inspire great and beautiful actions, like the construction of the aqueduct bridge. The extremeley romantic explanation for the bridge also clearly suggests the city’s prioritization of romance and beauty.
Additional informant data: My informant was born and raised in Northern Texas, about thirty minutes from Denton.
Contextual data: My informant told me this story when I asked about ghost stories from her hometown. She says she learned it from friends, when she was around 16 years old. She says she would tell this story if she was “telling someone where to go for fun,” and one time she and her friends actually made a trip to the place (though one friend got really scared so they didn’t get out of the car). The following is a description of the legend in her own words:
There’s a bridge in Denton, Texas called Goatman’s Bridge. If you park outside the bridge at night and honk your horn three times a goatman will appear. He’s half-goat half-man. I want to say that he screams, but I don’t remember. There’s the bridge, and then there’s this sort of cul-de-sac area around it, and if you park in that area then he appears in the entrance of the bridge. On an unrelated note, a lot of people have died there–I don’t think in the recent past, but a long time ago–and I don’t know how, but I know it happened. It’s in a really sketchy area.
This type of story is a common one, involving a haunted place and a summoning ritual (often including a 3x repetition of an action). My informant wasn’t sure about the historical background, and neither was I, but a little research showed that legend has it that there was a successful black goat herder who lived near the bridge and was hanged off the side by angry Klansmen. According to my informant, taking a trip to Goatman’s Bridge late at night is a fun and scary adventure, and it’s often a bonding experience, as everyone gets scared together.
Annotation: Seen in YouTube user SilkOlive’s documentary video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIrnzzTmP0s.