“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.