• Mike Matson

Theorosa's Bridge

This column was published October 15, 2022 in the Manhattan Mercury.

 

Over the next several nights, on a bridge spanning Jester Creek north by northeast of where it spills out from the Little Arkansas River north of Wichita, teenagers will be doing what comes naturally.


It’s Halloween season at Theorosa’s Bridge. Anyone coming of age in the northern environs of Wichita knows some version of Theorosa’s story. My favorite went like this:


Theorosa was a Mennonite farm wife, who found herself in a family way after a roll in the hay with the hired man. When the baby arrived, unable to countenance the shame of illegitimacy, she chucked the kid in the drink. Shortly thereafter, incapacitated by guilt, Theorosa jumped in and drowned her own bad self.


As ghost stories go, this one’s grounded in a pretty compelling narrative.


Theorosa’s ghost roamed the creek near the bridge site when I was a teenager and there she will linger long after dark in the coming nights. Her malevolent spirit shows up when wide-eyed, freshly scrubbed youth from Pleasant Valley or nearby Park City, Valley Center or Sedgwick stand on the bridge and summon her.


“Theorosa... I HAVE YOUR BABY!”


I never saw Theorosa’s ghost. But on her bridge, the pulse quickened, and the breathing was often heavy.

When planning a visit to Theorosa’s bridge, one tended to worry not so much about the machinations of conjuring up her ghost, but about how one might be able to use these specific means toward another specific end. There were certain characteristics one would seek, when scaring up chums for an adventure to Theorosa’s bridge. Preferably, rookies. The circumstances alone foster fear.


It’s Halloween. It’s dark. Then throw in the ghost story. I almost peed my pants my first time.


It washed over me this week. After a meeting in Wichita, I was bound for home, off the beaten path on old U.S. 81. I said to myself, “Self, Theorosa’s bridge is around here somewhere.” A hard left on 109th Street and within moments, I found myself standing on Theorosa’s bridge and it’s yesterday once more.



The memory of the swagger and misplaced confidence in retelling the narrative to friends yet to experience an after-dark visit to Theorosa’s bridge. REO was right. The tales grew taller on down the line.


Its first iteration was a wood and iron structure allowing Point A to Point B Mennonite-inspired efficient passage across Jester Creek. The bridge burned down a couple of times in the ‘70s and the most recent iteration went up in 1991. A brass plaque imbedded in the concrete parapet carries the names of the County Commissioners who, no doubt, carefully studied its feasibility and fulfilled their capital improvement strategy. I went to high school with one of their daughters.


Small, these Kansas circles in which we run.


Back in the day, Theorosa’s bridge was more than wood and iron and today, judging from the graffiti, I suspect it’s more than simply concrete and rebar. Infrastructure comes and goes. Ghosts and the stories emanating therefrom, endure.


Some believe Theorosa lived, offed her baby and herself and her spirit came back to haunt any who dare tread nearby in the dark. Others, be they freshly scrubbed, or adorned with that first patina of life experience, dismiss the ghost story but take advantage of the circumstances to scare the bejeezus out of the uninitiated.


Or maybe just fulfill their societal expectation.


There is magic in the narrative, and in the memories.

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