After more than 70 years, Lillian English of Gordonville, Mo., still vividly recalls her days as a bridge queen.
They have been stirred again as the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge takes shape. English, formerly Lillian McAtee, had a central role in the dedication of Cape Girardeau's Mississippi River bridge that opened in 1928.
Then 14 years old, she had just started her sophomore year at Fornfelt High School, which formerly existed in Scott City, Mo., and had been selected to represent the schools of Illmo-Fornfelt in a parade at Cape Girardeau on bridge dedication day.
"It was quite a day," she said.
English said she and 11 other queens rode on the "Spirit of Cape" float in the parade. They had been selected by popular votes to represent their hometowns at the dedication.
Plans called for the queens to ride in the parade, take part in the bridge dedication, attend a dance that evening and spend the night upstairs in the Chamber of Commerce building, which was in the 200 block of Broadway.
Although her parents let her stay away from home for the night, they didn't allow her to go to the dance.
"I had just turned 14 in August, and my parents wouldn't let me attend the dance," she said. "There was so much going on at the time, and people were everywhere."
Newspaper accounts of the dedication estimated a crowd of more than 30,000 applauding the opening of the bridge linking Missouri and Illinois.
Several thousand American Legion members and auxiliary members were attending a convention in Cape Girardeau at the same time, and members of the St. Louis Police Department came to assist local police with traffic control.
Missouri Gov. Sam A. Baker and representatives of the Illinois governor's office also attended the dedication.
The bridge at Cape Girardeau became the only river crossing for cars between St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn. The only other structure between the two cities at that time was a railroad bridge at Thebes, Ill., which opened in 1905.
Queens were present from a dozen communities, including Cairo and Anna in Illinois. The Missouri towns of Caruthersville, Charleston, Hayti, Jackson, Kennett, Malden, Poplar Bluff, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau also sent their queens.
At the dedication, one queen from among the 12 was picked by drawing names from a hat. English said she finished second.
As the opening of the new bridge is anticipated in 2003, plans for a dedication are being coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce and the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. No word has yet been given about any new bridge queens, but English plans to be around, at least as an observer.
"I'll certainly be interested in watching the dedication ceremonies this time around," she said.
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