A link from here to there

By Merrill Kaitz
Thursday, July 3, 2003

Poets, politicians, performers and the public gathered on the Newburyport side last Saturday to celebrate the re-opening of the Chain Bridge.

In spite of the snowy winter, the rainy spring and the November-to-April grounding of an all-important construction barge, the Chain Bridge was planned to re-open July 3. That assurance was made to the throng of about 75 people by Wayne Capolupo, president of Salisbury-based SPS New England, the company that has been doing the repairs.

"I can't tell you if it will be in the morning or the evening, but you will be driving over this bridge some time before midnight on July 3," he said Saturday.

Capolupo said that after receiving calls from state Sen. Steve Baddour and state Rep. Mike Costello stressing the importance of getting the job done, SPS "re-structured and re-sequenced our entire construction plan."

Powow River Poets Rhina Espaillat, Michael Cantor and Greg Perry were on hand, as was Dick Kaplan's Excellent Jazz Band. Three historical personages were portrayed by locals. Former Amesbury mayor Nick Costello played poet and longtime Amesbury resident John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker abolitionist and opponent of war, America's best known poet of the mid-19th century.

Mara Clark, who recently portrayed poet Emily Dickinson in a performance at Amesbury's Rocky Hill Meeting House, took the part of Harriet Spofford, a Deer Island resident and erstwhile poetess. Frank Chiaravalloti of Newbury played eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter, for whom a Scotland Road industrial park is named.

Lord Timothy painted his Newburyport mansion garish colors and erected 40 8-foot statues in his garden of men he admired, such as Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock. Dexter, christened "Lord" by neighbors, wrote a book entitled, "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones," and he claimed to have exported 42,000 bed-warming pans to the Caribbean, where beds rarely needed warming, and made a fortune when they turned out to be good for straining molasses.

The Powow River Poets provided some funny, as well as some philosophical, reflections. "A bridge serves as a link from here to there," Michael Cantor wrote in his "Chain Bridge Sonnet." Cantor's humorous, rhyme-filled lines summed up the extent to which the closed bridge has been missed: "So it's a scare when bridges disappear for interfering road work and repair - as fate will then declare that everywhere to be is over there; not nearly near enough when there's no bridge, no thoroughfare."

Rhina Espaillat, in her poem "On the Reopening of the Chain Bridge," offered a more lyrical description: "This bridge, clear emblem of the place we're in, halfway between what's coming and what's been, holds us above the Merrimack, which flows from Lake Winnipesaukee. There it goes, as Thoreau loved it, rippling to the sea...."

Espaillat's concluding quatrain was an eloquent plea: "May everything we raise in steel or stone build for that whole, and not for us alone, so that when we, like Thoreau, disappear, the river need not grieve that we were here."

The politicians spoke after the poets and, perhaps inspired by the pithiness of the poetry, they were mercifully brief, and occasionally even informative or amusing. Newburyport Mayor Al Lavender launched a mild jibe at Amesbury: "The bridge is particularly important to Amesbury," Lavender said. "They've been virtually isolated for a year and a half."

In fact, of course, it was the Newburyporters who had to go the long way 'round if they wanted to enjoy a Flatbread pizza, a Wild Bite or a Hippie Chick delight.

Host Max Schenk, president of the Friends of the Parker River National Wildlife Sanctuary, revealed in his introduction of Amesbury Mayor David Hildt that the mayor had held a vision of himself and Al Lavender starting at opposite ends of the bridge, running in slow motion until they met in the middle, then uniting in a warm embrace.

Hildt amended the vision to include those in the crowd running from their respective towns to embrace mid-bridge.

"In a couple of days, the barricades will be gone and the traffic will resume. We'll remember this day," Hildt said.

"A bridge is meant to bring people together," Baddour said. Stressing the importance of the bridge for the region's economic development and tourism, the senator spoke with his young daughter in his arms.

Costello, an Amesbury resident who now lives in Newburyport, said, "I think I've crossed this bridge well into the thousands of times. My family is split by this river. The bridge brings together the three communities that I represent. What a beautiful area you live in."

(This article replicated online with permission of the Merrimack River Current.)
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