Gertie’s Ghost: Urban Myth to Urban Roots

A local urban legend can be seen throughout Tacoma if you look for it.

On a particularly windy day in Tacoma, 83 years ago this November, the Narrows Bridge collapsed into the Salish Sea. The bridge collapse created one of the largest man-made reefs in the world. They called her Galloping Gertie because of the way the bridge swayed wildly side to side before it crumbled entirely. The spot is placed on the National Register of Historic places to protect it against scavengers. 

After her collapse, Galloping Gertie became a cautionary tale for suspension bridge construction. The replacement bridge, built right on top of her, was completed on October 14, 1950, after over two years of construction.  

The Giant Pacific octopus is the largest octopus’ species in the world. They’re actually our neighbors. They swim here in Tacoma, in the ruins of Galloping Gertie, through the rusted steel bars of our failed bridge.  

Some say that one octopus has been growing in the steel reef for decades. Usually, they only live around five to six years and grow up to sixty pounds. That’s nothing to scoff at, but this one is different. King Octopus is a six-hundred-pound octopus monster, an urban legend spread throughout the City of Destiny. Once a Tacoma triumph, a suspension bridge, the third longest in the world, is now a vehicle for our deepest fears. King Octopus is often called Galloping Gertie as the two are linked in a way.  

What lies below the depths of the Salish Sea? Who lives in the reef below the Narrows Bridge? Only divers truly know, the rest of us get to wonder. In the meantime, you can pay a visit to Gertie’s Ghost on your way to the University of Washington Tacoma campus near South Tacoma Way and Pacific Avenue.  

Gertie’s Ghost is an art installation by artists Sean Orlando and David Shulman that was commissioned by Sound Transit. You can find tons of Giant Octopi around Tacoma if you are looking for them. Point Ruston has two on their Water walk tile mosaics. If you’re really lucky, you might even catch Gertie, her twenty-foot tentacles outstretched in the thick fog, before she swims back down to the wreckage below.