Hard times are no stranger in Zinc, a tiny hardscrabble hamlet with no paved streets deep in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas. First, the mine played out, and the town almost died. Then floods came to the valley, and more people left. This year, the population is down to 103, and the other day the Famous Zinc Swinging Pedestrian Bridge over Sugar Orchard Creek, the only one in Arkansas and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, collapsed.
The 87-year-old bridge must be eligible for a federal fix. Somewhere in the bowels of the Washington bureaucracy there’s surely a Bureau of Swinging Pedestrian Bridges, with a vast warren of bureaucrats presiding over the dispensing of grants to repair or replace them.
The swinging bridge is important to Zinc. It’s the town’s only tourist attraction, and a tourist is rare along the gravel roads in the remote corners of Boone County, which is not named for Daniel Boone, as visitors suppose, but because the early settlers considered the area a boon, or congenial, place to live. (They added the “e” to Boon later.) “This is an old town,” Marion Newman, a Zinc alderman, told Bill Bowden of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. “A lot of people come back, and that’s what they remember most, the swinging bridge.”
The bridge collapsed when an eight-foot tall concrete and shale pier, which cracked several years ago, fell, taking the bridge, made of wire and planks, with it. But the planks are intact. Alderman Newman, 74, says he will dig the foundation for the pier himself, using a backhoe. “We’re just going to do it ourselves,” he says. “We’re going to try to make it last for 200 years.”
The mine in Zinc was one of several in Arkansas late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, before the zinc played out. Zinc is an important metallic chemical element, alloyed with copper to make brass. It’s plentiful in the earth’s crust, and most zinc now comes to the United States from Australia and Canada. It’s an antioxidant, and it’s used in medical compounds to treat depression, sunburn, diaper rash and even the common cold. Lately, it was discovered that it can kill cancer cells in the prostate gland.
The first decade of the 20th century were Zinc’s glory years, when the population boomed to nearly 200. When the mine closed, Zinc fell on evil days. Some of Ben Shahn’s famous photographs of the impoverished rural South in the Depression captured the hard life in Zinc. Several zinc-mining settlements in the Ozarks became ghost towns. But not Zinc. Several families still use the swinging bridge to cross Sugar Orchard Creek, which can become a raging river after a downpour, to escape isolation.
The fierce, rugged independence of the mountain folk survives in the hills surrounding Zinc. There’s not much money in the town’s general revenue account to pay for fixing the bridge, but Mr. Newman, the alderman with a backhoe, is undaunted. “If we need more money,” he said, “the town will just hold a pie supper.”
The authentic needs of bigger towns are beyond the reach of pie suppers, but we applaud the folks in Zinc and their true grit in dealing with their bridge when it came falling down. We send best wishes for a successful pie supper. The Ozarks are famous for pies. Make ours either a Karo Nut Pecan or a Coconut Custard with meringue three inches high.