John Griffith, the Bridge Operator

Each Memorial Day I scan the cultural landscape and get a sense of anguish, outrage, and grief

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The year was 1929. The effects of the Great Depression were already being felt. John Griffith gathered his wife and new born son and they packed their belongings into an old Model A and headed west. When they arrived at the Mississippi River, John found a job there as a tender of one of the many great railroad bridges there. Day after day, John would sit in the control room and direct the enormous gears of the immense bridge over the mighty river. He would look out wistfully as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge. Each day, he looked on sadly as those ships carried with them his shattered dreams and his visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.

Fast forward 8 years. He would take his now 8 year old son Greg to work with him. The young boy watched his father proudly as he operated the levers to lower the bridge that allowed the train to cross the river.

One day,  after a leisurely lunch together, the sound of a distant train whistle was heard. John had lost track of time. The train was approaching. Instructing his young son Greg to stay put, John bolted for the steer house. When he arrived, he checked the river for approaching boats – all clear. Then he check the gears below and to his horror found that his son had not stayed put as instructed. The 8 year old had followed his father and fallen off the catwalk into the gears. The sound of the approaching train nearly drowned out the shrieking cries of his son “Daddy, where are you?”.

Lowering the bridge would crush his son to an agonizing death. Not lowering the bridge would send hundreds of passengers to their death. The shrieking cries of his son were slowly silenced by the grinding of the gears and the crushing of his sons bones. What seemed like an eternity later, the roar of the passing train overwhelmed the cries of John Griffith. In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room. He cried out “What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you know? Don’t you care? Don’t you know I’ve sacrificed my son for you? What’s wrong with you?”

This blog is being written one week before Memorial Day. Each year I scan the cultural landscape and get a similar sense of anguish and grief. People will be flocking to the beaches, lighting the BBQ grill, drinking beer and in every pagan way imaginable – living it up. After all, it’s a long weekend and school’s out.

At least the passengers in the train didn’t know that their luxurious voyage and safety came at the price of a man sacrificing his son. The story of John Griffiths was first published in the Michigan Baptist Bulletin in 1967. It illustrates another sacrificial death that took place some 2000 years ago as Christ died for our sins.

Our freedom in the United States came at a high price. Our freedom from sin also came at a very high price.


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Author: Mark Prasek

Christian Technologist. Find me on Twitter @DataGenesis

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