New Year: Work actually begins on Sellwood Bridge

It was in the early 1990's that engineers finally figured out why the west-side support pillars under the Sellwood Bridge kept twisting out of alignment - and the west-end ramp kept 'accordioning', pushing the roadbed into angles and cracking the concrete girders underneath.

The west approach of the bridge had been built in the mid-1920's on an ancient, still-slowly-moving landslide. Since it was still moving, it kept pushing the west end of the bridge eastward against the rest of the bridge.

Two decades later, after a tedious ascertainment process to define the need for a new bridge in order to qualify for federal funding, and after efforts from the federal, state, and Portland city governments to scrape together the money to replace the aging bridge - but, notably, without financial help from the Clackamas County commuters who are the majority users of the bridge on weekdays - the actual work is getting underway.

And, it is getting underway, apparently, with a little Christmas present from the United States Department of Transportation, according to the Oregon congressional delegation - a $17.7 million 'TIGER' grant, which closes the county's funding gap for the project to only $5 million; after its having cut $63 million from the cost already, that seems pretty manageable.

Early in the coming year, support columns will appear in the Willamette River just north of the Sellwood Bridge, and by the start of summer the current bridge will be painstakingly slid from its current supports to the new ones, forty feet north, so construction can begin on the new bridge while you and I and the commuters of Clackamas County continue to use the old one.

We have suggested to the County that it should host a gala party, at a nice door charge, on the old bridge during the move. We'd love to be there for that! And it would raise some money to help pay for the new bridge! But officials keep turning pale and changing the subject every time we do. Something about liability, we guess.

As the old year ends and the new one begins, it's a time for looking forward, and a new Sellwood Bridge is something to start really looking forward to. Some readers will still be grumbling about the economy, and the extra expense and challenges of every-other-week garbage collection, but this time of year is a time for optimism and even a bit of idealism.

With that thought in mind, and for certainly the first time in a long time, if ever, THE BEE will reprint what is possibly the most famous newspaper editorial of all time…one which was prompted by a letter from an eight year old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon, who wrote to the New York Sun in the fall of 1897 to inquire if there really is a Santa Claus, because her young friends had been telling her there was not, and - she said - her parents had assured her that if the read something in The Sun, it would be true.

Since Santa is certainly an ideal if not much more, Francis Pharcellus Church of The Sun was placed in a dilemma in framing an answer. What he came up with has endured for well over one hundred years, and is the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history…

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see.

They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect - as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound, and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.

There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus? Thank God, he lives - and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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